Hammerjacks history: What to know about the past, present and future of the storied Baltimore music venue

Hammerjacks, Baltimore’s storied rock-music venue, is getting closer to making its return. On Wednesday, the business partners behind the relaunch said demolition at the site begins in April, and they expect construction to take just under a year.

For many music fans — especially those nostalgic for those rock ‘n’ roll glory days of decades past — this is a big deal. Here’s why:

What was Hammerjacks?

In the 1980s and ’90s, Baltimore was a hotbed for hard-rock and its stylized variants — hair-metal, glam, punk and more. Hammerjacks, which opened in 1977, played a huge role in building this reputation.

Its first home was a converted rowhouse on the 1000 block of S. Charles St., before it expanded and moved into an old brewery building on South Howard Street in 1982. Then it became two clubs: a two-story bar with DJs and the Hammerjacks concert hall next door, which opened in 1985 with a performance by Eddie Money. When people talk about Hammerjacks as an icon, they’re usually talking about the concert hall. (A later version opened in 2000 on Guilford Avenue — read more on that below.)

“Hammerjacks was to rock ’n’ roll what Studio 54 was to disco,” David VanLanding, lead singer of the Baltimore band Mannekin, told The Baltimore Sun in 2012.

Why did it close?

It actually closed twice.

In 1997, the Maryland Stadium Authority paid $3.1 million to the owners, the Principio family, to demolish the South Howard Street property and turn the land into a parking lot for Ravens games.

Hammerjacks tried to rise from the ashes in 2000 at a new location on Guilford Avenue. (It later became the nightclub Bourbon Street, which is now the Assembly Room, a large rental space for events.) It was more of a DJ-driven dance club and failed to catch on with the former venue’s regulars. It closed in 2006.

How did it become such a legendary venue?

First and foremost, Hammerjacks booked top-tier talent, particularly in the 1980s. Past performers include Guns N Roses, the Ramones, Donna Summer and Ozzy Osborne. Bands like Ratt, Skid Row and Extreme made sure to play Hammerjacks as their stars rose as well. Peter Frampton, Kiss, Marilyn Manson, Oasis, the Black Crowes, Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine all played Hammerjacks, too.

Some bands took their appreciation a step further. Iron Maiden, the venerable English heavy metal band, apparently paid tribute to the venue in the album art for 1986’s “Somewhere in Time.” You’ll have to look closely, but the name can be seen in artist Derek Riggs’ busy, illustrated scene.

Baltimore director John Waters made Hammerjacks the backdrop to an important scene in his 1994 comedy “Serial Mom.” The fictitious band on stage at the time, Camel Lips, was played by the Los Angeles grunge group L7.

Who’s reopening it?

Kevin Butler — a real estate finance executive from Anne Arundel County and a regular at the old Hammerjacks — bought the venue’s trademark for $1,000 years after it closed. Now the CEO of Hammerjacks Entertainment Group, Butler has been working to open a new Hammerjacks for years with COO Andrew Hotchkiss, a Bethesda-based commercial real estate executive.

Where will it be located?

Butler’s Hammerjacks will reopen in what was once another nightlife mecca — the Paradox nightclub at 1300 Russell St., known for spinning house, Baltimore Club and other strains of dance music long into the morning. Home to marathon dance sessions for many years, “the Dox” closed in 2017.

The new Hammerjacks entertainment complex will also occupy a neighboring property at 1320 Russell St.

What will it look like?

In December 2016, Butler unveiled the design for the new Hammerjacks that would include a 2,500-person concert space, a club and a beer garden. In May 2017, a stadium liquor license was approved for the new, 58,000-square-foot Hammerjacks, which was considered the final hurdle before construction could begin, Butler said. The total cost for the project is approximately $16.5 million.

When will it open?

Construction was supposed to begin in early 2016 … then spring 2017 … then summer 2017. Butler said last week that they’re finally ready to start demolition in April. The Hammerjacks owners expect construction to take just under a year, and to be fully open in 2019.

wesley.case@baltsun.com

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