ES Local: Dining in DC’s (Not So) Gaybourhood


Every city has one — a gay neighbourhood ( fine — neighborhood to you yanks). L.A. has W. Hollywood, Chicago has Boystown and San Francisco has the Castro. Here in DC we have Logan and Dupont Circle. They’re the center of gay life, business and pride.

But the recent uprising of restaurants on 14th St here in DC has some of my friends and I thinking about how the current transformation is changing the neighbourhood, from a GLBT dining perspective. Over the last few weeks we have seen the opening of Masa 14, Birch & Barley and ChurchKey along with the upcoming developments of Diamond District Seafood Co., Estadio Restaurant and Cork and Fork. None of these restaurants appear to be GLBT owned or run establishments, which is strange due to the predominantly gay neighbourhood in which they reside.

Unlike Playbill Cafe, I am not suggesting that any of the existing restaurants such as Cafe St. Ex, Rice or even Bar Pilar were ever exclusively gay-centric, but walk into any of these on any given night (along with Commissary, Logan Tavern or Posto) and you will find a predominantly GLBT presence; they are simply considered part of the “gaybourhood.”

It’s not all about one restaurant, but ChurchKey has created something of a quandary to my friends and I, as it seems to be lacking any sort of gay presence at all, which is surprising. For those of you unfamiliar with that location, it once was home to a gay restaurant chain called Hamburger Mary’s, which shuttered and was replaced by gay eatery Dakota Cowgirl and their upstairs bar called Titan’s, which also closed in 2007

So given its location, one would presume that the gay community might embrace this new establishment. I don’t sense any sort of resentment toward it now that it is a non-gay-run restaurant, but there really is no visible gay presence at all. There is however a very strong, dare I say it “bridge and tunnel” crowd.

I’m British, so I was drinking cask ales from the age of 15 (sorry Mum) and I appreciate that ChurchKey is a beer connoisseur’s dream and would draw many people from across the DMV, but it is also a neighbourhood bar, in a gay neighbourhood, so I just can’t get my head around the lack of gay patrons.

What do you DC readers think? Does it bother you that the gaybourhood is changing, with a noticible lack of gay-run restaurants? Is there even a need for a restaurant to be designated gay, or is it a non-issue?

(Photo: M.V. Jantzen)

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  • padrock November 10, 2009  

    I mean, MidCity Cafe is probably the gayest place I’ve ever been in DC if that means anything. But how much of an issue is it if there are establishments in a predominantly gay neighborhood that attract straight populations? Is the Hispanic community in Columbia Heights upset about the Red Derby? I feel that there are certainly gay establishments that are known as gay-focused and they aren’t going away any time soon (Nellie’s, for one).

  • gansie November 10, 2009  

    hmm. why do you think gays haven’t flocked to this new beer mecca, churchkey/birch and barley, but have accepted other trendy breeder places, like saint ex and bar pilar?

  • ODB November 10, 2009  

    Well, St. Ex and BarPilar rate minimally on my “GLBT presence” scale and both have been bridge and tunnel dominated at different points in their histories, so I don’t think there’s as much to your counter-examples.

    On the other side, the post seems to imply that establishments like Churchkey are not serving the neighborhood demographic. That’s problematic in terms of both the realities of the neighborhood and the intentions of Churchkey.

    To begin with, the southern extreme of the 14th street corridor is not and never was all that gay in terms of who lives around there. The majority of the residential population south of Rhode Island is dominated by the high-rise (by DC standards) condos and apartment buildings. Having just toured many of these places in my search for housing, I can tell you that these residences are, well, straight. In fact, I commented that it seemed like the one area where young NoVas may feel most comfortable starting out in the District (or perhaps it’s where they are just before they become middle-aged NoVas).

    That said, the hope is, of course, that all of these restaurants would be embraced by the entire neighborhood and would themselves embrace the entire neighborhood. However, there is some crowding-out going on at Churchkey right now – new places tend to attract the affluent who are willing to make the trip at first – and many of us who live in the neighborhood, gay or straight, are not happy about this, but that will change.

    When it does change, I would hope that most in the neighborhood understand that none of these restaurants are intending to be, in and of themselves, forces that change the face of the neighborhood. There are, however, a lot of larger forces at work and I do think your comments in the post speak to these as well. However, I don’t think these restaurants are at all “part of the problem”.

    A good example to tie all of this together: I walked into Churchkey the other night, past a group of people right at the top of the stairs and one girl yelled to the whole group “oh my God! He’s from Falls Church too!!!”. However, later that night, they played Bell & Sebastian’s “State I’m In”. Yes, we can all just get along.

  • Scott November 10, 2009  

    Logan Tavern & Commissary are both gay owned.

  • The Good Doctor November 11, 2009  

    14th Street isn’t 17th Street. A commercial corridor that, like U Street, was burned to the ground and came back to life slowly and with the efforts of a number of brave pioneers, 14th Street does what any similar neighborhood does – it attracts artists and hipsters and gays, then fringe developers, then mainstream developers. At some point the transition to yuppiedom will be complete on every block from P to W, and we’re mostly there already.

    I would fall short of suggesting that the gay population in DC is the major part of that fringe of artists and hipsters that drove development and change on 14th street. They’re part of it, but not the sine qua non. Bar Pilar and Saint-Ex are not and have not ever been gay bars, nor has the Black Cat. Everywhere on 14th Street until you hit U is gay-friendly but not explcitly gay-centered, with the exception of Playbill, Universal Gear, etc, and saying that Logan is a gayborhood is probably overstating the case. Saying 14th street is a gayborhood that’s being invaded by non-gay restaurants is close to ridiculous.

    I am far more afraid of the encroachment of half-assed, imitative yuppiedom in my neighborhood, with Viriginia-based chains coming to compete with Cork, resto-lounges that threaten to turn an interesting area into a reincarnation of the 18th street clubland, and, well, Bang and Olufson.

  • LC November 11, 2009  

    Halo. Green Lantern…If you agree that the “un-gaying” of the neighborhood is happening which, as a resident of a few very long blocks from 14th street, I’m not sure I do – doesn’t that signal that glbt folks are more comfortable in mainstream bars and the straights are more comfortable in traditionally glbt places and there is not so much of a need for the “marines of real estate” to stake out areas in shady neighborhoods of major metro areas because they are marginalized and likely to get their asses kicked in straight bars? I mean larger forces and all that but maybe we’re all getting along a little better. Except for the DC/NoVa divide apparently: “I commented that it seemed like the one area where young NoVas may feel most comfortable starting out in the District (or perhaps it’s where they are just before they become middle-aged NoVas).” I’m not even sure what this means but am pretty sure – ouch.

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