Known originally as the Hotel Kernan, the Congress Hotel was built in 1903 by James L. Kernan. Kernan was a savvy businessman who sought to capitalize on the ways in which immigration had influenced the tastes of wealthy visitors and Baltimore natives alike. By the 1970s, the hotel also housed the Marble Bar - a nightclub that hosted many early punk and New Wave groups through the mid 1980s.
When first built, the hotel included a luxurious Turkish bath and a massive rathskeller, a traditional German bar located in the basement of a building, and two theaters - the Auditorium and the Maryland - connected to the hotel by covered passageways. Thanks to entrepreneurial innovations from low ticket prices to an ever-changing roster of vaudeville performers, Kernan's "Million Dollar Triple Enterprise" soon proved to be a rousing success. Charlie Chaplin, Will Rogers, and Eddie Cantor - just to name a few - all appeared at the Hotel Kernan. The hotel remained an important part of Baltimore's entertainment history until it was sold in 1932.
The Congress Hotel became a nightclub in the late 1970s. Roger and Leslee Anderson, a pair of local musicians, saw potential in the space and began to operate a nightclub located in the old rathskeller in the basement. Now called the Marble Bar, the music club played from 1978 to the mid-eighties. The Marble Bar was one of the first clubs in Baltimore to book emerging punk and new wave bands, and encouraged the growth of all kinds of music; the unofficial motto became "The Marble is the first place you play on the way up, and the last place you play on the way down."
Although dark and dank, the Marble Bar still represented a place where musicians and members of the underground punk scene could gather and commiserate - the Marble Bar was not just a nightclub, but the center of a community. At its peak, bands like the Psychedelic Furs, REM, and Iggy Pop played the Marble Bar before becoming nationally recognized, and underground Baltimore stars like Edith Massey found her way to the Marble Bar as well. While the new sound of punk was not setting any trends – the style had already caught on in other cities across the nation – the Marble Bar remained one of the few to embrace that sound, creating a space for underground music in the city amid the more popular disco movement.