A look at the Baltimore Eagle, a Station North leather bar that reopened in January after a five-year hiatus. (Baltimore Sun video)
When the Baltimore Eagle closed at the end of 2012, the city lost a storied establishment that was more than just a place to socialize and dance. It was an open-minded, safe space for all visitors, including those who embraced its leather subculture for personal enjoyment and empowerment.
But after significant renovations and plenty of meetings with the city's liquor board, good news arrived in January. The Eagle was back.
And anyone concerned that the new Eagle — located at the same Station North address but with different ownership and noticeably shinier digs — would lack the essence that made the original resonate need not worry.
Recent visits revealed a bar thriving on good energy while offering options to suit different moods — from watching the Orioles at the first-floor main bar with a cocktail in hand to the Code Bar in the back, where entrants must wear leather and keep their phones out of sight.
Then there's the second-floor Nest, a Moulin Rouge-inspired space where I recently paid $12.50 to watch Shigella Brown's Bottom-more Review, a deliciously tacky drag show that occurs the second Friday of each month. In front of approximately 70 seated audience members, the cast — in incredibly vivid makeup and "Alice in Wonderland" outfits — lip-synced and danced to songs like Kesha's "Gold Trans Am." Shots were handed out, dollar bills were given in appreciation, and hooting and hollering commenced.
"Didn't we make one hell of a mess? Didn't you [expletive] love it?" asked the host, Shigella Brown, a.k.a. Diamond Taylor.
In a word: Yes. At a time when the LGBTQ community is finding wider acceptance and debating the vitality of gay bars, it's natural to attach social and political significance to a bar like this. But beyond that, the Eagle has become an instant hit because it's smartly designed, well-executed, and pulsating with fun and positivity.
It's hard to have a bad time around people looking to dance the memories of the work week away through house music. The downstairs main bar has enough room for groups to sit at tables to chat and for people to dance near the DJ booth. Later in the night, shirtless go-go dancers gyrated on top of the bar as they flirted with on-looking patrons.
At the Eagle, the draw is the lively atmosphere, which is often bolstered by the night's theme or party. There's a monthly furry night, Baltimore Bear Fridays, Underwear Night on Thursdays, and Wednesday night trivia to name a handful.
The only aspect with room for improvement was the bar program — namely cocktails that just missed the mark.
The six signature cocktails ($7) all feature the local brand Tart vodka, emphasizing summer-friendly fruit flavors like pineapple and kiwi. But cocktails like the Eagle Punch (pineapple Tart vodka and cranberry juice) and Envious Tart (kiwi Tart vodka, lemon juice and lemon-lime soda) were one-note and overly sweet. The sugar-rush overtook any alcoholic punch, despite what appeared to be heavy pours.
The affordable prices and daily drink specials made it harder to complain, though. On Fridays, Absolut Elyx Vodka and Red Bull is on special for $7, while Saturdays offer $5 Long Island iced teas. The weekday happy hour lasts from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m., an eternity compared to most other bars in the city.
Next time, though, I'll probably stick to beer, as the Eagle has 16 draft lines ($5.50-$8) with a nice mix of local and national craft brews. Key Brewing, the Brewer's Art, Evolution Craft Brewing and Monument City were all available.
But the bar program did not feel central to the great time being had by one of the most diverse crowds I've encountered in the past decade of covering Baltimore's bar scene. With patrons of all genders, ages and backgrounds, it was the type of mix I rarely — if ever — see in the city's other nightlife-heavy neighborhoods like Federal Hill and Fells Point.
The customers I spoke with were from different neighborhoods in the city and outside of it, and some said friends from Philadelphia and D.C. have made the trip to Baltimore to see the new Eagle. The new ownership (which includes real-estate investor Ian Parrish), along with the hard-working staff led by general manager Chuck King, deserve the credit. They're not only doing right by the Eagle's legacy, but they appear to be building on it for years to come.
The Baltimore Eagle
Back story: Originally opened in 1991 and then closed in 2012, the Baltimore Eagle leather bar reopened in January under new ownership and after significant renovations. The bar has different sections, and often hosts theme nights and parties. There are plenty of drink specials, and pub fare made by chef Ed Scholly.
Parking: Metered nearby street parking
Handicap accessibility: First floor is accessible via wheelchair; second is not
Signature drink: The Eagle Punch ($7) is made with pineapple Tart vodka, a Baltimore brand, and cranberry juice.