The Eagle Keeps Its Nest, For Now

With building sale, D.C.'s oldest leather bar begins searching for a new location

With the building of one convention center and the demolition of another, not to mention the continuing rise of commercial real-estate values in the revitalized downtown area just north of Chinatown and the MCI Center, it’s no surprise that the D.C. Eagle is looking for a new place to land. Rumors have long buzzed about the imminent closing of the D.C. leather landmark.

”The rumor mill has had the Eagle closing for the last 15 years,” laughs owner Bill Cappello.



The D.C. Eagle
(Photo by Todd Franson)

This time, however, the rumor is a bit more accurate, as the building at 639 New York Ave. NW, that has housed the Eagle since May 1987 was sold recently to a local developer. But rumors of the Eagle closing within days aren’t as accurate.

According to Cappello, when Douglas Development bought the property, which was previously owned by a family trust established by the late owner Dick McHugh, it also assumed the lease with Eagle. Cappello says he had just signed a new five-year lease for the space when the sale took place.

As part of the terms, he says, either party must give six months’ notice before ending the lease. Neither Cappello nor Douglas Development has given such notice. At minimum, the Eagle will be ensconced on New York Avenue a few more months, and probably longer.

”We may still be there for another couple years,” Cappello says.

The Eagle’s current location is the third in the storied bar’s history. It opened on Ninth Street NW, in the ’70s. Development forced a moved to Seventh Street NW, in 1980.

Although Cappello says that the Eagle made an offer on the building that was outbid by Douglas, he and co-owner and manager Ted Clements have been looking for a new location for the club for some time, as well as looking ahead to physically moving the contents of the building.

”Anything we’ve bought [recently], we’ve bought on wheels,” says Cappello.

He notes that any move won’t happen overnight, and that it won’t be easy to leave the building behind. ”We’ve invested too much of our lives [there],” he says.

As part of their search, Cappello says they’ve been examining the parameters they would like to set for a potential new space. While he’s harbored dreams of bringing a restaurant back to the Eagle — his first work at the Eagle in 1980 was at that iteration’s restaurant — bringing the current building up to code was too daunting a task.

Cappello and Clements also hope to find a location that’s 6,000 to 8,000 square feet, close to Metro, and near enough parking to handle most of the patrons — most of whom, they’ve found, prefer to drive to the Eagle. While he mentions some areas in Northeast as possibilities, Cappello says there is no property actually on the table right now. And, he reiterates, there’s no rush to move immediately. But, he adds, ”I’d rather do it sooner.”

While the sale of the building does spur their plans to move, those plans had already begun in the aftermath of 9/11. After the terrorists attacks, the insurance costs for maintaining a business in a high-risk downtown D.C. area became exorbitant. Making matters worse, the rapidly rising real-estate values — the property sold for $265,000 in 1984, and Douglas just bought it for $2.5 million — left the Eagle footing a huge property-tax bill, for which they were responsible under the terms of their lease.

”We pay out the nose,” says Clements, who adds that all the development and rising costs in the neighborhood make it clear it’s time for the Eagle to move. ”We don’t need prime commercial property.”

Although looking at the possibility of new spaces with a restaurant and outdoor patios, the two most hope to maintain a sense of continuity and community in whatever new location they find for the Eagle.

”It’s all about creating a venue for the community,” says Clements.

”We’re blessed,” says Cappello. ”We have a very cohesive staff and management. And we have a responsibility to them [and] our patrons.”

Sean Bugg is Editor Emeritus for Metro Weekly.

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