January 23, 2018 at 11:12 am EST | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
Nellie’s serves lunch for federal workers during Monday shutdown
government shutdown, gay news, Washington Blade

Josh Rogers, a bartender at Nellie’s, pours a Bloody Mary on Monday for a customer watching the government shutdown debate on TV. (Blade photo by Michael Key)

D.C.’s Nellie’s Sports Bar provided a welcoming place for furloughed federal workers to congregate on Monday during the day when it announced on its Facebook page that it would open at 11 a.m. for lunch “every day this week that the government is shutdown.”

Doug Schantz, owner of the popular nightspot that caters to the LGBT community, decided to open its doors earlier than its normal 5 p.m. opening to lift the spirits of federal workers who make up a large percentage of its customers, according to Nellie’s general manager Justin Thomas.

“We are very much a neighborhood bar,” Thomas told the Washington Blade as reporters and commentators with CNN and MSNBC appeared on two giant TV screens hanging on the walls of the bar’s front room.

“So we have to kind of cater to that,” he said. “We want to create a fun environment for people to kind of come together and watch how this unfolds because it’s a big deal going on right now.”

Among those watching the TV news broadcasts was D.C. resident Noah Johnson, an economist with the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Johnson said he and two of his colleagues came to Nellie’s after being required to come to their offices Monday morning to secure their work stations before being sent home on furlough.

“You had to report and make sure everything was secure,” he said. “We are a statistics agency. We can’t leave personal information out. So we had to lock up our computers and make sure if we were out for a period of time they wouldn’t be at risk,” he told the Blade.

Johnson and his two co-workers joined other federal workers at Nellie’s, including two civilian Department of Defense employees who declined to disclose their names, in watching with great interest as CNN and MSNBC reported that Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. Senate had just reached a compromise agreement.

Minutes later, the news stations reported that the Senate voted by a wide margin to end a filibuster, clearing the way for approval of a temporary spending measure to reopen the government. The U.S. House approved the compromise spending bill and President Donald Trump was expected to sign it.

Johnson said he was looking forward to going back to work Tuesday morning.

But on the very first workday of the shutdown on Monday Johnson and his two co-workers experienced first-hand what thousands of D.C.-area residents were expected to encounter in the fallout of the government shutdown.

Prior to coming to Nellie’s they decided to go on a hike along the grounds of the National Arboretum in Northeast D.C., a federally owned and operated track of land in which a wide variety flowering plants, shrubs, trees, and grass are grown and cultivated.

“We wanted to go to the Arboretum but the Arboretum was closed,” Johnson said.

Thomas, the Nellie’s manager, noted that the bar is widely known as a place where people can come to watch local, national and international sporting events, including the Olympics, the Super Bowl, and World Series. But he said Nellie’s also tunes its TV monitors to important breaking events in the news.

“That is something that takes priority because it’s something that affects everybody,” he said. “So, like I said, being a neighborhood bar we have to make sure everybody is in the know and to be in the know ourselves about certain things.”

Lou Chibbaro Jr. has reported on the LGBT civil rights movement and the LGBT community for more than 30 years, beginning as a freelance writer and later as a staff reporter and currently as Senior News Reporter for the Washington Blade. He has chronicled LGBT-related developments as they have touched on a wide range of social, religious, and governmental institutions, including the White House, Congress, the U.S. Supreme Court, the military, local and national law enforcement agencies and the Catholic Church. Chibbaro has reported on LGBT issues and LGBT participation in local and national elections since 1976. He has covered the AIDS epidemic since it first surfaced in the early 1980s. Follow Lou

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