Metro Weekly

Annie’s wins prestigious James Beard “America’s Classics” award

Restaurant's links to the LGBTQ community and reputation for quality "comfort food" led to its win

Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse – Photo: JD Uy

Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse, a restaurant in the historic 17th Street neighborhood that has long been patronized by the LGBTQ community, has been honored by the prestigious James Beard Foundation as one of five winners of the organization’s “America’s Classics” award.

Since 1998, the James Beard Foundation — named in honor of culinary icon, cookbook author, and food critic James Beard — has awarded America’s Classics awards to “beloved regional restaurants” that are “distinguished by their timeless appeal” and “quality food that reflects the character of their communities,” according to the foundation’s website.

In the case of Annie’s, the history of the steakhouse — not to mention its character — is inextricably linked to its LGBTQ patrons, who for decades comprised the bulk of the surrounding neighborhood’s residents. Since its inception in 1948, long before the Stonewall Riots that marked the start of the modern-day LGBTQ rights movement, Annie’s was a safe space where LGBTQ people were not only accepted, but embraced.

“Annie’s was selected not only for their hefty steaks, their juicy burgers and their delicious cocktails, but because of what really keeps people coming back: the restaurant’s legacy of inclusivity, a hearty welcome and respect,” food blogger/vlogger Danny Kim said in a Facebook video announcing the award.

This year’s other award winners include: Jim’s Steak and Spaghetti House in Huntington, W.V.; Pho 79 in Garden Grove, Calif.; Sehnert’s Bakery and Bieroc Café in McCook, Neb.; and A&A Bake & Double and Roti Shop in Brooklyn.

Annie’s is the third restaurant in Washington, D.C., to win the award, following the iconic Ben’s Chili Bowl on U Street NW, and C.F. Folks, the historic downtown lunch counter that closed its doors last year following an irreconcilable dispute with its landlord over protocols for restroom use, according to a statement posted on the restaurant’s website.

Paul Katinas, the owner of Annie’s, says when he learned that the restaurant was being honored he thought about his father, who started the business in 1948, and his extended family, who all worked in the restaurant throughout the years — first at its original location at 1519 17th St. NW, and later at its current location, at 1609 17th St. NW.

Most notable of these family members was Annie Kaylor, the restaurant’s namesake, a longtime bartender best known for her larger-than-life personality.

The late Annie Kaylor (center) with staff, circa 2009 — Photo: Todd Franson

“The thing with Annie was she loved people. If you sat at her bar, and wanted to tell her something, she’d give you the attention and warmth,” says Katinas. “People felt like she really cared about them. She was there for everybody, loved people, and was very energetic behind the bar. She could create an atmosphere and get the whole bar laughing at the same time with her antics.”

Katinas says the staff at the restaurant is excited and proud of their efforts, and have been fielding congratulatory messages since the announcement.

He notes that a Beard Foundation film crew will be at the restaurant on Feb. 8 to film scenes for an introductory video that will be played at the James Beard Awards Gala in Chicago, where Annie’s will officially be honored on May 6.

Katinas also expressed his gratitude towards the customers who have patronized Annie’s throughout the years, particularly members of the LGBTQ community, who were always “welcomed and taken care of properly,” he says.

“We’ve always appreciated the support from them, and they from us,” he says, noting that the restaurant not only served as a “safe space,” but employed members of the LGBTQ community and held fundraisers for the Names Project Foundation, the custodian of the AIDS Memorial Quilt.

David Hagedorn, a food writer and the creator and chair of the Human Rights Campaign’s “Chefs for Equality,” says he touted the restaurant’s longtime ties to the LGBTQ community when he nominated Annie’s for the “America’s Classics” award.

Waiter at Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse – Photo by Todd Franson.

“Annie’s has been a part of my life since I came to Washington to go to Georgetown in 1976,” says Hagedorn, who is also a member of the James Beard Foundation’s restaurant and chefs award committee.

“Queer spaces are disappearing all over the country, and what they represent is important to our community, especially in the political climate we live in now,” he adds. “We as LGBTQ people know the rug can be pulled out from under us at any moment, and that seems to sadly be happening more and more these days. Annie’s has always been a nexus of support and safety, and they represented that at a time when they really had to put themselves on the line to be that way, and so it was a no-brainer to nominate them.”

Hagedorn notes that Annie’s has established its reputation as a quality restaurant over the years.

“The food at Annie’s is comfort food,” he says,” It’s straightforward — a thick, juicy pork chop, a great burger, steak. Is it pressing the limits of what’s new and innovative? No, but that’s not what matters. What’s important about the America’s Classics award, and what we emphasize, is the place these restaurants that are nominated hold within the community. This is a place where people go to seek comfort, and the food is a reflection of that message. What more could you ask for from a restaurant?”

John Riley is the local news reporter for Metro Weekly. He can be reached at jriley@metroweekly.com

Leave a Comment: