Beatrice ‘BB’ Gatch, the owner of the Capitol Hill gay bar Bachelor’s Mill for more than 30 years who became a beloved figure in the LGBTQ community for her welcoming demeanor and her longtime support for LGBTQ causes, died “peacefully in her sleep” on Feb. 5 at her D.C. home at the age of 81, according to her granddaughter Pascale ‘Bee’ Francis.
Longtime Bachelor’s Mill customers have said Gatch, who first opened Bachelor’s Mill in 1978 at 500 8th St., S.E., created a welcoming atmosphere for all segments of the LGBTQ community, including the Black LGBTQ community. For most of its years in business, the Bachelor’s Mill had a majority Black gay clientele.
“BB did things beyond just being the owner of a business,” said longtime D.C. gay activist and Ward 8 community leader Phil Pannell. “The Bachelor’s Mill was always available for benefits for any number of causes. You could always depend on the Bachelor’s Mill to be there,” Pannell said.
“The Mill became more than just a bar, but a community hub,” Francis told the Washington Blade. “In addition to the weekly shows, fundraisers, and community events, the bar offered a welcoming spot for those who found themselves unwelcome even at other gay bars,” said Francis.
“In the early days of AIDS, it became one of the clubs where people had benefits to raise money for funerals,” Francis recalled.
Francis said Gatch was born in Munich, Germany on Oct. 18, 1939. Francis said that at the age of 10, Gatch moved to Paris with her grandmother where she lived through her adolescence and early adult years.
“Upon meeting her fiancé, a Navy officer, she moved to Washington, D.C. in 1967,” according to Francis. “A few years later, BB’s mom, Louisette, who was a known singer throughout Europe and also owned a gay bar in Frankfort, Germany, moved to the states,” Francis recounted.
With knowledge gained from her mother’s experiences, Gatch in 1974 opened a Capitol Hill bar called Club Madame at the 500 8th St., S.E. location, according to Francis.
“Club Madame originated as a cabaret style nightspot offering shows catering toward the lesbian community,” Francis said. “In 1978, the club reinvented itself as the Bachelor’s Mill and changed direction of the club where all LGBTQ could safely come,” Francis said.
Around 1988, Gatch moved the Bachelor’s Mill from its original location to a new location on the same street several blocks to the south at 1104 8th St., S.E. near the Washington Navy Yard. Francis said Gatch remained the owner of Bachelor’s Mill until 2006, when she retired and sold the club after owning it and its predecessor bar Club Madame for 32 years.
“BB was very much the conscience of the community,” Francis told the Blade. “BB dedicated her life to the gay community without any limitations or reservations…BB had an amazing heart to all.”
Gatch is survived by her daughter, Pascale Francis and her granddaughter with the same name who’s known as Pascale ‘Bee’ Francis.
The family is planning a private memorial service for Gatch in the spring.