Before the corner of N Charles and W Eager was a CVS, it was a Baltimore institution: Club Hippo. For more than 35 years, Club Hippo was a refuge for Baltimore’s queer community. The dance venue was always a place where, as the club's motto read, “everybody is welcome.” The space gave people the ability to express themselves freely without fear.
The Hippo’s owner during this time was Charles “Chuck” Bowers. Bowers purchased the club in 1978 from its original owners, Kenny Elbert and Don Endbinder. In 1972 Elbert and Endbinder had turned the space into a gay-friendly nightclub. But Bowers was the one responsible for turning the club into a cornerstone of Baltimore’s queer community and the Mount Vernon business district. For instance, Baltimore City’s annual Pride Block Party, with few exceptions, took place at the intersection of Charles and Eager street, anchored by the Hippo.
During the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s, Bowers was an outspoken advocate for gay men who contracted the disease. The Hippo at this time also hosted performances by Broadway stars. The Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS organization sponsored the performances to spread awareness and raise money to fight the deadly disease.
Bowers also helped to raise money for local charities fighting the AIDS epidemic including Baltimore’s Movable Feast and Light Health and Wellness by putting on fundraisers at the Hippo. Baltimore’s Movable Feast is an organization that provides meals to people with chronic and life threatening illnesses, including AIDS. In 1997, cast members of the Broadway touring company of “Cats” treated the guests of the Hippo to a special performance in order to raise money for Baltimore’s Movable Feast. Light Health and Wellness is a nonprofit that helps Baltimore youth and families who are affected by HIV/AIDS. The Hippo served an important role as a place for members of the community to come together to support each other in both good times and bad times.
Although the club permanently closed in October 2015, those that danced there cherish fond memories of the Baltimore institution. Erik J. Akelaitis, who attended the final dance at Club Hippo said:
"Although I had a blast dancing and reminiscing with friends one last time, it was sad to see a long-standing Baltimore institution, landmark, and vital part of Baltimore’s LGBT history come to an end. The dance floor was packed one last time with a playlist of songs they had played over the years. It felt like old times, and the way things should be… where everyone is welcome!"
The research and writing of this article was funded by two grants: one from the Maryland Heritage Areas Authority and one from the Baltimore National Heritage Area.