Like the fine cuts of steak and wine it serves, Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse has only gotten better with age.
At the tender age of 71, Annie’s (1609 17th St., N.W.) outdates The Washington Blade by two decades. Yet the development of the restaurant and the paper of record are inextricably intertwined.
“It was as if Annie’s and The Washington Blade grew up together, almost like coming out together,” says current owner Paul Katinas, who’s straight. He’s the son of founder George Katinas, and nephew of namesake Annie.
Father George opened simply named Paramount Steakhouse in 1948, at the corner of 17th and Church Streets, NW. He and his five sisters transformed what started out as a relaxed beer joint into a more formal restaurant. George Katinas, a lover of fine meat, began to cut all the steak in-house, and his sister Annie moved to front-of-house and bartender duties. She became a hit, “vivacious, fun and known to entertain,” Paul Katinas says.
It was Annie Kaylor who helped create the community space for which restaurant has become celebrated. The nascent gay community in the Dupont Circle area in the early ’60s saw the steakhouse as a warm, liberating, open place.
In honor of Annie and her spirit, George Katinas renamed the restaurant for her.
“Annie’s became home, and was there when there weren’t too many other opportunities or places to go,” says Paul Katinas. “During a time when the LGBTQ community was struggling to find places where they were accepted, the restaurant was always a welcoming and loving environment. I understand that in the ’60s, around the time of the riots, is when Annie’s became home for the gay community. It was the only place for the community to go and be free.”
He said that this was also around the time of the 1969 birth of The Blade.
As Annie’s became a bedrock part of the city’s LGBTQ community, so did The Blade. By the 1970s, Annie’s was advertising in The Blade.
“We’ve had a very good, long relationship,” Katinas says.
When Annie’s headed up the street to its current location, allowing gay bar JR.’s to move in, loyal customers moved with it.
The stretch of 17th Street between the two spots eventually became the staging grounds for the famed High Heel Race.
The restaurant also became a center of community activity, sponsoring events and local institutions like Whitman-Walker Health, Food & Friends and the Gay Men’s Chorus.
“Annie’s was one of the first sponsors of Gay Men’s Chorus,” Katinas says. “It’s almost like they grew up there too.”
Annie’s has supported the Pride parade for many years.
Katinas also noted that when he began running the restaurant, “The Blade would bring at least 500 copies of the paper each Friday. People would pop in just for the paper,” he says. “Times have changed, but we still make sure to carry The Blade when it comes out.”
Kaylor died in 2013 at age 86. Annie’s celebrated its platinum anniversary last year in December. Only two months later, Annie’s achieved the James Beard Foundation’s America’s Classics award. The award is granted to recipients that are “Distinguished by their timeless appeal… that reflects the character of their communities,” according to the James Beard website.
Longtime D.C. food critic David Hagedorn nominated Annie’s for the award. Regarding Annie’s he described an early experience of visiting the restaurant as an undergraduate student in the 1970s.
“One evening, we made the trek to Annie’s. It was a long, narrow space with low lighting. Most of the clientele were men, laughing, drinking, flirting; all of the staff were women. I felt like I had arrived in a place that was all mine, where the air was fresh and clear, even through a cumulus of cigarette smoke. It was freedom, the same feeling I would later experience when I stepped off the plane in Provincetown or the ferry in Fire Island for the first time. More than freedom, it was community. … Soon after Paramount opened, it gained a reputation as a safe place for gay men, many of whom worked for the government and risked losing their jobs and going to jail if their sexuality were discovered. In an oft-recounted story from the restaurant’s early days, Annie went up to two men holding hands under the table and told them they were welcome to hold hands above it.”
Katinas makes sure that this kind of environment is still present at Annie’s. He’s kept it in the family too, as his daughter Georgia recently began managing the restaurant. The two work hard to maintain the steaks and the atmosphere.
“Receiving the James Beard Award was really a stamp for the restaurant, but also the gay community and the neighborhood,” he says. “It’s something for all of us to be proud of.”