Saturday night is usually a busy time at the Baltimore Eagle, but this past weekend it was dark, with the curtains drawn, lights out and front door locked.
Less than four months after the local leather bar reopened under new management, another staff shakeup is in the works. Ian Parrish, a co-owner of the building that houses the bar, announced on social media that a new management team would be taking over.
Now-former employees held a “Peace Out Party” and raffle on Aug. 10 to raise money for those who would be out of work the next day.
Some events and performers that were previously at the Eagle have moved to other venues, including Grand Central and the Clifton Pleasure Club, where the Mid-Atlantic Leather Woman contest and bootblack contest will be held this weekend.
“On August 11, the Eagle’s interim management team will reach the end of our contract and preparations begin for the permanent team’s landing,” reads one of the posts.
“On behalf of everyone involved, this is most definitely NOT goodbye. All of us remain committed to preserving our space as a safe, judgment-free environment where ALL people are welcome, while staying true to our leather and kink history and community. We promise to post new hours and updates here.”
The bar’s next scheduled event, according to the page, is “RuPaul’s Drag Race Rewind” at 8 p.m. on Thursday, Aug. 22. But the same event was posted for last Thursday at 8 p.m., and the building was locked.
Asked about when he expects to have a new team signed on, Parrish told Baltimore Fishbowl, “My timeline with everything was yesterday.” He didn’t offer an estimate for when it will be back.
Regulars at the bar said they heard the Eagle wasn’t profitable since it reopened and that Parrish felt a management change was needed.
Parrish said the latter point wasn’t quite true, but acknowledged there was a “rent issue,” and said the operators “couldn’t make money” since the club reopened in April.
Parrish said he offered his tenants to remain under a weekly payment plan, “and we were talking about having them stay on permanently” if they could find a way to bring in more revenue. They wound up paying for two weeks of the month but then gave him their notice, he said.
“It’s so frickin’ frustrating,” he said. “I just want to have the place occupied.”
The business at 2022 N. Charles Street is one of several unrelated Eagle bars around the country that cater to the leather and kink communities, and one of the largest LGBTQ bars in Baltimore.
The change at the Eagle comes one year after a previous management team, a group headed by Charles King and Greg King from a group called 4 Crazy Guys LLC, abruptly closed the bar following a dispute with the building’s owners, Parrish and his father, Charles.
The dispute became public when the Kings wrote a lengthy message on their website stating that the Parrishes interfered with the way they operated the club, including criticisms of who they featured in ads and what events they promoted. Ian Parrish denied meddling with programming.
The Parrishes and Kings had overseen a $1.7 million renovation of the property following the death of its previous operator. According to testimony given at a Baltimore liquor board hearing, the Parrishes invested $1.1 million and the tenants invested $600,000 (Parrish maintains 4 Crazy Guys’ investment was less, around $300,000).
Baltimore’s annual Pride Festival block party moved from Mount Vernon to Station North, months after the Eagle reopened in 2017. The bar’s sudden closure on July 25, 2018, led to nearly nine months of dormancy for the Charles Street property.
During the hiatus, Ian Parrish had the liquor license transferred to Baltimore Eagle LLC, with his wife Lorraine and an employee, Kathleen Church, as license holders, and assembled a different team to operate the club, book performers and oversee programming. The Eagle reopened on Good Friday of this year.
The first public sign of the most recent closing came in the first week of August, when the Baltimore Eagle Facebook page carried a message that said, “We are sadly closing our doors on Aug. 11 due to unforeseen circumstances. Please come support the Eagle this last week and say goodbye.”
That post was taken down and replaced with two different messages that discussed the transition, but didn’t mention closing.
“We want to apologize for all the draaamaaaa!” one of the Aug. 5 messages said. “An announcement was made by a member of the team before both the owners and managers had hammered everything out about the transition in management…
“To be clear, there are no hard feelings at all between the owners and management; and everybody’s priority is to maintain the Eagle and the values it has come to stand for – for ALL communities.”
One of the managers who is no longer with the Eagle, Chris Jay, said in an email that they would issue a statement about the closing after Aug. 11, but that has not happened yet.
Parrish said he read complaints on social media alleging he wasn’t pleased with the direction the club was going in by hosting events catering to the trans community, and that it didn’t bring in more of the leather community.
He flatly denied that.
“I think they were doing a tremendous job. I loved what they were doing with the drag and the trans community,” Parrish said, adding, “but [the] downstairs [space] is traditionally a male leather audience.”
He said he recommended they try hosting more leather events, catering to that crowd to potentially bring in more money. “They took that as that I’m transphobic…. Anybody that knows me knows that I’m not that.”
“Everybody has always been and will always be welcome. I’m sorry that my suggestions so that the tenants could make money was taken out of context, but that’s all it ever was,” he said, later adding: “I think the last thing the trans community needs to feel is attacked, and that’s not what’s happening here.”
The Eagle’s closure comes just as Grand Central, at 1001 N. Charles Street, is getting closer to closing permanently.
Last week, Baltimore’s preservation commission approved the owners’ plans to construct an eight-story office building in place of the bar. The owners, Landmark Partners, said they aim to begin construction by March 2020 and will keep Grand Central open until they’re ready to start work.
The Baltimore City LGBTQ Commission, headed by Jabari Lyles, the LGBTQ Affairs Liaison in the mayor’s office, weighed in on the Eagle transition before it closed by issuing an “action alert” on Aug. 5 and saying it supports the managers who are leaving.
“Those who are close to the details describe the actions and words by the owner to be things we cannot and will not support,” the statement said in part. “We stand by and with the management team who has cultivated a space of inclusivity we envision for our community.”
Lyles did not immediately respond to follow-up questions.
Parrish, who owns a number of properties nearby, said he’s busy with plans to open another establishment next to The Eagle.
As for the leather bar, he has no timeline for when it’ll be back at the moment, but assures the shutdown is temporary. When it does return, he said he’d welcome employees who worked under the most recent management team to come interview for their jobs again.
“There’s no ill will.”
Ethan McLeod contributed reporting.
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