Nestled discreetly on the north side of Dupont Circle is Black Fox Lounge, if only until the end of the month. The bar and restaurant will close its doors Jan. 1 after five years of operating as a relaxed space for mature clientele.
Citing economic difficulties as the reason for the closure, co-owner Russwin Francisco attributed a decrease in foot traffic in Dupont to a business boom on 14th Street. As a result, Francisco said he and owner Jim McGlade “can’t sustain the lounge.”
“We found ourselves not able to meet rent,” he says. “The biggest mistake was … when we first signed the lease, we agreed to a rent that was really crazy and we knew better.”
When Black Fox Lounge opened on Dec. 15, 2009, the vision was, in Francisco’s words, “to offer a more sophisticated alternative to the people of Dupont Circle.” Though the bar is gay-owned and welcomed gay and straight customers alike, it is not officially a gay bar, as Francisco considers them “passé.”
“I think most GLBT folks are more comfortable now hanging out with their straight friends at not necessarily gay places,” he says. “I think it will be more and more like that.”
Today, Black Fox serves as a space for artists of all stripes to perform, including Aaron Myers, the artist in residence.
Myers was the Lounge’s first performer, who walked in on Black Fox’s third day of business and started playing the baby grand piano. Since then, he’s performed 146 shows on the first and third Friday of each month. His farewell show is Friday (Dec. 19). In addition to being the Lounge’s first performer, he will also perform there on New Year’s Eve as Black Fox Lounge’s last performer (details at blackfoxlounge.com).
Myers, who was considered for five categories of the 56th Grammy Awards and can be found on iTunes, says he will miss having a “safe space … to evolve and be creative.”
“When you eliminate a venue [for artists] from the landscape, it creates a huge void. Where will these voices be heard now? D.C. is not really bustling with other venues where artists can come for free.”
Monday night (Dec. 15) marked Black Fox Lounge’s fifth anniversary, a bittersweet occasion, considering the imminent closing. The evening included the last La-Ti-Do show at that location, a weekly staple that had been at Black Fox Lounge for three years. A combination of musical theater and spoken word, Monday’s holiday-themed show featured acts ranging from a four-part harmony of “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas” to a mother/daughter duo’s Jewish-themed poems, including the daughter’s ode to her pubic hair titled “My Hanukkah Bush.”
La-Ti-Do, hosted by DonMike Mendoza and Regie Cabico, will live every Monday night at James Hoban’s Irish Restaurant & Bar (1 Dupont Circle, N.W.), though Mendoza, who is also the executive artistic director, says “[La-Ti-Do] wouldn’t be what it is now without Russwin, Jim and Black Fox Lounge’s support.”
“Black Fox Lounge has been a special place for a lot of artists,” he says.
A point of pride for him was seeing the caliber of artists grow, but the memory that stands out in Mendoza’s mind was when Nova Y. Payton, whom he describes as “a powerhouse performer,” participated in La-Ti-Do. “The night she performed is one of my top moments.”
La-Ti-Do debuted in January 2012 after Francisco approached Cabico about performing to help drum up business on Monday nights, a typically slow night.
Another long-running show, Tula’s Cabaret, will see its final show at Black Fox Lounge on Sunday (Dec. 21). The weekly drag show’s “Farewell to the Black Fox” will bring back the group’s greatest hits before the cabaret’s closure.
Andre Hopfer, known professionally as Tula, laments the fact that small businesses struggle to survive.
“Sadly, that whole strip of Connecticut Avenue has suffered greatly since areas like 14th Street have become so popular,” Hopfer says.
“We always had a great mixed crowd of gay and straight people, and because of the close proximity to the Washington Hilton, quite often a nice crowd of international guests.”
Shows would often have a different theme, from disco to country, to keep audiences from seeing the same act each week. In addition to featuring a regular cast, Tula’s Cabaret was also open to new performers to showcase their talent.
Leon Hargraves, who performs regularly as Chris Monroe, thinks of the Black Fox as a “home away from home.”
Hargraves says he’s “fortunate to be part of a wonderful cast of very talented people.” Hopfer is exploring venue options for the show to continue.
As their next venture, Francisco (also considering a return to teaching) says they may open a new establishment, but not before they regroup and learn from their mistakes.