The Banana Café, a restaurant and piano bar on Capitol Hill that has catered to a gay and mixed clientele for 25 years, announced on its website that it will be closing its doors for good on Dec. 16.
Owner Jorge “George” Zamorano, who’s gay and who met his partner while working for the restaurant under its previous owner when it was called the Lone Star Cantina, said he has decided it was time to move on to other endeavors.
“We have had a great, wonderful 25 years,” he told the Washington Blade on Monday. “And I think for me personally I feel satisfied with what we did. In my heart I feel it is time for new adventures and to see what else is out there,” he said.
Zamorano was born in Cuba and raised in Puerto Rico. A lifelong artist and figurative painter, he was known among friends as both an artist and hospitality industry manager. He told the Blade in a 2013 interview that in 1992 he left his position as food and beverage manager at D.C.’s Henley Park Hotel to focus full-time on his artwork.
But he said he soon found himself bartending and helping in the kitchen at the restaurant opened by his friend – the Lone Star Cantina. A little over two years later he bought the restaurant, located a short distance from the Eastern Market Metro station, and soon renamed it the Banana Café and Piano Bar.
Known for its reasonably priced Cuban, Puerto Rican, and Tex-Mex cuisine, Capitol Hill residents and visitors, both LGBT and straight, say they soon viewed the restaurant and bar as a widely beloved neighborhood institution in the then changing Barracks Row section of 8th Street. Banana Café has been located at 500 8th St., S.E. since its opening.
“We did a lot,” Zamorano said. “We saw the whole area change. And it’s a fantastic area now,” he said, unlike the impression many had of the area 20 years ago.
“When I bought it people said you’re crazy. Why do you want to own anything there?” he told the Blade.
He said he bought the building a short time after taking over the business. After thinking long and hard about whether it was time to move on, Zamorano said he recently sold the building to a real estate development company, which he thinks will likely rent the space to a new restaurant.
He said he prefers not to disclose the sale price, but public property records show Zamorano did well due to the steep appreciation of both residential and commercial properties along the Barrack’s Row strip.
“What I want to do now is take a little time to regroup, reflect on everything that happened in the past 25 years, and then decide what’s going to be my next move.” He said he has not ruled out returning to the restaurant business, saying “It’s in my blood.”
He said he is looking forward to seeing longtime customers and friends stop by Banana Café for the last time before the closing on Dec. 16.
“I’m taking with me great memories, great friendships,” he said. “And it’s very hard now to start saying goodbye. That is very hard to do.”
Banana Café will be the second gay or LGBT welcoming bar to close on Capitol Hill in less than two years. Last year the Phase One, which catered to a lesbian clientele for over 30 years, closed its doors on 8th St., S.E., less than two blocks from Banana Café.