Grand Central nightclub, in danger of displacement, finds a new home

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Photo by Ed Gunts.

After nearly three decades on N. Charles Street, Grand Central, one of Baltimore’s largest gay nightclubs, will move to a different spot within the Mount Vernon neighborhood so developers can construct an eight-story office building on the property it currently occupies.

Grand Central’s last day in its current location will be Sunday, April 5, and construction of the replacement building is expected to start later in the month, according to information posted on the bar’s Facebook page.

Landmark Partners, the real estate developer that one year ago bought both the nightclub business and the property at 1001-1003 N. Charles St., announced yesterday that Grand Central’s new home will be the building formerly occupied by Flavor, a lesbian-oriented lounge that closed recently at 15 E. Centre St.

Landmark also said in a release that Grand Central’s general manager for the past 15 months, Marc Hayes, will manage the new location. Working with him, Landmark said, will be Michael Palmisano, who will be director of promotions. Landmark said the relocated business will open in April but did not provide a specific date.

The announcement came the same day Baltimore’s liquor board gave preliminary approval to a request to transfer the still-active liquor license from Flavor to Hayes and Palmisano, working as M&M Partners LLC. For final approval of the transfer, the building still must pass a series of inspections required by the liquor board.

The land swap and liquor board action provide a lifeline of sorts for Grand Central, founded in 1991 by Don Davis and sold by Davis for $1.4 million last February when he retired.

It also means that Grand Central will gain a restaurant component that it didn’t have before, because the transferred license is a “Class B” beer, wine and liquor license that requires a percentage of food sales as well as alcohol sales.

In its announcement about the move, Landmark said the new location will house a restaurant offering lunch and dinner and a nightclub providing entertainment in an upstairs lounge. Plans on file with the liquor board show a second-level dance floor.

Landmark’s two-step transaction is similar to another Mount Vernon move, in which developer Dennis Richter is relocating the Eddie’s of Mount Vernon grocery store at 7-11 E. Eager St., so he can use that property to construct an apartment building.

The grocery store will be relocated to space Richter acquired at auction in the lower level of the Belvedere condominium building at 1 E. Chase St., one block from the current Eddie’s location.

In Grand Central’s case, the nightclub might have simply petered out after last year’s sale, and Landmark had the ability to simply close it down to make way for a new development, because it was both the owner and occupant.

But with Landmark’s support and investment, the nightclub has stayed busy over the past year, especially on weekends, and Hayes and Palmisano believed its patrons had a strong enough interest in it to justify moving the club to a new, nearby location, if one could be found.

When Flavor closed, its building was like the Belvedere space that suited Eddie’s, and that gave Hayes and Palmisano the opportunity they were seeking.

Because the building was in operation until recently, it is essentially a turnkey situation and can be reopened relatively quickly, making it attractive as a place to move Grand Central.

“It was important to ourselves and to Landmark to find a new location in close proximity for Grand Central’s next iteration and to do so quickly to minimize [any] disruption” to its regular patrons, Palmisano said in a statement.

Davis started what is now Grand Central when he opened Central Station Pub at 1001 N. Charles St., in 1991. In 2003, he purchased the Stagecoach country and western bar at 1003 N. Charles St., combined the two buildings and renamed them Grand Central.

During Davis’ tenure, Grand Central grew to become a popular gathering spot for members of the LGBTQ community in central Maryland, especially after the nearby Hippo nightclub closed in 2015.

When they bought the property in February of 2019, Jon Pannoni and George Watson of Landmark said they would keep Grand Central open until they are ready to start work on their proposed development, which will contain 37,300 square feet of office and restaurant space.

In the past year, they have secured necessary approvals from various city agencies, including the zoning board and preservation commission, to move ahead with their project, called City House Charles. They have also signed up office tenants.

Grand Central’s new license is being transferred to Hayes and Palmisano, operating as M&M Partners LLC, from Vanna Belton and Kyle Kessenich, the license holders for Flavor. Landmark said today Grand Central’s N. Charles Street license will be used by the next food and beverage tenant at City House Charles.

As part of yesterday’s transaction, the liquor board approved a request from Hayes and Palmisano to provide live entertainment and off-premises catering. Attorney Stephen Fogleman told the commissioners that the new operators will be seeking approval to keep the Centre Street property open for food service only from 2-5 a.m. on certain days, such as New Year’s Eve and Pride weekend, but they will make a separate request for that. The board prohibits alcohol sales in Baltimore City after 2 a.m.

Fogleman also said the operators have signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Mount Vernon Belvedere Association that spells out the agreed-upon hours of operation and other details.

Grand Central on Centre is the second gay-friendly bar and restaurant in Mount Vernon to receive liquor board approval in recent months.

In February, entrepreneurs Josh Persing and Robert Gay opened The Manor Restaurant and Ultra-lounge in the former Elephant restaurant space at 924 N. Charles St., saying it would be gay-friendly but not gay-centric. Before opening The Manor, Persing and Gay ran a business called G.A.Y. Lounge at 518 N. Charles St.

In addition to office space, City House Charles will contain two ground-level restaurants facing N. Charles Street, in historic portions of 1001 and 1003 N. Charles St., that are being retained and restored as part of the development.

One is a café that will open to the lobby and seat about 70 for breakfast, lunch and early dinner. The other is a larger restaurant that will accommodate about 130 with both indoor and outdoor seating. Landmark said it has identified potential tenants for both spaces but did not name them, saying lease negotiations are currently underway.

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  1. I loved the Midtown Yacht Club with its peanuts on the floor! But the real reason why I am commenting is what in the world is wrong with CHAP? Approving a mid size office tower in the Mount Vernon area,not to mention the ugly apartment blocks looming over the Morton St. carriage houses? And allowing a block of charming dormer roofed houses at Park and Mulberry to be demolished(with the possible exception of the old Martick’s restaurant) . Why do they use the term “historic” in their title? They are allowing the destruction of what makes the area sought after. Did this all start when they cleverly changed the area from ‘historic’ to cultural’? Maybe the Fishbowl should do an article of CHAP’s developer connections.

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