Church, an establishment that became a lightning rod in Baltimore even as it ascended a list of Esquire’s best bars in America, has closed.

The bar in Old Goucher shut its doors in mid-August, said Kristin Potler, who along with her husband took over the business three months earlier from founder Chelsea Gregoire.

When they took over, Potler and her husband said they were blindsided by the bar’s dire financial straits and the alienation of several previous employees. Several former workers told The Baltimore Banner that under Gregoire’s leadership Church had become a dysfunctional workplace and that staff and vendors were frequently paid late. Investors said they were misled about the bar’s finances and operation, while many objected to Gregoire’s decision to sell the bar, initially conceived as a queer haven, to the Potlers, a straight white couple.

READ MORE: Church bar: The rise and fall of a 'queer safe haven'

“There was an obvious boycott called against us before we even opened the doors,” said Potler, who observed “an onslaught of one-star reviews” online and personal attacks against her and her family. “It just got to be toxic, to be honest with you,” she said. “Baltimore got a little vicious on us.”

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In an Instagram post Sunday announcing the shutdown, Potler responded to some of the allegations leveled against the family in hopes of dispelling rumors that had floated after they purchased the bar.

View post on Instagram
 

She noted that $15,000 was paid in back wages before they even opened, with more paid later.

She also believed an article in The Banner about the business, which was promoted on social media, made some customers think Church was permanently closed.

Potler said she and her family lost $50,000 in an attempt to rehabilitate the business and finally decided to shut the doors after consistently losing thousands of dollars a week. The future of the space in Old Goucher is unclear; Potler said the property’s landlord is seeking a new tenant.

Gregoire could not be reached for comment.

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Potler said she has one regret about how she and her husband managed the business. “In hindsight, we should’ve changed the name,” she said. “I think we all have a complicated relationship with Church.”

christina.tkacik@thebaltimorebanner.com

Christina Tkacik is the food reporter for The Baltimore Banner. A former Baltimore Sun reporter, she has covered the city's dining scene as well as crime and politics. 

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