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The Crew Club, the District’s best-known men’s spa serving the gay community, will close its doors on Feb. 29, according to founder and co-owner DC Allen.
Allen and his husband and business partner, Ken Flick, sold the building that housed the club to brothers Matthew and Norman Jemal, of Douglas Development Corporation, four years ago, when they felt the real estate market was at its height. That deal finalizes on April 6.
“I had this big file of realtors trying to get me to sell the building,” he says. “So I decided to do a deal.”
Records from the D.C. Office of Tax and Revenue show that the couple purchased the building in 2003 — after renting the space for the Crew Club’s first eight years — through a company called Caldwell Middleton LLC for about $2 million.
Allen says he and Flick tried to reach a new rental agreement with Douglas Development Corporation that would have allowed the second floor of the club to continue operating, but negotiations failed. The pair also looked for other space for a possible relocation, but were unable to find anything.
Additionally, Allen, who suffered a heart attack two-and-a-half years ago, said he felt it was time to retire. He and Flick are currently residing in Wilton Manors, Fla., having placed daily operations in the hands of the club’s manager, David Carter.
“I would have kept going, but my husband is 70 and I’m 63 and it’s time,” he says. “If I was 50 this would not be the case.”
Allen, who moved to D.C. from the Boston area in 1994, said he was compelled to create the Crew Club a year later, in part, because he wanted to provide a space for men to go and be safe from anti-gay violence and harassment. Twenty-five years later, he’s seen significant changes, both in real estate and where LGBTQ-targeted businesses are located, as well as in terms of broader societal acceptance.
“In terms of gay businesses, it was 17th Street, it was P Street. It’s all moved around over the years. And not just here, across the country,” he says, referring to the closures of some longtime gay establishments. “We had to be in our tribal areas to be safe before. You had to move someplace where all the gays were.
“Twenty-five years ago, we were not getting married, and then we had eight years of unprecedented gains in gay rights under Obama and now we’re slipping back,” Allen adds. “So yes, we are safer than we were and more accepted than ever before in history, except at the moment by our President.”
With regards Crew Club joining the growing list of LGBTQ-owned and LGBTQ-focused establishments that have shuttered their doors in recent years, Allen notes that many of the owners are close in age to him, and, after having spent decades serving the D.C. community, don’t have the time, money, or energy to tackle a new venture or relocation.
“Everyone I know has retired,” he says. “If I put all this money into a new place, I can’t get it out before I’m in a nursing home. So it just doesn’t sort of work.”
Throughout the course of his 25 years operating the Crew Club, Allen notes that there have been ebbs and flows in terms of foot traffic.
“Probably about 10 years ago, we started to drop off as the apps became more prevalent, but that stopped about three years ago, and things started to go back up,” he says.
Asked what he believes fueled the reversal of that trend, Allen says: “How do you like spending three hours sitting there and then it’s 11 o’clock and everybody goes to bed? And how would you feel about maybe just being able, after work, to walk over to the Crew Club and then be home by eight or nine and in bed…. You start up [on the apps] in your 20s and by the time you’re in your 30s, you’re sick of crap and bullshit. It makes total sense to me.”
Over the years, Allen has been honored for his efforts giving back to the community, most notably the Crew Club’s successful campaign encouraging its patrons to get tested and treated for syphilis in order to combat a spike in infections that began in the early 2000s.
“We’ve worked with Whitman-Walker [Health] and various other agencies doing testing,” he says. “We took our advertising budget and we turned it into a syphilis campaign, and we, personally, one business, lowered the syphilis numbers by 3%. I just kept thinking: ‘Well, if we actually took all the gay bars and all these [government] agencies’ advertising budgets, we could’ve eradicated it.'”
Because of his business’ efforts to promote sexual health, as well as his philanthropy, Allen has been honored with awards from a plethora of local groups, including Casa Ruby, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance, MPD’s former Gay and Lesbian Liaison Unit, the greater Washington, D.C. STD Community Coalition, the Capital Area Gay and Lesbian Chamber of Commerce, The DC Center, and Brother, Help Thyself.
“I do have one major word of wisdom, and that is: if you are in business to make money off the gay community, then you probably are not going to work out that well,” Allen says. “But if you’re in business to be of service to the community that you love, and you give back to the community that you love, then it will more than likely work out just fine. Money comes, but there’s got to be a love here somewhere.”
Currently, Allen has 15 employees, who have been working at the Crew Club for anywhere from 25 years to three months. Once the sale to Douglas Development Corporation officially goes through on April 6 — per the terms of the contract negotiated four years ago — he and Flick will issue checks to those employees that “express our gratitude for them being here.”
The Crew Club’s gym equipment will be donated to the Metropolitan Police Boys and Girls Clubs in Washington. The towels and sheets will likely be donated either to local homeless shelters, or (if the shelters refuse the donation) to animal shelters, which are always in need of linens. The merchandise behind the front desk will all be sold, and the club will be trying to contact any people with outstanding 30-day memberships to refund their money or negotiate some type of settlement.
While rumors of the club’s pending closure have been circulating for a while, Monday was the first time that Allen confirmed them, so he hasn’t received any feedback from clients yet. But he’s sure that some people will wax nostalgic as the club’s final weeks pass by.
“People come up and tell me all the time, ‘I met my husband here,'” says Allen. “I’m afraid people are going to be very upset.”
Allen and Flick are unsure of whether there will be a closing party on the Friday and Saturday of the club’s closing weekend, which coincides with his birthday. Plans for such an event, if it occurs, will be announced at a later time.
“Maybe I will have a birthday party on the Friday night and a blowout on a Saturday night, but I’m not sure yet,” he says. “Ken and I wanted to sort of thank everyone who’s been to our clientele. We hope we’ve done well by you, and provided you with [a] clean, safe space over the years.”
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