Metro Weekly

Closed for Business

DC's oldest bar, Nob Hill, shuts its doors after 50 years

Nob Hill, the oldest gay bar in Washington and one of the oldest black gay bars in the country, closed its doors on February 1, 2004, according to owner Robert Jones.

”The business has fallen off,” Jones told Metro Weekly. ”That’s why I’ve chosen to close.”

In recent months, Nob Hill had been charged with and fined for a number of code violations by the city’s Alcoholic Beverage Regulation Administration (ABRA). The violations included providing entertainment by nude dancers, failure to provide an ABRA investigator with access to books and records, and charging entrance fee without a public hall license.

Jones declined to comment on the ABRA charges or to elaborate on his decision to close the fifty-year-old bar. In a letter received by ABRA on February 5, Jones outlined the steps taken by the bar to address the charges, and that he was ”willing to pay $1,500 in fines for not being in compliance of the D.C. Official Code at the times of the citations.”

In his letter, Jones notified ABRA that he planned to close the bar as of February 1, and that he was preparing to sell the business.

”The closing of the Nob Hill Restaurant is an historic loss,” the Rainbow History Project said in a statement. Rainbow History collects oral and written histories of the Washington, D.C. gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender community. ”The loss is not just to D.C.’s African-American gay community, or the whole local gay community, but to the national gay community.”

The group cited the history of ownership of Nob Hill as one of its historically significant aspects.

”Part of Nob Hill’s uniqueness lies in the fact that it has been owned by African-Americans, a point not true of many other clubs serving the African-American GLBT community. Nob Hill has been for and by African-Americans for nearly five decades.”

”It was the one location that mature men could go and feel comfortable and not worry about the attitudes of the younger generation,” said Elbert Barnes, Operations Manager at Us Helping Us.

”Happy hour at Nob Hill always catered to the middle aged, middle class black gay man,” said community activist Phil Pannell, explaining how the bar earned the nickname ”The Wrinkle Room.”

”It attracted a lot of hustlers as well,” added longtime Nob Hill patron Michael ”Micci” Sainte-Andress, who said that its closing was ”lamentable.”

The charges against Nob Hill were the result of a report by an ABRA inspector, according to ABRA community resource officer Cynthia W. Simms. She said ABRA was unaware of any neighborhood complaints connected to the agency’s charges.

According to ABRA, Jones has asked to put the establishment’s liquor license in safe keeping with the agency. However, should Jones pay the fines and any other fees that may apply to maintaining the license, he could reopen the business with that license. Otherwise, the license would go to a new owner if the business is sold.

Jones, an owner of Nob Hill for almost fifteen years, received the Local Business of the Year Award at the 2003 Black Lesbian and Gay Pride Day.

”I feel really troubled about Nob Hill closing,” said Earl D. Fowlkes, president of Black Lesbian and Gay Pride Day. ”The Black LGBT community has so few institutions, anytime we lose one, it’s a loss to our community.”

In an interview last May with Metro Weekly, Jones said Nob Hill’s niche as a black-owned and operated bar for gay men gave it a special role in the black gay community.

”I think there’s a time for mixing, and there’s a time I think that you want to have your own like kind with you, and that’s all you want.”

Jones also said in the interview, ”I think there’s still a market for neighborhood bars. I think everybody likes going to warehouse bars, but every now and then I think neighborhood bars do offer a certain kind of comfort level.”

”Nob Hill was basically a house party that charged a cover,” said Pannell, noting that some of the longtime regulars even had their own personal goblets.

When informed that Jones may be looking for a buyer, Pannell laughed. ”I should buy the place,” he said ”Lord knows, I spent enough money there.”

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