September 4, 2020 at 11:11 am EDT | by Ed Gunts
Baltimore’s Grand Central closes permanently
Grand Central, gay news, Washington Blade
Grand Central closed Thursday after more than 30 years in Baltimore. (Photo by Ed Gunts)

The COVID-19 pandemic claimed another LGBTQ-oriented business in Baltimore this week, when owners of Grand Central nightclub announced their decision to close the business permanently, as of Thursday.

Nearly four months after the gay-owned City Cafe shut its doors a block away, the Grand Central management team posted a farewell message on the club’s website:

“After over 30 years of serving the community, Grand Central sadly has shut its doors,” the message read in part. “Given the overwhelming challenges created by the pandemic, and our beverage-only driven business, the operations were not sustainable as we prepare for the next chapter.

“We appreciate all of our customers and supporters and thank them for their long-time loyalty; we look forward to celebrating the institution’s legacy in the future development.”

The ‘future development’ they mentioned is an eight-story office building that the owners, known as Landmark Partners, plan to construct on the site of Grand Central.

Attorney Stephan Fogleman told Baltimore’s liquor board yesterday that the owners were almost ready to start construction on the project and originally were planning to close Grand Central at the end of the month.

“Grand Central as a nightclub, as a concept, was on borrowed time, and that time was expected to expire at the end of the month, when they were going to start developing,” he said.

What moved the closing up, the lawyer said, is that Grand Central was cited on July 30 for violating Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s July 22 executive order prohibiting indoor service during the pandemic.

Responding to a 311 complaint that patrons were inside the club that night in violation of the citywide order, liquor board inspectors visited the club at around 10:50 p.m. and observed “approximately 15 patrons” inside, according to public records.

The liquor board held a virtual hearing yesterday to give the license holders, Jonathan Richard Pannoni, George Watson and John Porter Jr., a chance to respond to the charges.

Fogleman said the license holders admit the club was in violation of the city order. He said the general manager was off that night and the one bartender on duty was overwhelmed. He said that employee was terminated afterwards.

“The licensees are full of contrition,” he told the liquor board.

As a result of the July 30 violation, Fogleman said, “the licensees have decided to immediately close Grand Central in anticipation of its redevelopment. It will cost them lost revenue over the next three and a half weeks, but they think it’s the best that they can do in order to ensure 100 percent compliance with liquor laws…The best thing they can do is shut the operation, and they have.”

Entrepreneur Don Davis opened Central Station Pub in 1991 at 1001 N. Charles St. and expanded in 2003 to include the former Stagecoach restaurant and country western bar at 1003 N. Charles St., renaming the business Grand Central.

Davis sold the nearly-15,000-square-foot property in February of 2019 to Landmark Partners for $1.4 million.

The closing leaves Leon’s and The Drinkery as the only two gay bars left in Mount Vernon, long known as the city’s gayborhood. It makes the Baltimore Eagle at 2022 N. Charles St. the city’s largest LGBTQ-friendly club, in terms of square footage.

Club Hippo, a gay-owned disco and saloon at 1 West Eager St., the same intersection as Grand Central, closed in 2015 after more than four decades of operation. Its building is now a branch of CVS.

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