A few more details emerged this week about the closing of long-time Dupont Circle-based gay bar Omega, although specifics of who purchased the property remain undisclosed.
Perry Morehouse, who started there as a bartender 35 years ago and was its general manager for about the last 20 years, said this week he doesn’t know specifics other than that “it was sold to two guys that are gonna make it their private residence.” As for the sudden closing, he said it was explained to him that the business, which opened as The Fraternity House on Sept. 1, 1976 according to Mark Meinke of Rainbow History Project, had to be dissolved and moved out by year’s end.
Morehouse concurs it is unfortunate that such a long-time staple of D.C. gay nightlife didn’t get to have a closing night party as other former D.C. gay bars and clubs have done, but said the decision was beyond his control.
“I wasn’t involved in the decision at all,” Morehouse said. “I think with the people involved, it had to be closed before the end of the year. It’s just a guess, but it may have been a tax issue, I’m not sure.”
Morehouse said the building/business had been for sale since May. It was located at the rear of 2122 P Street, NW, the address it used in its promotions, though the technical address was 2123 Twining Court, NW.
“We just always used that in our advertising and such because nobody knew where Twining Court was, but everybody knows P Street,” Morehouse said.
He also said owner Glen Thompson, a Delaware resident who also owned the nearby gay bar/club Apex (now closed) and former Rehoboth Beach, Del.,-based gay club Renegade, declined to answer questions about the business or why it was sold. Morehouse declined to comment on the degree to which Thompson was involved in the business.
Morehouse did, however, offer his own thoughts. He said business had been “a lot slower” in recent years.
“I attribute it to a couple things,” he told the Blade. “One, the gay demographic has moved farther east … it got to where it was hard to get people to cross over to the west side of the Circle. Second, we were mainly a cruise bar and in the advent of the internet, it really hurt some of that. Suddenly you can go online and pull up a thousand people in D.C., Maryland and Virginia all looking for a date. They all used to be at the bar.”
Morehouse said while certain specials — like their “shirtless men drink free” nights on Wednesdays — remained popular, it’s untenable to run such specials all the time.
“You can’t give the bar away every night,” he said. “People go where the specials are. We were popular on Wednesdays. Green Lantern had theirs on Thursdays. JR.’s is popular on Sunday afternoons. The bears go to bear happy hour, but most of them don’t go out other nights. It’s just the way things are with demographics now.”
He also said gay assimilation into mainstream society has taken a toll on traditional gay watering holes and hang-out spots.
“Twenty years ago, gay people went to gay bars to hang out with other gay people and I don’t think you have that as much anymore,” Morehouse said. “People used to go to Annie’s because you could be with your own kind. Now, five gay men can go have dinner together anywhere and not feel out of place. I’ve even seen two guys out on the dance floor at a straight bar and hardly anyone looks sideways, especially in D.C. People don’t feel uncomfortable out like they used to. They feel they can let their hair down just about anywhere now.”
According to D.C. property records, the Twining Court location was sold to Thompson in 2005 for $2 million. Morehouse confirmed that prior to that, the location was rented. Sales records have not yet been posted for the current transaction, but the property has a proposed 2013 value of $2.2 million. It’s registered as a historic carriage house in Washington, a point Morehouse said had little impact on their ability to use it as a bar. He said about 15 employees were on staff, not counting contract employees such as DJs.
“A lot of people worked there a long time,” he said. “We had a couple bartenders who were there 15 to 20 years, so there’s quite a few that had worked there quite awhile.”
Morehouse said the name was changed to Omega “probably 16 or 17 years ago” though the reason for the change was “something I honestly don’t know.”
Morehouse informed employees Dec. 26 of the closing. Its website initially remained live but now a blank black screen appears at omegadc.com.
Deacon Maccubbin, owner of now-closed gay bookstore Lambda Rising, said in an e-mail that “we’ll miss seeing Perry behind the upstairs bar.” He and partner James Bennett met there when it was The Fraternity House.
“So it’s held a fond spot in our memories for 35 years,” Maccubbin wrote.
Washington Blade staff writer Lou Chibbaro Jr. contributed to this report.