Annie Kaylor, who presided over Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse for more than 50 years, making the restaurant an unofficial social club for Washington’s gay community, died July 24 at her home in Arlington County. She was 85.

She had congestive heart failure, her daughter Kathy Pergola said.

By the force of her personality and the strength of her cocktails, Mrs. Kaylor helped transform an ordinary restaurant on 17th Street NW into an early sanctuary for gay residents of Washington.

Opened in 1948 by Mrs. Kaylor’s brother, George Katinas, the Paramount Steakhouse was originally a neighborhood “beer joint,” as Paul Katinas, George’s son, put it. Mrs. Kaylor began working at the restaurant in 1952 and was soon joined by one of her sisters, Sue Stouts, on the night-and-weekend shift.

Before long they began to see a growing number of unattached men coming in for dinner and drinks.

Annie Kaylor, the longtime manager of Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse, a restaurant on 17th Street NW that has been a gathering place for Washington’s gay community since the 1950s, poses in a similar style underneath a photograph of her younger self on September 3, 2010. (Courtesy of Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse)

“We wouldn’t know they were gay,” Mrs. Kaylor told Metro Weekly, a gay-oriented publication, 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.”

Mrs. Kaylor had a casual, easygoing manner that made her customers feel welcome. By 1960, the Paramount Steakhouse was a landmark among its gay clientele. For many of them, it was one of the few places in buttoned-down Washington where they were at ease.

“She was like a mother to all of us,” said Paul Kuntzler, a longtime Washington gay rights advocate who first visited the restaurant in 1962. “It was a very important place.”

In a story retold recently in the Washington Blade, a weekly gay newspaper, Mrs. Kaylor noticed two men holding hands under a table. She approached them and told them to feel free to hold hands above the table.

“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,” Kuntzler said. “She was an institution in the gay community.”

Mrs. Kaylor’s name went up on the front of the Paramount Steakhouse in the early 1960s, about the time the Katinas family — which still owns the restaurant — began to open other branches in the Washington area. Today, the only other branch of Annie’s is near Kent Island on Maryland’s Eastern Shore.

In 1985, Annie’s moved from 17th and Church streets to its current spot one block north. Customers and staff members said there was something about the location, near Dupont Circle, and Mrs. Kaylor’s personality that fostered a spirit that kept the restaurant crowded at all hours.

“Some customers have been around so long they get Christmas presents,” a 1981 Washington Post story noted. “On a busy night at Annie’s Paramount Steak House, waitresses have been known to hand silverware to an arriving customer and shout, ‘Here, you make up the table, will ya?’ It’s that kind of place.”

The food was plentiful, if not always up to gourmet standards. In a 2010 review, Washington Post restaurant critic Tom Sietsema complained about the “overcooked trout,” “gloppy Caesar salad” and “juiceless and vapid” pork chops.

“However,” he added, “here’s what you can also expect at Annie’s: great service on the phone, potent cocktails (the $4 Manhattans at happy hour are especially good), homey mashed potatoes, crisp coleslaw, decent Cajun-spiced rib-eye, and more air-kissing than you see at fashion week in New York, London, Milan and Paris combined.”

Mrs. Kaylor continued to hold forth behind the bar until about three years ago. She was known for mixing excellent Manhattans, which she stirred with her finger. As she served one customer, she would call out, loud enough to be heard in the street, “Who’s next?”

Anne John Katinas was born Aug. 20, 1927, in Washington. Her Greek immigrant parents ran fruit stands and later restaurants and a butcher shop.

Her first marriage, to James Gibbs, ended in divorce. Her second husband, Sidney Kaylor, died in 2007 after 45 years of marriage.

Survivors include four children from her first marriage, Mike Katinas, who was adopted by Mrs. Kaylor’s parents, of Queenstown, Md., Joseph Gibbs of Reedville, Va., Detra Wood of Arlington and Kathy Pergola of Burke; a daughter from her second marriage, Susan Kaylor of Arlington; a brother, George Katinas of Bethesda; two sisters, Catherine “Kitty” Canard of Fairfax County and Mary Stephanos of Ocean Pines, Md.; nine grandchildren; and 17 great-grandchildren.

Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse was an early sponsor of the Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington and has had a presence at the Gay Pride parade. Since 2010, after gay marriage became legal in the District, general manager Raul deGuzman said, Annie’s has been the site of numerous weddings.

Mrs. Kaylor employed hundreds of people over the years, including several of her children and other relatives. Many of her employees, even if they weren’t related to her, called her “Mama,” and she responded in kind.

“She said, ‘Son,’ ” recalled Mano Vodjani, a waiter who began working at Annie’s in 1975, “ ‘remember that everyone who walks through that door is a member of our family.’ ”