For many Baltimoreans, the name Hammerjacks evokes the big-hair, hard rockin' '80s, a time of spandex and torn jeans, mascara and mousse, black leather and pink lace. Hammerjacks was home to glam bands and hard-rock honeys, where Guns N' Roses made its local debut and Bret Michaels of Poison went to hang. It was the place to see Kix, Ratt, Skid Row or Extreme.
Well, get over it, Baltimore. The new Hammerjacks is a different experience altogether.
"Hammerjacks 1980 was then, and Hammerjacks 2000 is now," says Louie Principio, owner of the new club, which celebrates its grand opening tonight. Located in what's shaping up as a new nightclub corridor stretching down Guilford Avenue to the Power Plant, the new club has two floors and eight bars, with stained glass decorations and hardwood fixtures accenting the traditional exposed brick. And while the club can be set up for concerts, the focus most nights will be on the computerized lighting and industrial-strength sound system.
"Hammerjacks now is going to be a party/dance environment - which is exactly what Hammerjacks was when we opened up," Principio says.
Indeed, the "big-hair band" period was just part of Hammerjacks' history. And while that era may have provided grist for the Hammerjacks myth, it never entirely defined the club.
The first Hammerjacks was a converted rowhouse on South Charles. Opened in 1977, it reflected an era when, as Principio recalls, "you could play Donna Summer and AC/DC right next to each other and be very comfortable with it."
As the club was a success, its neighborhood location became a liability, and Principio looked for a new location where the late-night crowds wouldn't bother residents.
He found a seemingly ideal spot in an old brewery building on South Howard Street, near I-95. Isolated from residential districts and large enough to hold 2,500 people, the second Hammerjacks opened in 1982 and was a major party venue until it was torn down to make way for PSINet Stadium parking in 1997.
That Hammerjacks was actually two clubs. The main room was a two-story bar that featured DJs and the occasional dancing barmaid; next door was the Hammerjacks concert hall, which opened in 1985 with a performance by Eddie Money. Although the bar did the bulk of the business, the concert hall - which played host to acts ranging from Foreigner, Peter Frampton and Kiss to the Black Crowes, Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine - got most of the attention, even though Hammerjacks eased out of the concert business in the mid-'90s.
Principio plans to bring bands into the new Hammerjacks - primarily on weekdays - but doesn't see the club as mainly a music venue. "We're going to do select national acts, but we're not going to be a weekend concert venue," he says. "We're going to be a weekend dance/party place."
There's no word on what acts the club will book, or when exactly the first concert would be. On the club's Web site, visitors are invited to participate in a poll that lists bands ranging from the Baha Men ("Who Let the Dogs Out") to 3 Doors Down (the group responsible for the hit "Kryptonite"). Typically, the top vote-getter is local legend Kix, which was practically the Hammerjacks house band in the '80s and early '90s, but the alt-rock group Creed is a strong second.
For the most part, music in the new Hammerjacks will be decidedly mainstream, with the DJs working from a playlist that balances rock 'n' roll with dance music. "We're only going to play music that you can dance to, that you can party to, and that you can sing to," Principio says, "music that's familiar."
While that will include a certain amount of retro fare - "We're going to feel comfortable playing an old Motley Crue or AC/DC tune," Principio says - it also will include contemporary dance hits, though he rules out playing house music, techno or trance.
"I can guarantee that there might be some guys there that want to hear maybe a little more rock 'n' roll," Principio says. "But they're going to see a lot of pretty girls out there dancing to three or four of the current dance songs, and they're going to say, 'Well, this place is happening. I'm having a good time.' "
In addition to dance hits, Principio hopes to keep female patrons happy be ensuring that Hammerjacks provides a safe, comfortable environment. Not only will the club have parking for more than 1,000 cars across the street from its front door, but Principio also plans on keeping a crew of 10 off-duty, uniformed Baltimore City police officers around to patrol the parking lot and street.
"We want couples and females - especially if they're by themselves or in a group - to feel 100 percent safe that they can park on that parking lot, see a police officer on each corner and walk across the street without being harassed," he says.
"I would say the neighborhood will become a safer, cleaner place as a result of me being here, because I do my own clean-up every night, and I'm going to be patrolling the neighborhood. There are not going to be any car break-ins once I open up." As for the club itself, although the new Hammerjacks will hold fewer people than its predecessor - 1,800 instead of 2,500 - it probably will seem more comfortable and spacious, thanks to its multi-level ground floor and large balconies. "The original Hammerjacks was a perfect square, and this location is more of a rectangle, so there's a lot more stage front," Principio says.
A contractor by trade, Principio handled the construction himself and is quite proud of the club's design. With seven staircases, it's very easy to get in, out and around, and the oversized restrooms take what he calls "a stadium approach" to dealing with crowds. There's a 50,000-watt sound-system, more than 30 "intelligent" multi-function lighting units and enough air conditioning to guarantee that patrons will stay cool no matter how hot the action gets.
Customers, of course, aren't likely to notice the infrastructure, but they'll definitely see the difference in the finishings. In addition to hardwood floors, the club includes several elaborate bars originally built for the old Fishmarket. "What you've got is a bar that you might see at center court in a Hilton or something," Principio says.
"But you're not at the Hilton. You're at a nightclub, with dance music and rock 'n' roll playing. We want people to go back and say, 'This place is unbelievable. You've gotta see it.' All in all, there should be an incredible wow-factor when you come in the building. That's really what I'm looking for."
Where: 316 Guilford Ave.
When: 8 p.m.-2 a.m. tonight, Wednesdays and Thursdays; 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Fridays; 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturdays; open Sundays starting Nov. 26.
Cover charge: Varies; free tonight
For information: Call 410-234-0044 or visit the Web site at www.hammerjacks.com