Nine months after the gay-friendly Grand Central nightclub closed in Mount Vernon, a new gay club called Central is opening several blocks away.
Baltimore’s liquor board yesterday approved a request to transfer a Class “B” Beer, Wine and Liquor license to Marc Hayes and Ivan Yordanov, two businessmen who plan to open a 6,200 square foot restaurant, bar and nightclub on Howard Street’s Antique Row, in a three-building complex most recently occupied by Bentley’s jazz bar and lounge.
According to their application, the business will be called Central. Hayes is the former general manager of Grand Central, the popular bar and club that was at the northeast corner of Charles and Eager Streets from 1991 to 2020. Its last day of operation was September 3.
Grand Central closed after original owner Don Davis sold the property to a developer, Landmark Partners, which is constructing an eight-story office building in its place.
When it was clear that Grand Central would have to close to make way for the office project, Hayes said he’d like to find a location where its patrons could go once construction began. In March of 2020, he received liquor board approval to operate a bar at 15 E. Centre Street, the spot formerly known as Flavor, but never opened there.
Instead, Hayes explored other options in Mount Vernon and chose the Bentley’s property at 885-889 N. Howard Street, part of the block known as Antique Row. After the liquor board hearing yesterday, he and Yordanov gave a tour of the building, which they’re aiming to open in August, creating about 20 jobs.
Before giving the tour, Hayes said he wanted to make it clear that this business is not a relocation of Grand Central and that Landmark Partners is not affiliated with it. He said it won’t have any of the old furnishings or memorabilia from Grand Central and that he doesn’t control rights to the name or other intellectual property associated with Grand Central.
“It’s not Grand,” he stressed. “We’re just Central. Not connected at all.”
Hayes explained that he was working with Landmark when he explored opening the Centre Street building but he isn’t working on the Howard Street venture with Landmark, which acquired the intellectual property associated with Grand Central when it bought the buildings at 1001-1003 N. Charles Street.
The Centre Street location “was going to be a Grand Central,” because it would have been opened in collaboration with Landmark, he said. But because Landmark isn’t involved with the Howard Street property, “this is not going to be a Grand Central. This is going to be Central. This is going to be an LGBTQIA-friendly place, but not using the Grand Central intellectual property.“
In terms of square footage, too, “we’re totally not Grand,” he said. With roughly 15,000-square-feet over two buildings on Charles Street, “that was a huge space.”
But then why name it Central?
“Because we are central, between Leon’s and The Drinkery,” two other gay bars in Mount Vernon, he said. “We’re in a triangle.”
While the new business doesn’t have legal ties to Grand Central, Hayes said, he’ll certainly welcome its former patrons, as well as those who have never set foot in or heard of Grand Central. And even though he’s calling it a gay bar, he said, “I don’t see gender or race in anybody.” He describes himself as gender fluid and Yordanov as an ally of the gay community.
Both Hayes and Yordanov are 50 percent owners of the business. Hayes said they plan to have a dance floor and DJ station; Sunday brunch; drag shows and other live entertainment, as well as a full-service kitchen. Along with the license transfer, the liquor board approved a request to continue live entertainment and provide carryout service.
The three buildings are connected on the inside and date from around 1900. The interior has a long wooden bar reminiscent of Grand Central’s, and a series of lounges and dining areas. Some of the walls have exposed brick; one room is lined with mirrors. The main dance area is on the second level, with a mezzanine for a DJ that recalls the mezzanine in the old Girard’s nightclub at Cathedral and Eager streets. Spaces are more intimate and have lower ceilings than certain rooms in buildings on Charles Street, but they feel like Mount Vernon.
The property has been home to a series of restaurants and lounges over the years, including Phaze 10 and Cookers Music Bistro before Bentley’s. According to the Loopnet real estate website, the complex has been on the market for $870,000. The awning in the front still says Bentley’s. The liquor license remained active and transferrable even though the business hasn’t been open consistently during the COVID-19 pandemic because the liquor board changed its rules to be more flexible over the past year.
Hayes said he considered several locations for a place to open a club but decided on the Howard Street property because he liked its layout and ambiance, its location, and the fact that it doesn’t need much renovation.
“I’ve always liked this building,” he said. “Grand stairwell. Wrought iron…It’s gorgeous. Look at the arches.”
Because it’s three buildings combined, he said, the property already has a separate entrance for the carryout part of the business. He said he isn’t overly concerned about parking. “It’s different times, now,” he pointed out. “People take an Uber now. It’s better for them not to drive.”
Hayes and Yordanov, who lives in Alexandria, Virginia, have formed an entity called Mimik LLC to operate the business and are leasing the property. The Mount Vernon Belvedere Association, which has sometimes been wary of new bars in the neighborhood, wrote to the liquor board supporting Central’s application.
Hayes and Yordanov still need to pass inspections required by the liquor board. Hayes said the bar will be open from 4 p.m. to 1:45 a.m. Monday through Saturday and from 10 a.m. to 1:45 a.m. on Sundays, when Central will serve brunch. The carryout is tentatively scheduled to open daily starting at 11 a.m.
Even though many gay bars have closed around the country during the pandemic, including Gallery One on Maryland Avenue, Hayes said he believes there’s a market for another one in Baltimore.
He notes that Central will be different from the Baltimore Eagle, which caters to the leather community; the tavern-style bars with no live entertainment, and The Manor, an “ultralounge” in an elegantly-restored townhouse that used to be The Elephant restaurant. He said Central will have a cover charge when there are shows.
“We’re not The Manor, obviously. They’ve got a fantastic chef and fantastic food, and we’re going to be doing bar food” with a relaxed atmosphere and DJs, he said. At the same time, Central will offer more in terms of entertainment and food service than bars such as Leon’s and The Drinkery.
Given the range of options already in town, he said, “we’re kind of right in the middle.“
Hayes said he’s hoping Central will help draw more people and businesses to the 800 block of North Howard Street, on the western edge of Mount Vernon.
“I would love more positive foot traffic on Antique Row,” he said. “If we can spark something on Antique Row and get people moving up and down this street, we can make even more happen.”