Living on ‘borrowed time,’ Mt. Vernon’s Grand Central nightclub closes permanently

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Photo by Ed Gunts

Grand Central has served its last call.

A lawyer for the owners of the popular gay nightspot in Mount Vernon told the city liquor board today that they have shut it down, effective today.

“The licensees have decided to immediately close Grand Central,” said the attorney, Stephan Fogleman.

The license holders — Jonathan Richard Pannoni, John Porter Jr. and George Watson of Grand Central LLP — were scheduled to appear before the liquor board in response to charges that Grand Central had violated two liquor board rules on July 30.

The charges both involved serving patrons indoors, in violation of a mayor’s executive order prohibiting indoor service during the pandemic.

Fogleman said the license holders admit to the charges. He said the general manager was off that night and the one bartender on duty was overwhelmed and didn’t know what was happening on the premises. He said the employee was “let go” after the incident.

“The licensees are full of contrition here,” Fogleman said. “They were very upset to learn that they had received a violation from the liquor board, having had no previous violations.”

Open since 1991 at 1001 N. Charles Street and later expanded to include 1003 N. Charles, Grand Central was the largest gay nightclub in Mount Vernon and one of the largest in the city.

Its closing comes nearly four months after another gay-friendly spot, City Cafe, closed a block away. It leaves the Baltimore Eagle, at 2022 N. Charles Street, as the city’s largest gay bar in terms of square footage.

Fogleman told the board that Pannoni and Watson, principals of a development company called Landmark Partners, had planned to close the club at the end of the month to start construction on an eight-story office building on the site.

He said the owners want to keep Grand Central’s liquor license and convert it to a restaurant license for a business that will open at the base of the office building, called City House Charles.

The owners “are set to redevelop this entire property within the next month and ultimately the Grand Central license will be used in conjunction with a restaurant with a full-service kitchen and they will be requesting a restaurant license…in the same building, ” Fogleman said.

Because of the July 30 incident, he continued, the owners have decided to close the club now.

“Grand Central, as a nightclub, as a concept, was on borrowed time, and that time was expected to expire at the end of this month, when they were going to start developing,” Fogleman said.

“As a result of this infraction, the licensees have decided to immediately close Grand Central in anticipation of its redevelopment. It will cost them lost revenue over the next three and a half weeks, but they think it’s the best that they can do in order to ensure 100 percent compliance with liquor laws …The best thing they can do is shut the operation, and they have.”

For the sake of an obituary, the club was open on Tuesday, September 1. There were conflicting reports on social media about whether it was open at all yesterday.

Patrons posted photos showing that the building was closed around 10 p.m. last night. Others observed that it was closed earlier in the evening as well.

The liquor board commissioners voted 3 to 0 to fine the license holders $200 for the violations and give them 30 days to pay.

No farewell party is planned, but the management team left a message about the closing on the nightclub’s website:

“After over 30 years of serving the community, Grand Central sadly has shut its doors. Given the overwhelming challenges created by the pandemic, and our beverage-only driven business, the operations were not sustainable as we prepare for the next chapter.

“We appreciate all of our customers and supporters and thank them for their long-time loyalty; we look forward to celebrating the institution’s legacy in the future development.
We strongly believe in the Mt. Vernon community and will always drive to be stewards of quality, growth and retention to ensure the neighborhood’s character stays true to form.”

Ed Gunts

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