Baltimore “Gay” or “Gay Friendly” Restaurants?

Writing the DiningOUT Blog and the DiningOUT column for Baltimore GayLife got me backing up a step and thinking about “Is there such a thing as a “Gay Restaurant” in Baltimore?”    More broadly, can a restaurant be “Gay Friendly”?  And if it is “Gay Friendly”, what’s the criteria for making that judgment?

Hmmm…  This raised a bunch of possible criteria…

Does a “gay friendly” restaurant have to be owned by gay people?
Can a restaurant be owned by gay people and not “Gay friendly”?
Does a gay friendly restaurant have to have at least some openly gay staff?
Does a gay friendly restaurant have to have 50% or better gay clientele? (if not 50%+, what percentage would qualify?)
Does a gay friendly restaurant place ads in gay publications?

Consider the restaurants that I included in my “Gay Friendly” favorites which demonstrate my criteria for “Gay Friendly” restaurants:

The Mt. Vernon Stables restaurant usually has comes close to reliably having a 50% or better gay clientele. There’s at least a server or two who’s gay. On the other hand, a young friend observed that while the upstairs restaurant at the “Stables” had a very “mixed” crowd with a large gay clientele, the downstairs bar seemed to be mostly straight. Go figure!

Gertrude’s is owned by an openly gay man, John Shields and he hosts fund raisers for the Baltimore Gay Community Center.

The Waterstone Grill and Bar was formerly a lesbian bar and  my understanding is that the women who owned the woman’s bar still own and manage Waterstone. It tends to be pick up hetero customers from a near by Maryland General hospital so the clientele may not be 50% or better gay/lesbian but some of the staff are probably gay.

Minato, in the heart of the Mt. Vernon area and a stone’s throw from two gay bars (the Hippo and Grand Central), seems to routinely have a good percentage of gay customers and probably a staff member or two who are gay.

The Dizz in the Remmington neighborhood has an owner, Elaine, who is very comfortable with gay people and one of the few restaurants in Baltimore that has routinely advertised in OutLoud (a Baltimore gay paper).    I also have this strange memory from years ago of eating at the Dizz with Elaine herself waiting on herself and flipping up her apron to reveal a strap-on dildo while giving a loud and heartfelt Roseane-esque laugh. I don’t know if that can be termed gay-friendly or how to categorize that but it sure as hell was memorable!

Tavern on the Hill in Mt. Vernon has a owner who has thanked me for nice reviews I’ve written about his restaurant and makes sure we get a good table when we come to eat with a bunch of gay friends.

The geek in me decided to try googling for “Baltimore gay  restaurants” which only seemed to point out the confusion of what it possibly means to be a “Gay” or “Gay Friendly” restaurant…

  • Cruising Gays –  listed 29 “gay restaurants/cafe” with the the top five including Akbar, an Indian restaurant in Mt. Vernon, a branch of Akbar in Columbia  recently closed in 2013), “Cafe Isis” ( which changed its name to Kyro over two years ago),  Ixia and DuClaw (both of which have been closed for a couple of years!)

  • Gay Cities –   “top five” gay restaurants include the City Cafe, followed by the Mt. Vernon Stables, Donna’s, Red Emma’s and the Station North Arts Cafe.

  • GayoSphere – just seems to have a list of 40+ restaurants that at best were chosen at random from “gay friendly” sections of the city like Mt. Vernon

  • Baltimore Sun – In its newly added “Gay in Maryland” online section, the Sun seems to think that any restaurant in Mt. Vernon is “Gay Friendly”

Intriguingly, I stumbled listings included a restaurant that I had never hear of – the “Bouillabaisse café” – which even more interestingly is located in what’s left of Baltimore’s downtown “China Town” (Checking their web site, even more curiously I found that this place touted it’s cheesesteak subs and oatmeal raisin cookies! Decidedly odd choices for a place with this name!).   I also I also found a couple other net mentions of Café Hon in Hampden as a gay restaurant (where to me their gay-est characteristic is probably the 25 foot high pink flamingo on the wall above the restaurant) and the quirky Paper Moon diner (what is about gays and naked Barbie dolls? The tres-gay Graham Norton show on BBC-America seemed to share Paper Moon’s fascination with naked Barbie dolls back a season or two ago…)

How about restaurant that advertise in local “Gay” newspapers?   That’s a pretty short list!

  • Baltimore GayLife – hasn’t had an ad from any local restaurant in at least 6 months

  • Baltimore OutLoud – has a single ad from the “Brewer’s Art” (of course – A Mt. Vernon based restaurant! <WInk>)

  • 2014 Baltimore LGBT Visitor’s Guide – (Created by the Baltimore GayLife staff and paid for by the city of Baltimore) has two restaurant ads: Miss Shirley’s and the Mt. Washington Tavern (the latter’s ad purely drumming up business for gay weddings!)    Curiously, the guide lists 135 restaurants; in most cases, the only rationale for them being included in the “Guide” is that they do business in Baltimore however curiously omitting truly gay-friendly places like Tavern on the Hill and Akbar (the Indian restaurant cited by “Cruising Gays” as its #1 Gay restaurant in Baltimore)

I discussed the topic of “Gay Restaurants” with some friends. They reminisced about a “gay restaurant” on 25th near Howard that had lasted a couple of years before it closed (but no one seemed to remember the name!) What made it “gay”?, The response was that it was gay-owned, had a gay-staff and had a gay clientele. Why did it close? There was a mix of responses including that “Baltimore isn’t Washington, DC and we don’t have a big enough gay population to support a gay restaurant”.

With “gay marriage” supported at the federal level and in 13 states, maybe exclusively gay restaurants are a thing of the past. How important is it to have a “gay friendly” restaurants as a dining out option?   Well, maybe, on same sex couple anniversaries or on Valentine’s Day!

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