Bill Gray is in a period of transition. He left EFN Lounge/Motley Bar shortly before it closed abruptly last week and is formulating a potential new business plan he calls Grind Espresso Bar. But he wants to find co-partners before proceeding. The 34-year-old Philadelphia native earned a business degree in Pittsburgh but returned to Philly where he opened seven Jazz & Java coffee shops in the region between 1997 and 2005. The chain was eventually sold to Saxbys.
Gray moved to D.C. in the summer of 2005 but then moved to Tuscon, Ariz., for about a year (2006 mostly) before settling in Washington in early 2007, where he became a staple bartender of the local gay scene having mixed drinks at several bars and clubs before taking the reins at EFN Lounge/Motley about 18 months ago. Several of his relocation decisions have been motivated by love, which led him to relocate both to Arizona and D.C. “I think I was raised to be an Italian housewife,” he says. “Just kidding, though that is why I moved to Arizona for my boyfriend at the time who was an engineer. I did what I felt was right for my family at the time.”
He admits to being a hopeless romantic and is in a new relationship now but doesn’t want to talk details. He says hardcore chiseled abs — Gray’s are displayed in all their glory on his Facebook page — are “not that difficult to get; I learned a long time ago that abs are mainly hidden because of diet, not how many crunches I can do. I try to eat a balanced diet and stay away from overeating, but I definitely have a weakness for chocolate and ice cream. I inhale the stuff.”
Gray says being a successful bartender is more about personality, being genuine and making good drinks than being a pretty face. He went through a few bumpy years with his family after coming out but says they came around after a few years of missed holidays. Gray lives in Thomas Circle and loves working out at Vida, spending long hours with his boyfriend watching old movies, window shopping, coffee tasting and going to spots outside the gayborhood. He’s ready to start the next chapter of his professional life and says, “the sky is the limit.”
How long have you been out and who was the hardest person to tell?
I have been out for 17 years. The hardest person to tell was definitely my mother. I went away to college in ’93 and wrote her a letter apologizing for being gay and I understood if she and Dad didn’t want me around. I had multiple suicide attempts before writing that letter to the point where I had to come out for my sanity. I was rejected at first and welcomed eventually.
Who’s your gay hero?
I have a few gay heroes. Professionally, I admire anybody who steps out in business and makes it; most notably David von Storch of Vida Fitness and Thomas McGuire of WorkSpaces. I also admire everyone who has served in our military under “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” They have more strength and courage than anyone I know.
What’s Washington’s best nightspot, past or present?
Good question. I am just going to personalize this. I have the best time when I go to event-driven parties. I’ve been a bartender and have worked at most of the nightspots in this city. I loved working at Cobalt when I first arrived in D.C., I loved the family feel of working at Nellie’s, I loved the energy at Town. I loved the sense of accomplishment at EFN/Motley. In my opinion, there is no “best” nightspot. I do enjoy all of the spots but tend to make my choice based on what event is going on, which seems to be the trend in D.C.
Describe your dream gay wedding.
I think what most people don’t know about me is that I am a hopeless romantic. My dream wedding would take place in a locale that is conservative with friends and family. I think I will be the one proposing because I am the type to set up the romantic proposal setting.
What non-gay issue are you most passionate about?
The medical reform that our president pushed through Congress.
What historical outcome would you change?
The assassination of JFK.
What’s been the most memorable pop culture moment of your lifetime?
On what do you insist?
Expressing an informed opinion before making assertions.
What was your last Facebook post or Tweet?
“Saying Goodbye for Now …”
If your life were a book, what would the title be?
“Gray’s EFN Anatomy”
If science discovered a way to change sexual orientation, what would you do?
I am very happy with the way God has created me. I would choose God over science in this instance.
What do you believe in beyond the physical world?
My heart/soul/spirit will be all I have for eternity. I have to live everyday with those three things in mind.
What’s your advice for LGBT movement leaders?
My advice is simple and seems to work for most: “You attract more flies with honey rather than vinegar.”
What would you walk across hot coals for?
What gay stereotype annoys you most?
I have embraced all facets of our community. Stereotypes certainly apply to some. I would say the inability to be monogamous.
What’s your favorite gay movie?
I used to volunteer with the Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in Philly so I have seen a bunch. I would have to say “Touch of Pink” is one of my favorites. I also liked “It’s My Party,” but it makes me cry too much.
What’s the most overrated social custom?
I remember being a child and my mother would scold me if I didn’t remove my hat when I entered a home. I think that is pretty overrated.
What trophy or prize do you most covet?
Two off the top of my head. I was voted Best Bartender in D.C. in 2008 by City Paper. That meant a lot to me as it wasn’t just the gay community. I was recently named the Community Partner of the Year by the Non-Profit Al Sura.
What do you wish you’d known at 18?
That everything I did at that age would impact my future as significantly as it has.
I moved here for love. I always follow my heart above all else. My next career will hopefully keep me here as I have grown attached to the city.