Another gay-owned nightspot has closed in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood, a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The owners of the City Café, a popular restaurant and bar that has been closed for two months because of the coronavirus outbreak, disclosed Tuesday that it won’t be coming back.
“After 25 years, this isn’t the ending we hoped for,” owners Gino Cardinale and Bruce Bodie wrote on Instagram.
“Sadly, we notified our employees and landlord today that City Café will not be reopening when the shutdown ends. It breaks our hearts to say farewell, but since there is so much sadness in the world already, let’s focus on the remarkable success this once little coffee shop (founded September 1994) became. For that, we THANK YOU Baltimore and especially Mount Vernon.”
The closing makes City Café the latest of several gay-owned but straight-friendly establishments that have disappeared from the Mount Vernon neighborhood, once the epicenter of gay life in Baltimore. The Hippo nightclub closed in 2015; G. A. Y. Lounge closed in 2017; and Grand Central nightclub has plans to move to the spot vacated recently by Flavor, a lesbian-oriented lounge.
City Café itself occupied the former spot of Girard’s, a disco that was modeled after New York’s Studio 54 and had a large gay following before it was destroyed by fire 30 years ago.
When Baltimore’s LGBTQ community had its annual Pride weekend Block Party on Eager Street, City Café anchored one end of the block and the Hippo and Grand Central anchored the other. Its outdoor tables and diners brought life to an otherwise nondescript intersection. It was a place to take visitors from out of town if you wanted to impress them.
The business has been closed since mid-March, when Gov. Larry Hogan prohibited dine-in service at Maryland restaurants as a way of preventing the spread of COVID-19. The owners initially tried to offer meals-to-go but didn’t get enough business to make it sustainable. One insider explained online that the layout, with banquette seating that promoted socializing and table hopping, would have made it difficult to space tables six feet apart for ‘social distancing’ if it did reopen. That’s not what City Café was about.
In 2016, the owners bought another restaurant, Tark’s Grill and Bar in Baltimore County. Unlike City Café, Tark’s has been offering takeaway service during the pandemic, including chef’s specials for Mother’s Day
Cardinale declined to comment when asked for more information about the status of Tark’s or the decision to close City Café.
Yesterday, City Café’s Facebook page and other social media platforms were filled with tributes from patrons saying how much the business meant to Mount Vernon and what a loss it will be for Baltimore’s LBGTQ community.
“It was THE place to go in the Gayborhood; dinner, drinks, brunch, Gay Pride, birthdays, rainy afternoons, celebrations, fund raisers and the list goes on,” said patron Harry Charles. “This is truly like losing a family member.”
Blade editor Kevin Naff, a 25-year customer of City Cafe, also weighed in.
“City Cafe meant so much to the city, the Mount Vernon neighborhood and the LGBTQ community,” Naff said. “I can’t count how many birthdays, weddings, anniversaries, fundraisers, and other special occasions I spent there. Thank you to Gino and Bruce for creating a safe space for all to come together for 25 years.”