14 Aug 2019


Goodbye, Orchid on Barracks Row

Orchid, August 13, 2019. Photo by Maria Helena Carey

Orchid, the sophisticated gay bar that opened back in May of 2018 on Barracks Row to much fanfare and great reviews from patrons, quietly closed for good this week. A reader noticed the bar was not open for business yesterday, August 13, and after reaching out to Hill Restaurant Group managing partner Tom Johnson, he confirmed the closure. Employees have been reassigned to other restaurants within the group.

Orchid opened in the space where Senart’s Oyster and Chop House thrived during its six-year run, from May of 2011 until November of 2017 when it was papered over and abruptly closed. Where Senart’s had a 50-foot marble bar and then comfortable seating in the back, Orchid extended the marble throughout the length of the narrow space, a feature that seriously limits the possibilities for the venue. “Unfortunately, Orchid was not really viable from the beginning,” said Tom during a phone conversation. Although he was not involved in the opening of Orchid, as he joined Hill Restaurant Group in October of 2018 as managing partner, the decision to close Orchid made financial sense. The bar was never a strong income producer in the first place. When asked why that might be, Tom alluded to conversations he’s had with gay patrons who frequent other HRG properties such as Lola’s; namely, the need for a gay bar is not nearly as pressing as it used to be, thanks to shifting societal norms. There is also competition from nightclubs and other venues not overtly labeled as gay-only. Special events and parties in straight spaces and dating apps such as Grindr are also competition, according to this old Slate article.

Orchid is the latest in a series of gay bars closing around town: Phase I, the long-time lesbian bar across the street on 8th Street closed back in 2017 after 45 years of operation and The Bachelor’s Mill closed in October of 2018. Across the District, Town closed in June of 2018 and Cobalt closed in March of this year, after 20 years.

One question remains: What will happen to the door handles in the restrooms?

Update: Several readers have informed us that the handles were removed soon after Orchid’s opening. We’re pretty sure that was a hard decision to make.

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