The Orchid (520 Eighth St. SE) was quietly closed Tuesday, August 13 after a little more than a year on Barracks Row.
The LGBTQ bar opened May 16 with elegant 1920s-inspired décor created by local DC talents Diego Gonzalez-Zuniga and Timur Tugberk, including mahogany paneling, a seemingly endless 60-foot marble bar, chandeliers and a temperature-controlled glass-enclosed wine cellar as well as orchids.
Despite the beautiful interior, Tom Johnson, Managing Partner of the Hill Restaurant Group, said the establishment never took off. “When we first opened, it sort of broke even, but it never really turned a profit,” he said. “It just wasn’t financially viable for us to keep it open.”
Johnson said that while Hill Restaurant Group tried different things in an effort to attract business, including changing up the menu, they finally had to make the call.
“It’s a hard decision to make,” said Johnson. “It always is when you close one. Even when the financials overall aren’t there, it’s still a difficult time to move on and try something different.”
Serious thought will be put into the next concept launched there, Johnson said. Hill Restaurant Group owns four other restaurants on Eighth Street SE, including Ophelia’s Fish House, Lola’s, Finn McCools and Tortuga.
”You have to be careful,” Johnson said, “because at some point, you’re just competing against yourself.”
The Orchid opened in May, 2018, in the former site of Senart’s Oyster House.
The opening came two years after the closure of Phase One (525 Eighth St. SE), which had been the oldest continuously operating lesbian bar in DC and in the US when it closed in February 2016. Pennsylvania Avenue gay bar Remington’s closed in 2014 after 34 years.
Johnson said that he is familiar with members of the gay community that frequent the group’s other restaurants. He said he asked clientele why they didn’t frequent the Orchid in particular.
“They tell me, Tom, you don’t need a gay bar anymore. We like to go out and socialize with everybody,” Johnson said.
He said that smaller gay clubs appear to have suffered more than larger nightclubs with big emphasis on entertainment.
The staff at the Orchid were given the option to work at one of the other HRG restaurants. Johnson said HRG has a long-term lease on the Orchid space, but have not yet decided what they will do there. He said they are tossing around ideas including the possibility of a higher-end steak restaurant, but nothing has been decided.
He said that more than likely, the next concept in the space will be a restaurant. “With food, you can lean on the consistency and quality of both food and the consistency and quality of your drinks,” he said.
“If we do something, it will be something nice and exciting,” Johnson said. “We’ll always sell food there.”