Managing Migration

With its lease expiring Dec. 1, the DC Eagle is on the hunt for a new roost

By John Riley
Published on July 19, 2012, 6:22am | Comments

Ted Clements and Peter Lloyd are hoping the fourth time will be the charm for the DC Eagle.

The co-owners of the Eagle, the D.C. area's primary venue for the LGBT leather, biker and BDSM communities, told Metro Weekly July 15 that, come Dec. 1, the DC Eagle will close its doors at 639 New York Ave. NW and, for the fourth time in the establishment's 41–year history, move to a destination yet to be determined.

After originally opening at 904 9th St. NW in 1971, the DC Eagle was moved to 908 7th St. NW in 1979 to make way for a convention center, and again in 1987, to its current location, for yet more construction in the still-booming Penn Quarter neighborhood.

Ted Clements, Peter Lloyd

Ted Clements, Peter Lloyd

(Photo by Todd Franson)

In June 2010, the bar's former owner, Bill Cappello, announced that the DC Eagle had renegotiated a lease with its landlord that would allow the leather bar to remain at its current location until 2015. As the lease was negotiated, the area around the Eagle and the nearby Walter E. Washington Convention Center, including the city's Mount Vernon and Chinatown neighborhoods, was undergoing heavy development, making the Eagle's address a piece of prime real estate.

Clements and Lloyd say that the Douglas Development Corporation, which owns the building housing the Eagle, recently exercised their right to terminate the lease with the bar three years early. In June, Douglas gave the bar the minimum six-month window for notification, as required by District law. The ''drop dead'' date, as Lloyd calls it, to vacate is Dec. 1.

''We knew this was coming,'' Clements says of the DC Eagle's eventual move. ''It's not the perfect timing. But it is the last piece of the puzzle to make sure the legacy does continue.''

Even though its doors will close, the Eagle will not be down and out, Clements promises. He's confident the bar will relocate.

''We're not on life support,'' he says. ''Since we've taken over, the business has increased significantly, and we're on good financial ground. It's just the building. It's time for a new building, and it's what best works. And the community's willing to follow us – they say that all the time.''

For now, both Clements and Lloyd are scouring the metro area for a new home. The two say they would prefer to own the next building that will house the bar. The ''Eagle in Exile,'' operating as the DC Eagle, will, ideally, rent space from the DC Eagle Development Corporation, the two explain. The bar's investors would have shares of the development corporation, which would own the building.

In that scenario, the business could spend less money renting from itself, leaving more funding for various projects and fundraisers benefiting the LGBT community, which have been hosted by the DC Eagle over the years.

''We're looking at everything from Crystal City to Silver Spring, and everything in between,'' Clements says of the search. ''Nothing's off the chart right now.''

Lloyd qualifies that statement, saying that the DC Eagle is ''extremely low-key'' and isn't looking to pick a fight with new neighbors. They are, for example, avoiding real estate churches and schools, not wanting to spark any NIMBY conflicts.

Clements and Lloyd say they've already spoken with a couple Realtors. Regular customers are constantly recommending potential sites, too, including the U Street corridor and the area around Howard University.

Many of the suggestions are cost-prohibitive, Lloyd says. He adds that he and Clements would consider any property, whether industrial, retail or residential, as long as the bar would fit well into the surrounding neighborhood and allow for amenities that appeal to the Eagle's customers.

''We don't need prime commercial real estate,'' says Clements.

Lloyd says his ideal spot would be Metro accessible and have space for parking, though he points out that many customers, especially younger ones, don't drive.

In terms of space, Clements and Lloyd estimate are willing to work with a wide range – from 3,000 to 20,000 square feet. They are also open to having a restaurant or retail to enhance a new venue.

Based on whatever space they may find, Clements says he'd consider licenses to allow dancing or live music and entertainment, such as DJs, allowing the Eagle to better capitalize on events such as the annual Mid-Atlantic Leather Weekend.

As the hunt for a home becomes more pressing, the Eagle team says they're well prepared to move beyond any of the established ''gayborhoods.''

''We've always been the renegades,'' Lloyd says, gesturing to the area around the Eagle. ''When this particular bar fist opened, this was no man's land.''

''We were in between Southeast and Dupont, so people would stop by here on the way in between,'' Clements adds.

Plus, adds Lloyd, ''I like being on the other side of the tracks, if you know what I mean.''

For now, they are putting together proposals on the three best pieces of property they've found.

With about 75 percent of the capital needed for a down payment on the property, Clements says, the next fundraising push will be a yard sale, which has the added bonus of paring down before a move.

Whatever variables they encounter with a move, the two hope to have a new bar fully operational by February 2013 at the latest. In the meantime, they may rent warehouse space or similar for parties or other events to maintain momentum.

''There are other bars, but they're not us,'' Lloyd says. ''There are other places, but it's not the Eagle. It doesn't have the same feel. We are unique.''

Lloyd also notes that unlike some of its current neighbors, the DC Eagle has not required a large police presence to calm rowdy crowds. Nor has the local ANC placed any restrictions on its hours of operation or its noise levels.

''We're a viable business, and our community's behind us,'' Clements says. ''We are a pillar of the community, and it's about the footprint we want to create in the next community we land in, and become part of that neighborhood community.''