Annie Kaylor, who presided over the eponymous Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse for more than 50 years, served more than strong cocktails and inimitable hospitality. She made the restaurant into a spot that all communities need—a place to be yourself. The restaurant—still going strong on 17th Street—remains a landmark and popular social gathering spot for Washington’s gay community. Annie died in 2013.
“Because of her leadership, Annie’s became a gay institution,” says longtime D.C. resident and gay rights activist Paul Kuntzler, who first visited the restaurant in 1962. “Going to dinner at Annie’s was an act associated with the gay community.”
Annie began working the night-and-weekend shift at what was originally called simply the Paramount Steakhouse in 1952, four years after it was opened by her brother, George Katinas.
At that time, the federal government persecuted gay men and lesbians. “Gay people lost jobs in government and lost security clearances for government-related jobs simply because of sexual orientation,” Paul says.
Not long after Annie began working at the restaurant, she noticed a growing number of unattached men coming in for dinner and drinks. By the early 1960’s the restaurant had won a reputation as a kind of sanctuary for gays.
“We wouldn’t know they were gay,” Annie told Metro Weekly in 2006. “We just noticed that every time you turned around, we’d be filling up with guys and filling up with guys. It was a gradual thing without us even being aware of it.”
A popular story about Annie goes like this: Sometime in the 1960s, she noticed two men holding hands under a table. She came to them and said, “You guys don’t have to hold hands under the table. No, no—you hold those hands right up here on top of that table.”
“Gradually, Annie made the gay cause her cause,” Paul Kuntzler says. “She went out of her way to understand the lives of the people whom she was serving and to instill her values into the restaurant staff.”
Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse was an early sponsor of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington, had a presence at Pride and became the site of numerous weddings of same-sex couples.
“She was like a mother to all of us,” says Paul. “It’s hard to think of anyone who wasn’t gay or lesbian who played such a prominent role in the gay and lesbian community.”