One of the reasons why our team loves this project is because the site helps us understand the queer culture through spaces that no longer make up the modern United States. That is, the vast majority of the listings you’ll see in the Damron Address Books and in our data are spaces that are no longer in operation. Queer businesses, just like non-queer commercial spaces, come and go with the economic times, and thus the bars, baths, theaters, bookstores, restaurants, and other shops located within our data are largely historical records, no longer representing sites still in operation. That being said, there are some sites that one can still find, especially sites that Damron lists as cruising areas, places known to the public like libraries, monuments, and parks.
But, while it’s rare to come across a commercial queer space that is still in operation, it’s even RARER to come across a gay-friendly business that exists in ALL years of our available data (from 1965 until 1980) and that still exists today. It’s so rare, that our team is giving such sites their own label—a “forever listing.” With the launch of our data from Washington, D.C., we’re excited to now have included on MGG at least one (and perhaps our first) “forever listing”—Paramount Steak House.
Paramount Steak House (now known among locals as “Annie’s” after a longtime bartender there) opened in 1948 just a short walk from its current location on 17th Street. It’s not entirely clear why gay men started patronizing the restaurant beginning in the 1950s. However, eventually the owner and servers of Paramount later realized that their restaurant became a haven for gay men in a time when homosexuality was largely illegal and bars were constantly raided by police. Years before Stonewall, gay men in the nation’s capital could enjoy drinks and a good meal in a friendly restaurant. Annie explains that she once saw a gay couple holding their hands under a steakhouse table in the early 1970s, fearful of publicly showing too much affection. Annie walked over to the couple and informed them that, “You don’t have to hide that here.”1 It’s just one of the friendly welcomes she extended to thousands of others during her decades long tenure at the steakhouse.
Paramount Steak House proved so popular among the District’s gays that they moved to a larger location down the block by 1985. The new site, with open windows with clear views inside from the sidewalk, suggested a new era in gay visibility, a community no longer as fearful about exposure.
By 1980s, however, the District (not to mention the entire nation and world) grappled with the AIDS crisis, and workers at Paramount remember the era with sadness. As one manager described, “We lost a lot of customers [because of AIDS] . . . People got scared. We did lose a lot of waiters, a lot of friends. HIV became very obvious, but people kept it quiet if they had it. Then some night they’d have a few drinks at the bar and start crying, and they’d tell us. We lost a lot of nice boys. It was very difficult.”2 Despite the sadness from the unfolding crisis in the 80s and 90s, some gay men in the D.C. remember Annie’s Paramount Steak House as a refuge from the storm. Gay men with AIDS faced discrimination at hospitals and even places of public accommodation, like restaurants, who refused to serve them because of fear that they might spread the virus through touching or sneezing. At Annie’s Paramount Steak House, however, many gay men who were diagnosed with HIV or had friends with the virus knew they could find a friendly, accepting atmosphere.
Annie, the longtime bartender and sister to the original owner, sadly died in 2013, but her nephew keeps the business thriving. To this day, D.C.’s annual pride parade in June passes by the steakhouse, a longtime bedrock of the D.C.’s queer culture.
Quoted in “Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse: This Restaurant has been a have for D.C.’s LGBTQ community since the 1950s”, Atlas Obscura, accessed March 9, 2020. ↩︎
Quoted in Will O’Bryan “Forever Annie’s: The Steakhouse that transformed 17th Street”, March 1, 2006. Accessed March 9, 2020, Metro Weekly. ↩︎