Final ship to sail for Bethesda’s Yacht Club

Over-30s singles bar to close as hotel starts renovations

Wednesday, Jan. 11, 2006

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Charlie Shoemaker⁄The Gazette
Tommy ‘‘The Matchmaker” Curtis, owner of the Yacht Club in Bethesda, greets Amy Harrison (left) of North Potomac, Sheila Malcolm of Bethesda and Larry Steinberger of Germantown on Saturday night. After 17 years, the club which caters to the over 30 crowd, is closing.

Saturday may be the last dance at the Bethesda singles bar the Yacht Club, but according to owner Tommy ‘‘The Matchmaker” Curtis, it’s not the last chance for love.

The over-30 pick up joint that Curtis opened in 1989 in the basement of the Holiday Inn Select in Bethesda will close after this weekend.

The hotel is scheduled to undergo extensive remodeling and then become a Double Tree Inn. In the process, the Yacht Club, an area institution according to some, will become a parking garage.

For many Yacht Club regulars, who come to the bar to dance, meet new people and see old friends, the closing marks the end of something special and unique.

‘‘I’ve been coming here since it opened,” said Bryan Schirmer of Alexandria, Va. ‘‘This is one of the few places that you can come if you’re over 40 and you can still feel comfortable. It’s a Bethesda institution.”

Lonely hearts have only this last weekend for a chance to be introduced to a potential mate at the Yacht Club by Tommy The Matchmaker.

With a radio voice and old school Hollywood charisma, Curtis, microphone in hand, personally announces patrons as they walk into the club. He calls them ‘‘darling” and ‘‘sweetheart.” He also supposedly has a knack for helping people meet.

‘‘It’s one of the places that will be so missed,” said Kathy Wilson of Chevy Chase. ‘‘You get to dress up and be as glamorous as you want to be and people treat you that way. Tommy has that gift that makes you feel really special.”

Curtis, a short man with a huge personality, said he’s personally brought together nearly 200 couples over the years.

‘‘We’ve had 181 homeruns here,” he said. ‘‘I’m just the coach.”

Just recently, while waiting in line at Starbucks, Curtis said, he noticed a guy and a girl who he could tell wanted to meet each other. How could he tell?

‘‘I’m Tommy the Matchmaker,” he said.

Peter and Trudy Black of Crystal City, Va., met at the Yacht Club and are now married. But that didn’t stop them from continuing to come to the club, where 40 to 50 percent of the clientele are dating or married, according to Curtis.

‘‘We’ve gotten to know a lot of friends here,” Trudy Black said. ‘‘We’re going to miss it. We don’t know what we’re going to do yet.”

Curtis, a Bethesda resident, first got the idea to start the Yacht Club while on a date.

‘‘I was on a date and there was no place to take this lady for a drink after dinner, except for some stinky places on Rockville Pike,” he said.

He knew the owners of the Holiday Inn Select and they offered him the spot in the basement of the hotel to open a bar where people over 30 would feel comfortable to go for drinks and dancing.

‘‘The reason you’ve got a bar that’s lasted [17] years is because it’s unique,” Curtis said. ‘‘Nobody has ever opened to compete with us.”

Although there’s no water anywhere in sight of the club, the Yacht Club was named to evoke a certain atmosphere, Curtis said.

‘‘I wanted to give it a feeling of class and chic and immediate sense of over 30,” he said.

In the early 1980s, he opened a club in downtown Washington, D.C., called the Polo Club, but it wasn’t successful.

‘‘It just hit me one day that the Yacht Club had everything I was looking for.”

Carolyn Marra of Reston, Va., a regular at the club for years, said she’ll miss the place.

‘‘I always think of it as my ‘Cheers’ bar,” she said. ‘‘It’s very comfortable. I know the people here.”

But she’s not getting too depressed about the closing.‘‘I believe that when one door closes another one opens,” she said.

Indeed, Curtis has a little something up his sleeve to make it easier than ever for singles to find each other. And he says, this something is not only for the over-30 crowd. It’s for youngsters, too. He won’t say what this something is, but he claims it will be bigger than Internet dating. He plans to introduce it to the world in a television infomercial that will air in February.

‘‘Tommy The Matchmaker will be back, bigger than ever,” he predicted.

In addition, he plans to hold more dances at another location, likely in Northern Virginia, starting in the spring, he said.

So, while the Yacht Club’s 17-year journey may be coming to a close, the chance for romance lives on. And not just for Yacht Club patrons, but for the owner as well.

Despite all of the people that Curtis has brought together, he remains single. That’s right, ladies, Tommy the Matchmaker is still looking for a match of his own.

‘‘Ebert and Ropert don’t make movies,” he said. ‘‘Tommy the Matchmaker is still on the lookout.”

For more information about Tommy The Matchmaker or the Yacht Club, visit or call 301-654-2396.