The Baltimore Eagle has finally landed in Station North. The waiting has been palpable, at least for the queer folks who have watched their bars and clubs close one by one as assimilation and capitalism do their ugly work. When construction delays and a shake up on the liquor board put the Eagle's liquor license in jeopardy back in 2015, we got nervous that the $1 million-plus remodel would be for naught, but with a liquor license transferred over from the Hippo to the Eagle and a whole lot of sweat equity from the community, the 10,000-square-foot Eagle is open and ready for business.
The kitchen isn't up and running yet, but in the next few weeks, we hope, the Eagle will open for dinner first, with a lunch service to be added. Award-winning Master Chef Ed Scholly brings a "gastropub" model to the bar scene, and we'll be interested to see how that plays out on this block more used to the cheap eats at Bismillah and The Crown. Scholly, who trained alongside celebrity chef Gordon Ramsey and has cooked for the likes of Bruce Springsteen, Bill Clinton, Madonna, and the Dali Lama, will offer up bar classics like wings and fries alongside upscale bites like miso-glazed salmon and a fancy burger menu. We haven't tried the food, but we're looking forward to sampling the sizable menu. Until then, we'll grab a plate of pupusas from Mi Comalito across the street before heading into the bar.
We stopped by on a recent Monday for happy hour. We were greeted at the door by security staff who will be a constant presence. The main room is cavernous and dominated by the main bar that will squeeze dozens of people around its black marble counter. Our group of four women chose a table by the large glass windows at the front and headed to the bar to place our orders.
The draft beer selection is impressive, including local and regional taps alongside corporate brews like Shock Top. A pint is normally priced at $7, but happy hour knocks three bucks off that and makes it a bargain even in this still-bargain-priced neighborhood. Drink specials are offered every night of the week for the budget conscious, but it remains to be seen if the Eagle has hit the right price point for the gentrifying neighborhood.
Bartender Charles Pijanowski offered to take us on tour that took almost an hour. From the outside the Baltimore Eagle looks like a large bar, but inside it is a labyrinth of different bars and promised experiences that blew us away. Our tour started with a walk to the back of the main bar where they've installed a display of Eagle memorabilia, including mementos from the original bar and flags from other Eagles around the country that have closed. There's plenty more in storage that will rotate into the exhibit, a promised reminder that even if the Eagle's brand spanking new, it's kept its ties to the old.
We stopped in the all-gender bathroom, with all black stone walls, black toilets, and 200-pound granite sinks. There are multiple closed stalls and, in the back, a urinal room in what Pijanowski called the "European style"—drains on the floor and flush handles on each wall. This is one seriously sexy bathroom.
Next up was a quick tour of the Code Bar. This separate space is open only to those in leather or fetish gear on Friday and Saturdays—and for good reason. The Eagle was a leather bar, and the owners wanted to preserve that safe space for a community that has lost its public meeting spaces. No cell phones are allowed inside, ensuring privacy for the leather and fetish enthusiasts.
Pijanowski next showed us the area that will become the package store where the neighborhood can pick up bottles, even on Sundays—the Eagle's liquor license gives Station North denizens a place to buy booze all week long. Upstairs is The Nest, The Eagle's dance club. The room is long and elegant with red walls and plush red curtains. The walls are adorned with vintage pictures of queer folks lounging and loving—the new Eagle is the next phase of this queer history. The stage at the far end will feature a DJ for dance nights—one of three DJ booths in the place—and host drag shows and other events for the larger community. Some in the leather community were uncomfortable with the idea of drag queens in the Eagle, but as John Gasser later pointed out, "Leather's just another form of drag." There's plenty of room for both at the Eagle.
The Eagle will also house the largest leather shop south of New York City where designer and artist Michael Lado will do custom work. The back patio is still being built out, with a 40-foot long fire feature and a separate bar. The Eagle is a completely new gay bar, one that recognizes its core constituency while also attending to the realities of today's market. So many people have their hands in this place—Chuck Bowers sold much of the Hippo's fixtures to owners John and Paul Gasser and Charles and Greg King at bargain prices. Renovation costs were kept down by community members who offered to make curtains. "People wanted this," Pijanowski said. "They really wanted this. I feel like this is my home. I helped build it." The Eagle aims to stay that home for many while making room for new generations. The kitchen might not be open yet, but there's plenty on the menu already.