After nearly 50 continuous years in business, the D.C. Eagle, the District of Columbia’s oldest gay bar, announced to employees via a Zoom meeting on Monday that it will be shuttering its doors permanently, according to the Washington Blade.
The shuttering of the D.C. Eagle arrives during challenging times for brick-and-mortar queer spaces. But unlike New York City’s famed Henrietta Hudson, a long-running bar for queer women that put out a call for financial help from the community amid the global pandemic and nationwide closures, the building that houses D.C.’s oldest gay bar had been up for sale before the pandemic. It was not made clear to employees how much of an impact the shelter-in-place orders had on the decision.
During the Zoom call, owners Peter Lloyd and Ted Clements told employees that they decided to dissolve the operation as the sale of the building would force the business to move as of September, DC Eagle manager Miguel Ayala told the Blade.
“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 D.C. Eagle building to use the building as a 300-bed prison halfway house under a contract with the U.S. Federal Bureau of Prisons,” reported the Blade.
A mainstay of D.C.’s queer nightlife since 1971, the closure comes just six months before the bar was set to celebrate its 49th year. Its current location at 3701 Benning Road, N.E.was the fourth building that housed the bar that had traditionally been considered a leather bar.
“I’m so devastated that we’re closing,” drag performer Matt Enman wrote on Facebook, according to the Blade.
“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.”
When it opened in its new space there was a lot of excitement for the D.C. Eagle. It was a part of a new wave of Eagle bars opening or reopening that envisioned a new way forward, adjusting to inghtlife. While they maintained the brand's leather origins — the D.C. Eagle not only boasted its titleholder competition but was one of the busiest venues in recent years during Mid-Atlantic Leather, or Leather Weekend in the city — they also expanded. Across it's multilevels the massive venue hosted drag competition, circuit parties, and more. These events would have been out of place historically.
Other Eagle bars that were a part of this reimagining included the Baltimore Eagle which has closed and reopened multiple times over the past few years.
The announcement of the closure of the iconic D.C. Eagle comes less than a week after the queer nightclub Ziegfeld’s-Secrets announced via Facebook that it would also be closing. The reason behind the closure of that space was to demolish the building for a high-rise apartment project. That club’s manager Steve Delurba said the bar would search for a new venue but that he was not confident they would find a space, according to The Blade.
As queer bars shutter or struggle to remain afloat in trying financial times, Henrietta Hudson, an iconic lesbian bar in New York City, has turned to the community to ensure the 29-year-old gathering space is still standing once the worst of the pandemic has passed.
“Over the years we have seen it all… 911, the 2008 recession and Super Storm Sandy in 2012. We rose above all of these obstacles, but never could have anticipated or prepared for the onerous burden of a pandemic that threatens our very survival,” Henrietta Hudson co-owner Lisa Cannistraci said in a statement. “Although we have applied for federal and local disaster and payment protection loans, we have been ignored. And it has been extremely disheartening to see news reports showing bigger businesses prioritized for assistance.”
In her plea for help to keep the queer space up and running, Cannistraci wrote, “We must now turn to all of you and ask for your contributions. Please help us stay afloat by giving whatever amount you can afford. We want to be there for our community when the pandemic is behind us and will only reopen when it is safe to do so. We can’t wait to be in full swing serving the people we love and admire so much.”