As Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse has been an institution along D.C.’s 17th Street NW for decades, so, too, has its namesake Annie Kaylor. But at 85, Kaylor died of natural causes yesterday evening, July 24, confirms the restaurant’s general manager, Raul DeGuzman.
To allow patrons and friends to pay their respects and honor Kaylor’s long life and the mark she has left on this neighborhood that is home to so much of the city’s LGBT history – as underscored by Frank Kameny Way, the specially named stretch of 17th Street on which Annie’s sits – DeGuzman says the restaurant will hold a memorial event at the restaurant Tuesday, Aug. 20, what would have been Kaylor’s 86th birthday, from 6 to 10 p.m., as a celebration of Kaylor’s life.
In the meantime, Metro Weekly would like to share some of Kaylor’s own words from a 2006 interview exploring both the venue’s history and her own.
”I started working here in 1952. [My sister, Sue Stouts] started in ’53. We ran the night shift,” Kaylor explained in that interview, detailing her brother George Katinas’s ownership. ”My sister had a big, big role here. We both worked together. Her and I would work the bar at night. Customers who came in for her, they were very dignified and nice. They were gay. But the ones who came in for me were all crazy. My brother would say, ‘You can tell when Annie’s working — look at this place!”’
Kaylor recalled that gay patrons began frequenting Annie’s before 17th Street had any sort of reputation as a gay neighborhood.
”One of the things that I want to get across is that we’re called a landmark for the gay community,” she said. ”Back in the ’50s, the gays started coming in. I had these waitresses that were all mothers, and they used to treat them very nice. We didn’t even know they were gay. They would just pass the word around how nice we were, and how you got a good steak.”
Kaylor pointed to the riots that shook Washington in the wake of the 1968 assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. as the point when gay patrons truly made Annie’s their own, with the chaos of the time keeping others away. ”That’s when they claimed it,” said Kaylor.
During the interview, Kaylor recalled another tragic time, thinking of the friends lost to the first wave of the AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
”We lost a lot of customers,” she said. ”It got kind of jittery. 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.”
Amid the sad memories revisited during the interview, Kaylor still managed to return to an optimistic outlook, the sort of attitude that matched her signature smile perfectly.
”A lot of our regulars moved to Florida, but they visit. We’re developing new faces. That’s what we want. The new faces, they learn to appreciate the place,” Kaylor said with an eye toward the restaurant’s changing future, but unchanging welcome. ”We’ve got young people who go the bar, who are maybe not gay, and they love it here because it’s so friendly. A lot of places you can go into and no one talks to you. I think that has a lot to do with it. If you come in here, you’re not going to feel unwanted.”
[EDITOR’S NOTE: As originally posted, Kaylor’s age was listed as 86 via information provided. Kaylor, however, was 85.]