Annie’s Paramount Steak House was named an America’s Classics by the James Beard Foundation. (Scott Suchman/For The Washington Post)

Like many restaurants that specialize in grilled meats, Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse has attracted its share of male diners over the decades, but with one important distinction: These men often hold hands. Same with the women who enter into this Dupont Circle institution.

Celebrated for its generous portions and gracious service, Annie’s is equally famous for its embrace of the LGBTQ community, beginning in the 1950s, years before the Stonewall riots in Greenwich Village launched the modern gay rights movement in America. The restaurant, family-owned since its founding in 1948, has been a safe haven for Washington’s gay community back when there were few such places.

On Thursday, Annie’s Paramount Steak House officially became an American classic. The James Beard Foundation announced on social media that Annie’s was one of the five winners of this year’s America’s Classics award, handed out annually to “beloved regional restaurants” that are, according to the foundation, “distinguished by their timeless appeal” and their “quality food that reflects the character of their communities.”

“Annie’s was selected not only for their hefty steaks, their juicy burgers and their delicious cocktails, but because of what really keeps people coming back: the restaurant’s legacy of inclusivity, a hearty welcome and respect,” said food blogger/vlogger Danny Kim, in announcing the award.

“It’s beautiful,” said Paul Katinas, the second-generation owner of Annie’s. “It’s great for the gay community for all the years that they supported the restaurant. It’s just a wonderful, wonderful tribute.”

Annie’s, which celebrated its 70th anniversary last year, started its run as Paramount Steakhouse. It was founded by George Katinas, Paul’s father, and the steakhouse occupied a building about a block from its current address on 17th Street NW. The restaurant has been a family business in at least two ways: It has always been owned by a Katinas, and it has served as the place of employment for several generations. Four of George Katinas’s sisters — bartender Sue, waitress Kitty, bookkeeper Sophia and bartender/bon vivant Annie — worked their entire careers at the restaurant, Paul Katinas said.

Annie’s full name was Annie Kaylor. She died in 2013, but not before leaving her mark. Kaylor was, Paul Katinas recalled, a force of nature who was eventually immortalized with her name across the restaurant. The official name change came in the early 1960s, the owner said.

“She had, let’s say, the most dramatic personality,” Paul Katinas said. “I mean, she was known to do some interesting things at her bar, and [customers] enjoyed it tremendously. My dad saw that she was a great draw and decided he wanted to put her name up there.”

Washington food writer, cookbook author and Washington Post contributor David Hagedorn recalled his first visits to Annie’s back in the late 1970s, when he was a student at Georgetown University. Back then, he said, there were only a few places where Washington’s gay community felt safe, and Annie’s was one of them.

“I never knew such places existed,” said Hagedon, founder of Chefs for Equality for the Human Rights Campaign, an annual fundraiser for LGBTQ equality. Hagedorn is also a member of the Beard Foundation’s restaurant and chefs award committee. He nominated Annie’s for the Classics award. He even wrote an essay for the foundation on why Annie’s has a place in his heart.

“In a time where queer spaces are disappearing from American cities and the political climate is once again hostile to LBGTQ people, it is imperative that we recognize, support, and celebrate community anchors like Annie’s Paramount Steakhouse,” Hagedorn wrote.

There are countless memories and anecdotes connected with Annie’s, but one has come to define the place. The Washington Post’s Matt Schudel included it in Kaylor’s obituary: “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.”

Annie’s became a safe haven for the gay community not by design, but by its own hospitality. In a 2006 interview with Metro Weekly, Kaylor said that “back in the ’50s, the gays started coming in. I had these waitresses that were all mothers, and they used to treat them very nice. We didn’t even know they were gay. They would just pass the word around how nice we were, and how you got a good steak.”

Paul Katinas said he’s in the process of writing letters to family, to staff members and to customers, informing them about the award. He said a Beard Foundation crew will be at the restaurant on Feb. 8 to film scenes for a video, which will be played at the James Beard Awards Gala in Chicago on May 6. He hopes all of Annie’s regulars will turn out for the shoot.

“It’s very exciting,” Paul Katinas said about the award. “My first thoughts were always straight to . . . my father, my aunts and uncles and all the years of blood and sweat that they put into the restaurant. They all earned it more than I did.”

Three of the other four America’s Classics winners were announced earlier this week. They were Jim’s Steak and Spaghetti House in Huntington, W.Va.; Pho 79 in Garden Grove, Calif.; and Sehnert’s Bakery and Bieroc Cafe in McCook, Neb. The fifth winner, A&A Bake & Double and Roti Shop in Brooklyn, was announced Friday.

Annie’s is the third restaurant in Washington to win an America’s Classics award. The previous winners were Ben’s Chili Bowl, Washington’s legendary diner on U Street, and C.F. Folks, the iconoclastic downtown lunch counter that abruptly closed last year after a dispute with its landlord.

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