Club Hippo

Baltimore’s Hippo nightclub closed last year, but part of it may live on at a new nightclub that’s planning to open this fall.

Operators of The Baltimore Eagle, a Charles Street bar that has new owners, are seeking to transfer the Hippo’s still-active liquor license to their location so they can serve alcohol.

A sign has been posted on the Eagle’s building at 2022 N. Charles Street, saying that Baltimore’s liquor board has received an application to transfer the license from 1 West Eager Street, where the Hippo was for 43 years, to the Charles Street location.

The application was filed by 4 Crazy Guys LLC, trading as The Baltimore Eagle. The license holders would be Charles King and Lorraine Parrish. The liquor board notice indicates that the applicants are also seeking liquor board approval to provide live entertainment on the premises, which the Hippo was permitted to do. The city’s zoning board already has agreed to allow live entertainment for up to 215 people.

The Hippo was one of Baltimore’s oldest and largest gay bars when it closed last fall due to the retirement of owner Chuck Bowers. The license was active and transferrable when the Hippo closed, but it can only be transferred to another business in the same legislative district, which the Eagle is.

The Eagle was a leather bar with a largely gay clientele when it closed in 2012, after the death of its owner. New owners sought permission to reopen the business by using the liquor license previously associated with that location, but the three-member liquor board denied their request, saying the business was dormant for more than 180 days and the license was dead.

The decision, under former liquor board chairman Tom Ward, was part of a crackdown on so-called “zombie” liquor licenses that come back to life after a business has been closed for a certain time. It was a setback to the Eagle’s new owners, who have renovated the Charles Street building to prepare for its reopening.

By seeking to transfer the Hippo’s license, the new owners avoid any debate about reviving a zombie license and setting a precedent the liquor board doesn’t want to set. They also use one gay bar’s license to reopen another, at a time when Baltimore and other cities have been losing gay night spots.

According to the liquor board, a public hearing on the Eagle’s application will be held sometime on or after September 22, 2016. The board is accepting written comments on the application until then.

The restored Hippo building, meanwhile, is opening later this month as a CVS Pharmacy.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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