The end of an era has arrived for yet another Washington nightlife institution as Remingtons held its last night of business at its Capitol Hill location at 639 Pennsylvania Ave., S.E. on April 14.
About 100 patrons visited the final night according to the estimates of Rick Rindskopf, who managed the bar for the last four-and-a-half years. He says the evening provided closure.
“It was really nice to have a chance to say goodbye to everyone rather than just having it disappear overnight,” Rindskopf says. “It was actually surprisingly upbeat and we definitely gained an appreciation of how much we meant to the community. Many of them were saying they don’t know where they’re going to go now. There’s really no place in the neighborhood anymore. That was the major comment we kept hearing.”
Owner Doug Bogaev, who’d overseen operations since the death of his partner, Steven Smith in 2011 (Smith bought the bar with Dick Brandrupt in 1985 and owned it solely since 1997), says the last night brought mixed feelings.
He says efforts by a few unruly customers who attempted to remove the liquor license from the wall and raid the bar’s collection of country CDs tainted what could have been a nice evening.
“Unfortunately it did get a little trailer park,” Bogaev said.
Those involved said they had known the bar would eventually close for several years, even before Smith died. They just didn’t know when.
“We got word on Monday, the seventh, that we had to be out by the 15th,” Rindskopf said. “We spent the last four months just waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
Bogaev, who works by day as a government contractor in Reston, Va., said a company that bought the building last year informed him of its plans to gut the inside structure to make way for a redesigned interior. He said the new owner, which city property records identify as Mountain View Burleson, LLC, did not tell him what it plans to do with the building when the renovation is completed.
“The rent was high and our country-western crowd died out,” Bogaev said. “I have a day job, and it was getting to be too much for me.” He said Smith, too, had been feeling the strain even before he became ill.
“He was tired and wanted to have time to do some other things,” Bogaev said. “It’s actually very stressful work.”
In its heyday, Remingtons and its earlier incarnation of Equus was widely known as the city’s preeminent country-western gay bar. At its peak in the 1990s and early 2000s, Remingtons often was packed to capacity on weekends and some weekday evenings with country-western dance enthusiasts filling the bar’s large dance floor.
Bartender Mike Swain said Remingtons turned to other forms of entertainment and music around 2007 when the country-western crowd stopped coming. Drag shows, hip-hop music nights, a popular Latino night on Saturdays, and Karaoke in the bar’s upstairs room were among the offerings in recent years, Swain said.
“Business has been good,” he said. “It’s really a shame this is happening. I’m very sad to see it go.”
Remingtons also picked up customers when the Little Pub, a neighborhood bar near the CVS at 7th and Pennsylvania Avenue closed several months ago. Several who had been happy hour regulars there, even some straight patrons, adopted Remingtons as their watering hole after the Pub closed.
Rindskopf says he thinks country line dancing was simply a fad that “had run its course.”
“I’ve been told this is a trend that’s being seen in other parts of the country as well,” he says. “Outside maybe of the South and some parts of the West, there really aren’t any gay country bars that are able to sustain themselves as only that. Even before the D.C. Cowboys disbanded and had their monthly nights here, I got the impression it was more people wanting to see hunky guys dancing more than any great interest in country line dancing. That’s honestly what it was the last few years.”
And though he concurs that gay bars don’t hold the cultural prestige they did in the pre-Internet era, he says Remingtons had found a way to survive.
“We still managed to do well by filling some different niches. We had drag nights and a very strong Latin night on Saturdays,” he says. “We didn’t do overkill on any one thing but we had a few things that would draw folks and a strong happy hour and that’s what was doing it for us.”
Doug Schantz, owner of Nellie’s Sports Bar, agrees. He says assuming gay bars are slowly dying is an oversimplification.
“People will always want to have places to go and hang out,” he says. “It doesn’t fill the same purpose it did 20 years ago, that’s true. Phones were on the wall then and you couldn’t find the things you can do now but that doesn’t mean people don’t want to go out and socialize. Clearly they do and we have several gay bars in D.C. that are still booming.”
Kevin Platte, founder of the D.C. Cowboys, which disbanded in 2012, said the group had its origins at Remingtons.
“Several of the original Cowboys, they were all my friends from Remingtons,” Platte says. “I said, ‘Do you want to maybe do some entertaining,’ and that’s where all the boys started, so there’s a lot of history there. We all started texting each other when we heard it was closing. It’s like losing an old friend.”