Sunday, May 10, 2015

Club Hippo disco in Baltimore appears to be setting up to close before the end of 2015, to be replaced by a CVS store

A local Baltimore paper “Baltimore Brew” reports (in a story May 9 by Edward Gunts) that the Club Hippo, the disco club at N. Charles and Eager Streets in Baltimore, is likely to close because the owner. Chuck Bowers, is negotiating a sale of the property for a CVS store.  I first heard about this in an "accidental" conversation before watching a film at the Maryland Film Festival at the Walters Art Museum today.  Note that there are many detailed comments on this news story online.
After the film, I went to the Hippo and then the Grand Central and bartenders at both places knew about the story.  At the Hippo, I was told that the Hippo would probably close in less than six months, but should be open until the fall.  It will be open during Baltimore Pride (later this year than in previous years, July 25-26).  I was told that negotiations had been going on for over a year and that this business matter has nothing to do with the Baltimore riots.  But apparently it had stayed under wraps until yesterday.
Business in bars in Baltimore were hurt badly by the curfew last weekend, especially when the mayor kept it Saturday night, May 2. I was told that they had closed at 9 PM and didn’t really try to have earlier events.  Some businesses may be able to collect on business interruption insurance but I don’t know if these establishments were covered.
The Hippo has a sports bar (Orioles and Ravens please), karaoke room (used on many nights) and disco floor with a sunken disco.  It has been open since 1972, and was remodeled in the 80s.  My own impression, from occasional visits, is that business, at least late on Saturday nights, has been down a bit since maybe around 2009.  It used to be much more packed, especially during the 1990s. 
It might be possible for a new business owner to pick up the license and open a similar club somewhere else in the general area.
The gay bar business can be a difficult one.  When bars lose leases, they often have trouble getting liquor licenses for new locations (especially in Washington DC, 40 miles away).  A few decades back, they had difficult relations with police and syndicates in many cities (the so-called “mafia bar” in New York in the early 70s, and the attempt of a NYC mayor in the 1960s to close most gay bars before the 1964-1965 Worlds Fair).  In Dallas, until 1981, they had to deal with police harassment and false arrests for “public lewdness”.  Reading between the lines, owners may feel more concerned about security, given the unprecedented nature of some global politics today.
Neighborhoods also change, as LGBT people are more spread out than they used to be. There was a club-restaurant, the French Quarter, in Old Town Alexandria VA (and another club, the Metro, which has some gay events) in the 1990s, but it closed some time before 2000.  That area could use a club. 
But let’s hope something works out, at least another similar disco club in a nearby location.  Baltimore, though, as we know, is going through unusually difficult times with the relations between the administration and underprivileged people in the city.

Update: May 11
The Baltimore Sun has a story on the closing this fall here.

Update: October 8

The Hippo closed after the last dance October 3. 

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