Orchid, Barracks Row’s resident gay bar, stirred the last cocktail behind its glam, 40-foot marble bar last night after a little more than a year of business.
The small, Prohibition era-themed bar (520 Eighth Street SE) replaced now-defunct Senart’s Oyster and Grille Room in May 2018, bringing oysters, disco brunches, and Blue Orchid whiskey cocktails to the corridor.
“It wasn’t financially viable. From the time it opened it never really took off,” says Tom Johnson, managing partner in Hill Restaurant Group. He adds that “Eighth Street can be tough.”
The hospitality vet’s vast umbrella in D.C. includes politico go-to Hawk ‘n’ Dove, Ophelia’s Fish House, Willie’s, Finn McCool’s, and Lola’s. The latter two recently went more of a sports bar and craft cocktail route, respectively.
Hill has a long-term lease on Orchid’s site, so his group is tossing around a few replacement ideas. Two options on the table are flipping the space into a speakeasy or steakhouse, with plans to reopen before the end of the year.
Handing off the property altogether is also a possibility: “If someone wanted to buy it we might sell it,” he says. “Who knows?”
Out of the gate, Orchid’s menu featured upscale bar snacks like grilled lamb chops, avocado gazpacho, cheese plates, crab cakes, and seared sea scallops. A “post brunch” disco dance party on weekends included oysters, a 1.5-liter magnum of rose for $35, and six “baby bottle” buckets of bubbles for $50.
The team tried switching up menu items and dropping prices “considerably” in hopes of drawing in more customers. Johnson says the space won’t be another gay bar because competition is tough from other nightclubs and bars that are big on drag queen shows.
“When you limit yourself to a certain demographic it doesn’t always go well,” he says. “It’s a beautiful bar, and I think it might be successful as something else.”
The cozy bar is packed with mahogany-lined interiors and vintage pink and purple glass lamps.
Hill completed a switch on another sister restaurant this spring, scratching Tio Javier’s Mexican theme and reviving the space as Tortuga — a colorful venue for Caribbean cuisine with a beachy design and tiki drinks. He’s working on securing an entertainment license to add island-style music and Jimmy Buffett cover bands to its 200-person roof (514 Eighth Street SE).
Johnson says he’s working with Barracks Row Main Street to market the historic corridor better. The ANC started a Barracks Row Working Group this year to address area owners’ longevity concerns along the 400 block of Eighth Street SE. Panhandling and K2 drug issues are hurting businesses, he says: “I think it lost its way and is trying to find its identity again.”