Washington, DC’s oldest continuously operating gay bar, the DC Eagle, has announced that it is closing permanently. This makes it the second LGBTQ club in the district to announce it is shuttering this week, as Ziegfield’s/Secrets—DC’s only combined drag and male strip club—announced earlier this week that it also won’t reopen after the coronavirus restrictions are lifted.
The closing of the DC Eagle and Ziegfield’s comes after the closure of several other DC area gay bars in recent years. Lesbian bar Phase 1 was closed in 2016, Town Danceboutique was closed in 2018 with plans to relocate in NoMa, and Cobalt closed in March of 2019.
According to Miguel Ayala — the bar’s promotions and events manager — the club’s owners made the announcement during a Zoom meeting with employees on Monday night.
The Eagle was set to celebrate 49 years of service to DC’s LGBTQ community. The club has hosted numerous fetish events and gatherings in its nearly half decade run. “This is a historic loss because we’re the oldest and largest gay bars in D.C.,” Ayala says, “and one of the oldest leather bars in the country.”
The DC Eagle’s current location at 3701 Benning Road in Northeast DC was its fourth location since it first opened downtown on 9th Street in 1971. After being displaced by downtown development, the DC Eagle subsequently moved to 7th Street, and later to New York Avenue, which were all within a few blocks of each other in the downtown area.
The most recent Benning Road location, a four-story warehouse building, was its largest site. The club opened at this location in 2015 after it was displaced from the rented New York Avenue site, and forced to close temporarily. The Eagle then purchased the building at the Benning Road location, and customers and supporters thought this would protect it from being displaced yet again by real estate development.
The DC Eagle has been temporarily closed since March 15, when coronavirus restrictions were put in place in the Washington, DC area. Even though it wasn’t clear whether or not the club was closed due to the pandemic, the news still came as a shock to many of the employees. “I don’t think anyone was aware that [this was] coming,” says Ayala. “We now have to be out of the space by the end of September.”
The building was initially sold last June. However, the bar was allowed to remain open. According to Ayala and property records, it was sold again in April for 3 million dollars to Benning Rock LLC.
The Eagle’s website has put up listings for its employees’ Venmo accounts, a GoFundMe for staff and regular performers, and branded merchandise to help raise funds. Ayala says these efforts will continue in the hopes of supporting staff members who now have no place to work after the coronavirus restrictions are lifted.