An End of an Era: The Hippo is Set to Close

After 43 years, the Club Hippo, one of Baltimore’s oldest and most iconic LGBT institutions, is poised to close its doors.

As confirmed at a meeting with employees on May 9, Hippo owner Chuck Bowers has negotiated to convert the building at the southwest corner of Charles and Eager streets into a CVS store.

The negotiations between CVS and Bowers began early in 2014. Under the arrangement Bowers will retain ownership of the building and lease it to CVS. There is no date certain for the anticipated last dance, but it will likely take place sometime after the summer at the earliest.

Upon completion of the deal with CVS, it would mean an end of an era for an establishment seen by many as the epicenter of Mount Vernon’s “gayborhood.” Recently, that area has also been jolted by the expected closing of Jays on Read, a piano bar that had a loyal LGBT following and Comprehensive Car Care, a long-time staple on Eager Street.

The Hippo, which opened on July 7, 1972, possesses one of the largest dance floors of any club in the state. During disco’s heyday, the Hippo flourished with huge crowds dancing to the beats of vintage and newer disco hits on its spacious rectangular floor bathed in glimmering, colorful lights. As musical tastes changed in succeeding years, so did the music. The Hippo kept up.

The club also features a popular video bar where karaoke and weekly show tunes video presentations occur and a saloon area that had been renovated several years ago. Those renovations dispensed with the two pool tables near the bar’s large glass windows and added more seating at tables within the saloon.

Through the years, the Hippo, whose motto is “Where everyone is welcome,” hosted such extravaganzas as the Miss Gay Maryland pageants and Mr. Maryland Leather contests as well as Twelve Days of Christmas, an annual affair that benefits local non-profit organizations. The Hippo had also served as the venue for Gay Bingo—a weekly event whereby non-profit organizations shared in the proceeds. To broaden its appeal, the Hippo has held weekly Hip-Hop nights the past few years.

There have been numerous specialty events held at the Hippo with well-known DJs and drag performers entertaining the masses. Many of these individuals began their drag careers at the Hippo.

The club’s Halloween celebrations are legendary showcasing the community’s vast cache of creativity, and the Hippo’s annual New Year’s Eve gala has always been a popular stop to herald in the New Year that frequently attracted local celebrities—LGBT and straight—to the club.

Though the Hippo does not have a large political footprint, it has been the host venue for fundraising events throughout the referendum battle in 2012 in an effort to secure marriage equality. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who had appeared at some of those events, customarily spends her birthday at the Hippo for one of their charitable Bingo nights.

For his part, Bowers, who recently turned 70, has donated sizable amounts of money to LGBT non-profits, primarily to Baltimore Pride and its sponsor, the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB). The Hippo has been one of the focal points for the annual Pride block parties along Eager Street.

In addition, he has allowed other organizations to hold fundraising events at the club. Early in the 1980s when the AIDS crisis began, Bowers was one of the first to help raise money to fight the disease.

Other than special events, there has been a decline in gay bar patronage over the past few years for a variety of reasons, and the Hippo was impacted by that trend as well. Nonetheless, many folks in and out of Baltimore’s LGBT communities view the Hippo as more than just a bar with so many stating that the Hippo was the first gay bar they patronized. It had also been a strong visitors’ destination whereby out-of-towners discovered Baltimore as a gay-friendly city.

To others, it meant much more. “The Hippo is an anchor of LGBT openness in Baltimore,” said Tree Turtle, a Baltimore resident. “It routinely brings together a broad cross-section of Baltimore of all colors and creeds.

Regardless of the progress of LGBT human rights, regardless of the mainstreaming of queer people, and no matter how tough the economic climate is, we still need community havens! We still need people to love us for our difference. Yes: we are both same and different!”

She adds, “Where would we be but for the openness and distinctiveness of the leather daddies, the drag queens, and the drag kings? That’s why we need to be accepted for our work as well as our play. That’s why we need the Hippo, the Baltimore Eagle, the GLCCB, and all LGBT refuges in Baltimore!”

LGBT History on Display at Creative Alliance

The Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB) showcased a collection of photographs and other items from the GLCCB Archives in late May at the Creative Alliance. This exhibit—called “Picture It”—presented historical images as well as dozens of unidentified photographs from the collection.

Also on display will be a selection of posters, apparel, Pride memorabilia, historical documents and other items representing the history of Baltimore’s LGBT community.

The mission of the Archives Committee is to preserve the GLCCB’s over 40 years of service to Baltimore’s LGBT Community. In partnership with the Special Collections Department at the University of Baltimore, they have been organizing and caring for memorabilia, historical documents, photographs and other items accumulated over the decades.

The committee has accomplished many goals since beginning their work in 2012—most significantly, the acquisition and organization of almost every issue of the Baltimore Gay Paper (now Gay Life) from 1979 to present with the ultimate goal of professionally digitizing the issues and making them available online.

For more information on the collection, you may contact the committee at archive@glccb.org.

Chesapeake Pride Cancelled

Citing financial difficulties, the Chesapeake Pride festival, which usually occurs on the first Saturday in August, will not be celebrating their 10th annual event this year.

“It takes $8,000 to $10,000 in donations to make the festival happen each year,” said John Petrosillo, the festival’s publicity director. “We simply do not have the financial support to swing it this year. Frankly, we also lack the interest of people wanting to volunteer and/or be on the planning committee. We plan to hold smaller events this year, some of which will be fundraisers, in order to make Chesapeake Pride Festival 2016 possible.”

The festival takes place at picturesque Mayo Beach in Edgewater, MD. It is the only annual Pride event held in Anne Arundel, St. Mary’s or Calvert counties.

To help out, you may call Kim at 410-599-0CPF (0273) or email at info@chesapeakepridefestival.org.

Eagle Supporters Rally

Last month, the three-member Baltimore City Liquor Board refused to grant the owners of the Baltimore Eagle a liquor-license transfer, claiming that the work on renovations was not completed within the requisite 180 days. Hundreds of thousands of dollars have been invested by Charles and Ian Parrish in renovations, permits and other expenditures in an effort to re-open the bar on the corner of Charles and 21st Streets that had been a popular venue for the leather community since 1991.

“We disagree with the decision of the Liquor Board,” says the message on the bar’s website, TheBaltimoreEagle.com. “We believe that the City should honor its promise to us. Although their stated reason for extinguishing our license is that The Eagle has been closed for renovations for more than 180 days, they’ve set aside the 180-day guideline dozens of times for other bars. And although there is no penalty in law that requires the Liquor Board to revoke our license, they concocted the harshest punishment available. Why are they selectively penalizing The Eagle?”

Despite the Liquor Board’s decision, which many believe was unjust, capricious and even discriminatory, the ownership group and supporters has devised a three-pronged strategy to bring the Baltimore Eagle back. That strategy to recover The Eagle’s license will include pressuring elected officials, filing a reconsideration or appeal and launching an all-out grassroots campaign.

That endeavor has already been underway. A group called Friends of the Baltimore Eagle, which is not affiliated with the Baltimore Eagle LLC, has distributed fliers mostly through social media urging members of the community and allies to support the effort. The flier, titled “PLEASE HELP US SAVE THIS LANDMARK TAVERN,” explains what transpired and why the Liquor Board’s decision was tainted by a biased member.

Accordingly, Friends of the Baltimore Eagle is urging the community to write the governor, mayor and city council requesting that they overturn the board’s decision. The Eagle’s website, mentioned above, provides a simple form to use that includes a sample message of support, which, when completing the person’s name and email address, will be transmitted directly to those officials by clicking the Submit button.

“We are asking Baltimore City for justice,” Ian Parrish told Baltimore OUTloud in an email. “The City knew our plans, the City took our money, then the City took our license—and that’s neither ethical nor legal. We as businesspeople have been wronged, the LGBT community has been wronged, and area residents who need this major revitalization have been wronged.

“The Liquor Board has delivered nothing but broken promises, conflicts of interest, and selective applications of the law – blunder after blunder at the worst possible time for our City. We are asking the community to rise up and join us in our request to Mayor Rawlings-Blake to right this wrong and to show us that business investment and diversity are truly welcome in Baltimore.”

Parrish points out that renovations to the bar have resumed and are moving forward. He urges supporters to sign the petition at TheBaltimoreEagle.com.

Prime Timers to Discuss Erectile Dysfunction

Prime Timers of Baltimore announced that the guest speaker at their general Meeting on June 14 will be Dr. Alan Geringer, a board certified urologist with Clinical Associates of Maryland. The meeting takes place at St. Mark’s Lutheran Church at St. Paul & 20th Streets at 6 p.m. Dr. Geringer will discuss the erectile dysfunction disorder and the options available for treatment.

Health issues for gay men become a major concern as they grow older. Many men find it embarrassing to discuss this issue. Ralph Welsh, president of Prime Timers says that this is a comfortable setting to ask the questions about this problem that many face as they advance in age.

Prime Timers of Baltimore is a chapter of Prime Timers World Wide, a group of older gay or bisexual men (and younger men who admire mature men). Their members are men who have chosen to have their social lives enriched by the many diverse activities in which the members engage.

For further information, call 410-252-7239, or contact Prime Timers at info@ptbalto.org.

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