In October 2008, Mark Rutstein, like many, was feeling the sting of a sluggish real estate market. He’d had a golden run since 2002 with Coldwell Banker and Hounshell Real Estate but ’08 found his business “crashing down,” as he puts it. He wasn’t the only one hurting — Cobalt, one of the staples of 17th Street nightlife, had also seen a downturn. Rutstein knew owner Eric Little because he’d bartended at JR.’s, which Little also owns, when he moved to the District in 1999. Rutstein saw Little at Cobalt one night and they soon made plans for Rutstein to ride out the real estate storm by managing Cobalt and its downstairs restaurant Level One.
The partnership has been so successful — Rutstein says sales are up 300 percent from 18 months ago — that Rutstein has stayed on. He started out in the restaurant business and, although he had said “never again” to the grueling 75-hour work weeks, he’s enjoying himself now. And he still has a foot in the door at Hounshell working mostly with previous clients.
His long-term plan? “Time will tell,” he says. The 36-year-old Miami native has been in the D.C. area since the early ’80s and has been dating Stephen Rutgers since January. He lives in Dupont Circle and enjoys traveling, dining and working out when he has down time.
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
Ten years and my mom or my fiancé. My mom because I didn’t want to disappoint her and my fiancé because I took so long to figure out I was gay.
Who’s your gay hero?
There are so many. The activists who brought us this far today such as Dr. Frank Kameny and Harvey Milk.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Present: Cobalt; past: Nation.
Describe your dream gay wedding.
On the beach on an island surrounded by my friends.
What non-gay issue are you most passionate about?
There are so many, but finding a cure for cancer which took my mother from me this year.
What historical outcome would you change?
“I did not have sexual relations with that woman.”
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
Meeting Hillary Clinton because she is totally pop.
On what do you insist?
Honesty and compassion.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“Tonight at Cobalt …”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Nightmare on 17th Street?” LOL, I don’t know, it’s been an eventful life. Maybe it would be a lot of these: #!!@#!@@#!@*&#@$
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
Nothing now, but I once wished I was “cured.” I now know I was made to be this way.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
I’m not sure exactly but I DO know that a world without spirituality would be an ugly place.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
Get the younger generation more involved.
What would you walk across hot coals for?
Love, family and friends.
What gay stereotype annoys you most?
That lesbians drive Subarus. It’s not true because my friend Karen has a Honda.
What’s your favorite gay movie?
What’s the most overrated social custom?
Meeting someone and saying that it’s nice to meet them. You don’t really know how nice it is yet.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Real estate sales awards, e.g. top sales group multiple years.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That I’d lose my parents so early. I would have called them more and spent more time with them both.
There are lots of opportunities and it’s gay friendly.