May 5, 2020 at 3:47 pm EDT | by Lou Chibbaro Jr.
DC Eagle to close for good
The Eagle is the District’s oldest continuously operating gay bar. (Washington Blade file photo by Damien Salas)

The DC Eagle, the District’s oldest continuously operating gay bar that first opened in 1971, informed its employees Monday night in an online meeting that it was going out of business after learning the building it rented was sold and it would have to move out by September, according to Eagle manager Miguel Ayala.

Ayala, who attended the staff meeting on Zoom, told the Washington Blade that D.C. attorney Glen Ackerman, who represents part owner Peter Lloyd, told meeting attendees that Lloyd and principal owner Ted Clements decided to dissolve the business rather than search for a new location.

The decision to close the business came three months after the Washington Informer reported that a company called CORE LLC was making arrangements with the owner of the DC Eagle building to use the building as a 300-bed prison halfway house under a contract with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons.

News of those plans startled nearby residents and D.C. Council member Vincent Gray (D-Ward 7), who expressed opposition to the plan. Reports have surfaced that plans for the use of the Eagle building as a halfway house were put on hold due to the coronavirus epidemic, but activists advocating for the city’s returning citizens from incarceration have said they want the project to move forward.

Meanwhile, news of the DC Eagle’s permanent closing came six months before it was expected to celebrate its 49th anniversary as the city’s iconic bar and club catering to the leather and Levi crowd. In recent years the club expanded its outreach to others in the LGBT community by hosting popular drag shows and dance parties.

The announcement of its closing also came less than a week after the D.C. LGBTQ nightclub Ziegfeld’s-Secrets announced on Facebook that it would also be closing. The club said the decision to close came after it too was informed by the owner of its building at 1824 Half Street, S.W. that it had to leave the building, which is to be demolished to make way for a high-rise apartment building. Manager Steve Delurba said the club would try to find a new location but its ability to do so was uncertain.

The DC Eagle’s current location at 3701 Benning Road, N.E. was its fourth location since it first opened on 9th Street, N.W. in downtown D.C. in 1971. After being displaced by downtown development, the DC Eagle subsequently moved to 7th Street, N.W. and later to New York Avenue, N.W., all within a few blocks of each other in the downtown area.

The Benning Road location, a four-story warehouse building, was by far its largest site. The club opened there in 2015 after being forced to close temporarily when it was displaced from the New York Avenue site, which it rented. The Eagle purchased the Benning Road building, giving it what longtime customers and supporters thought would be protection from being displaced yet again by real estate development.

But Clements told the Blade last year that the owners decided to sell the building to generate needed revenue with the intent to lease it back from the new owner and to continue to operate the club at that location. City property records show a company called Estervara LLC bought the building on June 4 for $1.5 million.

Clements and then part owner Herb Kaylor-Hawkins said they were hopeful that the revenue generated by the sale would help the DC Eagle overcome financial problems it was encountering at that time and lead to years of future operations.

Records from the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue, however, show that another company called Benning Rock LLC bought the building on April 3, 2020 for $3 million. The Blade could not immediately reach representatives of either Benning Rock or Estervara for comment this week. Eagle manager Ayala said the building’s current owner informed the DC Eagle it would have to vacate the building by September.

Ackerman told the Blade in an email that part owner Lloyd doesn’t wish to make a comment at this time on the closing and dissolution of Eagle N Exile LLC, the official company that Lloyd and Clements set up as owner of the DC Eagle. Clements couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.

Among the many social media postings lamenting the DC Eagle’s closing that have surfaced since the Eagle’s online staff meeting Monday night were those from drag performers who have said the Eagle’s recent welcoming of both members of the leather and drag crowd has provided a unique gathering place for D.C.’s diverse LGBTQ community.

“I’m so devastated that we’re closing,” wrote drag performer Matt Enman in a Facebook post. “Thank you DC Eagle for everything. Thank you for taking such good care of us queens and giving so many entertainers a chance to have the spotlight,” Enman said. “And I thank you for providing so many people a space to be themselves, drink, and have a good time.”

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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