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Looking Out: Quest Bar in Highlandtown to close this weekend, after last hurrah

If you're a fan of The Quest Bar on Fleet Street in East Baltimore, the good news is there's a big party there this Saturday.

The bad news is the party is a last hurrah.

After nearly 15 years, bar owner Tom Mathison is selling his longtime Highlandtown establishment -- perhaps the last true gay bar on the east side -- to developers, who plan to tear the tavern down and put in townhomes, he said Thursday.

"It's just bittersweet when you've done something half your life, seeing it end," said Mathison, 66, who spent years tending bars on Boston Street and in Fells Point before starting Quest. "But everything has to end sometime."

Asked why, he said, "Because I'm getting old, kid."

But there are other reasons, too.

Taxes are high in Baltimore, and a lot has changed in the gay-bar business in the last 10 years, Mathison said. He blames smoking bans, hook-up apps like Grindr that let gay people meet others from the comfort of their couches, and increasing acceptance for gay people across American society.

"I think it's great that everybody's getting along, but the younger [gay people] just go with their friends to straight bars," he said. "If you check with a lot of the gay bars, they're not setting the world on fire anymore. You're going to see a lot of them close."

Mathison said he doesn't know who the developers are he is selling to. He's only dealt with them through a third party. He also wouldn't say how much he's selling for. "Let's just say the stress of day-to-day living will be off my back," he said.

One thing is for sure: he plans to go out with a bang.

"We're having a big blowout party on Saturday night, and if we have liquor left we'll be open Sunday," he said.

All the regulars will be there, he said -- at least those who are still alive and living in the area.

"I expect everybody and their brother to come down. Everyone comes out for the last one," he said. "I'll see people I haven't seen in 20 years."

If there are drink specials in the works, Mathison said he's not telling until Saturday.

He'll be there "overseeing," taking it all in one more time, he said. He also gave a big shoutout to his staff: Johnny Star, Mark Hunter, David Lessner and Henryk Wisniewski.

"I wish everybody good luck and good bye," he said. "Thanks for the many years of support."

The bar is located at 3607 Fleet Street.

Elsewhere in the news:

- Remember last year when former Raven Brendon Ayanbadejo guest-edited the first "sports issue" of the Washington Blade? Well the issue is back Aug. 22, and will be guest-edited this year by lesbian soccer player Megan Rapinoe (Seattle Reign). Here's the Blade's story on the upcoming issue.

- ICYMI, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore is having a public board meeting on Monday

- Check out the lead to this story: "Efforts to keep athletes and visitors safe at the Gay Games may be the most sweeping and comprehensive security and emergency plan in Northeast Ohio history."

That's from WKYC in Cleveland, where the games are happening this weekend.

- Did you see the story in The Washington Post about "the black HIV epidemic" in America? It's definitely worth a read

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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