December 17, 2019 at 10:48 am EST | by Ed Gunts
New gay-owned lounge coming to Baltimore’s Mount Vernon
Elephant, gay news, Washington Blade
Exterior of the former Elephant restaurant, soon to become The Manor. (Photo by Ed Gunts)

A new gay-owned and gay-friendly business is expected to open in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood late next month, replacing the recently closed restaurant known as The Elephant.

The Manor is the name of a restaurant and “ultralounge” that is being planned for the four-story building at 924 N. Charles St., on the same block where The Hippo nightclub operated for many years.

It’s the latest venture by Joshua Persing and Robert Gay, a Hanover-based couple that operated the popular but short-lived G.A.Y. Lounge that opened at 518 N. Charles St. in April of 2017 and closed less than six months later, following a contractual dispute with the landlord.

Persing and Gay are principals of The Manor Baltimore LLC, which will rent the former Elephant space. Persing said The Manor is not intended specifically to be a gay bar or night spot, although it will certainly welcome patrons from the G.A.Y. Lounge.

It also will be more “restaurant-oriented” than their last business, he said, and will feature the drag brunches that were popular there on weekends, with the performer known as Brooklyn Heights hosting on Saturdays and Evon Michelle on Sundays in the new space.

“We are not going to be gay-centric, but we are going to be gay friendly,” Persing said. “We’re trying to give a home to those people who enjoyed our last bar and restaurant in Mount Vernon as well as provide a home to everyone in the community. We love Mount Vernon. We love the city in general. We really just want to give back to the city. That prompted us to invest back in the city a second time around.”

If The Manor moves ahead as scheduled, it will open just as one of Baltimore’s largest LGBTQ-friendly nightclubs, Grand Central, is closing one block away.

The current owners of Grand Central, a development group called Landmark Partners, have said they want to construct an eight-story office building in place of Grand Central and will leave the nightclub open until they’re ready to begin construction.

Landmark’s principals, who bought the property at 1001-1003 N. Charles St. from longtime owner Don Davis in February, initially indicated they would close Grand Central this fall but later said the date likely would be moved to early next year, as they finalize their plans.

One real estate broker who specializes in the Mount Vernon area said he has heard the developers have made progress in obtaining their building permits and that the club will close permanently in February.

Marc Hayes, who is serving as the general manager of Grand Central, said last Saturday that the club will be open for New Year’s Eve and into January. He said a permanent closing date has not been announced.

Persing said The Manor isn’t intended to fill the void left by Grand Central’s closing, because it won’t be a full blown nightclub with a large dance floor. He also said his group isn’t working with anyone at Grand Central.

“That isn’t why we’re opening” at 924 N. Charles, he said. “We’re really opening because we simply love that space. But we will certainly be there for people who feel displaced by Grand Central’s closing.”

Persing said The Manor is meant to appeal to a diverse mix of people, rather than a niche market.

“We really are trying to bring the community within Baltimore together, which is why we’re using the hashtags #allisOne, #Oneisall and #OneBaltimore” in marketing, he said. “Just to show that people come from different backgrounds, different religions, different races, different sexes. It’s not just gay. It’s not just straight. It’s a little bit of everything.”

Persing said he and Gay are aiming to open The Manor by the end of January, assuming they can get all their licenses and permits in time. He said his team has applied for a new seven-day restaurant liquor license but doesn’t have public hearing date yet, and that will be one of the last steps in the approval process. He declined to disclose how much he and Gay are investing.

Persing said he and his partner were looking for a new location to open a business in Mount Vernon and were attracted to the Elephant building, which was restored by restaurateurs Steve and Linda Rivelis.

After the Elephant closed in June due to financial problems, the building was listed for sale by MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate for $1.2 million.

Persing said a buyer is scheduled to close on the 10,000-square-foot building this week and that The Manor LLC has negotiated a five-year lease starting as soon as the sale is final. The Manor will be the building’s only tenant.

Persing said his group plans to make some “design modifications” over the next month but mostly intends to keep the historic details that were preserved in the last restoration.

“He said the first two floors will contain the restaurant, bar and ultralounge, while the third level will house The Manor’s offices and the fourth floor will be unoccupied, at least to start.

The Manor will be open seven days a week and will offer valet parking as well as parking behind the building. Persing said the building will have a capacity of 149 people and the restaurant will serve “Modern American” cuisine. He said a chef will be announced soon, along with other details.

Exactly what do they mean by an ultralounge? Persing promises it will have low lighting levels, fresh cut flowers, candles and “pillows and throws.” The Manor’s Facebook page says it will feature electronic and house music. Other than that, Persing said, “we’re telling people they’re just going to have to come and find out for themselves.”

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