Since the iconic leather bar the Baltimore Eagle closed its doors in December 2012, its path to reopening has been bumpy to say the least. But after years of delays, the bar owners and managers have navigated myriad obstacles and are poised to reopen soon following extensive renovations that have increased the area of the original bar and added a restaurant, store and entertainment area.
It wasn’t easy getting to this point.
Unforeseen problems with the building’s structure and huge amounts of trash were discovered soon after the building, located at 2022 N. Charles Street, was purchased by local developers Ian Parrish and Charles Parrish for $300,000. Walls had to be gutted and ceilings torn down. Delays in electrical line installation as well as other impediments were identified.
As a result, the 180-day requirement to complete construction was not met to satisfy the Baltimore Liquor Board, which denied the owners the license transfer in April 2015 following a contentious hearing the previous month.
Previous liquor boards had routinely waived the requirement when circumstances warranted, but a 2013 audit revealed corruption and other irregularities within the liquor board. The new board, appointed by then-Gov. Martin O’Malley and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was given the charge to crack down on “zombie” licenses as well as other improprieties. The new commissioners rejected the arguments from the Parrishes and their attorney.
Undaunted, the project pushed on. “No other developer in this region wanted to touch the Baltimore Eagle project, and we still aim to prove them wrong,” Parrish told the Blade last November. “This team is moving forward. We’re spending over a million dollars to reconstruct the Baltimore Eagle because this building and this business are good for this city, because our neighbors want to go back to work, and because the loyal patrons of the Eagle are still hoping to return.”
As a back up, the Parrishes, who are longtime allies of the LGBT community, as well as the rest of the team, purchased the existing liquor license from Charles Bowers, the owner of the Club Hippo, which closed its doors last fall.
The team, which had been hired to oversee the business in advance of the opening, designed a new concept for the Baltimore Eagle and construction continued while the decision was being appealed.
After mobilizing the community and working with nearby community associations, the Baltimore Eagle is poised to reopen soon. It received its entertainment license, and the final hearing to approve the liquor license transfer is set for Sept. 22.
“The applications have been submitted, reviewed and accepted by the Baltimore Liquor Board. The hearing is the final hurdle,” said Charles King, Baltimore Eagle General Manager. “We have backing by the Charles North Community Association, The Charles Village Civic Association and The Old Goucher Community Association, and there is an MOU in place as well that we have negotiated.” King said the attorney, Stephan Fogelman, told him that he sees no further barriers to reopening.
Besides Charles King, Robert Gasser is the food services and maintenance manager. John Gasser is the liquor store manager. Greg King is the Eagle Leathers store manager; they are all partners in the business. Miles Crakow is the director of social media and public relations.
“The bar itself will not just be one bar, but rather a collection of bars, restaurants, a leather and adult retail store, a package goods store, a lounge featuring a collection of leather community history and artifacts, and an event space inspired by Bohemian romance and cabaret nostalgia that will bring the NYC and Montreal music scene to Baltimore, all on multiple levels and taking a much larger footprint than the previous Eagle,” Crakow says.
He emphasizes that “the leather bar is the heart and soul of The Eagle’s rebirth and it will stand shoulder to shoulder with the other new businesses, all supporting each other.”
In addition, the Baltimore Eagle hired internationally trained master chef Ed Scholly who works at the Culinary Institute of Baltimore. He will operate the food program for at least a year, and catering will be available in the event space upstairs.
The opening date has not been set but it is expected in the near future. To thank the community for its patience, the owners are offering opportunities to purchase gift cards at reduced prices, collector silver pins, T-shirts and other memorabilia. Visit TheBaltimoreEagle.com or The Baltimore Eagle on Facebook for details and updates.
“We are so thrilled to open our doors very soon,” Charles King told the Blade. “We’re just finishing up construction before we get final inspections and permits. This has been the longest road of our lives, but we know it leads to an amazing place. I know the community will embrace our new venue and concepts. Details are so important, and we hope to impress even the most discerning guest. The best thing is that the LGBTQ community will have a brand new place to eat, drink and play and the leather community will once again have a home to be proud of.”
Community members share the enthusiasm. “With other LGBT bars closing in the area, the real significance is that the Baltimore Eagle will reopen,” Rodney Burger, longtime leather columnist and vice president of the Baltimore leather club Shipmates, told the Blade. “This will be a new Baltimore Eagle. Those who are looking for the old dark dive bar will be disappointed. As the LGBT community has changed so has the Baltimore Eagle.”
He added, “I hope the community supports the new Baltimore Eagle. The new owners are very excited that once again the Baltimore Eagle can be a safe space and gathering place for our community and a place where new memories can be made. I can’t wait.”