March 21, 2019 at 7:49 am EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
DC Eagle liquor license suspended over shoving incident with former mayor
Imperial Court, gay news, Washington Blade
The Eagle will lose its liquor license for one week. (Washington Blade file photo by Daniel Truitt)

The D.C. Alcoholic Beverage Control Board on March 13 suspended the liquor license for the DC Eagle gay bar and nightclub for seven days and fined the club $2,000 over an incident last fall involving former mayor and current D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7).

News of the license suspension and fine surfaced on Wednesday when the Eagle posted a message on its Facebook page saying it would be closed from March 23-March 29 to be followed by a “Grand Reopening” on March 30.

A Case Report of the incident in question prepared by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration, of which the ABC Board is a part, says an investigation found that on Sept. 29, 2018 a male Eagle employee used “unnecessary physical force” to remove Gray from inside the establishment, which is located at 3701 Benning Road, N.E.

At the time of the incident Gray’s office said the Council member attempted to enter the Eagle to attend a city funded arts festival hosted by the Eagle and two other establishments in Ward 7 called “Art All Night.”

The report says the employee, who is identified as a member of the club’s security staff, told Gray, then 75, he would have to show identification to enter the bar and Gray produced his official D.C. Council member identification card. When the employee saw that it did not have Gray’s date of birth on it he asked Gray for another form of ID with his birth date.

“Councilmember Gray refused to provide any further identification, and after a verbal exchange, the security guard came from around the counter and physically pushed Councilmember Gray through the front door of the establishment, causing him to fall onto the ground,” the ABRA case report says.

Gray’s office said he received minor injuries from the fall and reported the incident to D.C. police as an assault. Police listed the incident as a misdemeanor simple assault, but did not make an arrest. Gray spokesperson Sheila Bunn told the Blade on the day following the incident that Gray questioned the security guard about why his Council ID was unacceptable and asked to speak with one of the owners but she said he never refused to show his driver’s license.

She said it never got to that point because the security guard pushed Gray out of the door before he had a chance to take out his driver’s license.

ABRA released a statement to the Blade shortly after the Gray incident saying establishments that sell alcoholic beverages are not required to ask patrons to show identification as a condition for entering such an establishment, but they may do so if they wish. The ABRA statement says liquor serving establishments are required only to ensure that they do not serve alcohol to individuals under the legal drinking age, which is 21.

“We regret that ABRA has seen it fit to suspend our license for 7 days,” the Eagle says in its Facebook statement. “During that time, we will not be open to the DC community at large and our employees, many of them residents of Ward 7 and other parts of the District, will not receive pay,” it says.

“We have apologized for the incident with Councilmember Gray and hope that we can move forward and continue to thrive as the largest and oldest gay bar in the District of Columbia,” says the statement.

“Since then,” the statement adds, “the DC Eagle has parted ways with the member of the security staff in question, hiring and training new staff.”

A March 13 order approving the fine and license suspension issued by the ABC Board says the order came after the Eagle agreed to an “offer-in-compromise (OIC)” made by ABRA and the Office of the D.C. Attorney General.

“The license holder admits to the primary tier violation described by Charge 1,” the order states. “The Respondent shall pay a $2,000 fine within 90 days. The failure to pay the fine shall result in an immediate suspension of the license until all money owed is paid,” the order states. “The Respondent shall also serve a seven day suspension that shall run from March 23, 2019, to March 29, 2010,” it says.

ABRA records show that Charge 1 accuses the Eagle of allowing its establishment to be used for “illegal or unlawful purposes” in connection with the misdemeanor assault against Gray by the security guard.

The fine and seven-day license suspension against the Eagle comes one month after information surfaced that the Eagle had placed its building up for sale with the intent of leasing it back from a new owner as a means of generating revenue to enable it to keep its doors open following some financial hard times.

Earlier this month Eagle co-owners Ted Clements and Herb Kaylor-Hawkins acknowledged that financial problems resulted in the Eagle falling behind on its D.C. property tax payments.

Records from the city’s Office of Tax and Revenue show that as of March 19, the Eagle had a property tax balance due of $46,377, which includes $32,354 owed for 2017 and 2018 and $13,974 due for the first half of 2019.

Clements and Kaylor-Hawkins said a decision to expand the Eagle’s outreach and customer base beyond its historic leather community clientele to include all segments of the LGBT community has resulted in a significant increase in business.

New attractions, including drag shows, circuit style dance parties, karaoke nights, the admission of people 18-20 years old on certain nights, a ladies night, and a stepped up online promotional effort have greatly boosted its customer base, the two said. They said a new nighttime arrangement with an adjacent shopping center has provided unlimited free parking for Eagle customers.

“We are expanding,” Kaylor-Hawkins told the Blade. “We have no intention of going anywhere anytime soon.”

In a statement released on Friday, March 22, Gray said he played no role in determining the outcome of the ABRA investigation into the Eagle or the in the ABC Board’s fine and license suspension related to the shoving incident.

“It is important that this matter be kept in perspective,” Gray said in his statement. “This was about a bouncer who used physical force in a situation that did not warrant any force whatsoever,” he said. “The good that comes out of this matter is a reminder to all, staff and patrons, that we resolve our disagreements with words, not violence.”

Gray added that there was no “bigger picture issue” with the Eagle related to the fact that it’s a gay club.

“I have been a supporter of the LGBT community and businesses for decades,” his statement says. “A few days prior to the incident I met with the DC Eagle owners to assist them with a problem they were having with the D.C. Department of Transportation.”

LGBT activists consider Gray one of the city’s most LGBT supportive mayors during his single term as mayor from 2011-2015 and during his years on the D.C. Council.

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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