When Baltimore’s LGBTQ community hosts its annual Pride festival this month, it will be with an extra sense of occasion as this year marks the city’s 40th annual celebration.
But a slight pall may hang over the proceedings since it was announced in early May that stalwart gay club The Hippo will soon close and become a CVS pharmacy. Located at the corner of North Charles and Eager streets, the Art Deco edifice has operated as a gay nightclub since July 7, 1972.
Charles L. “Chuck” Bowers, took ownership in 1978 with the goal to make it a place where “everyone is welcome”—a philosophy that became the club’s motto. “It’s been the home for every man, woman, white, African-American, whatever, to come here, feel safe, feel wanted, have a great time, and come back another day,” says Bowers, 70, who says the club’s last day will likely be in the fall.
Although Bowers is closing the club primarily for personal reasons—he’d like more time to travel and volunteer—he acknowledges trends in gay nightlife have had an effect, too. As gay culture has garnered more mainstream acceptance, the need for gay bars and clubs has diminished. Online dating and apps like Grindr have provided competition, as well.
“At the time The Hippo opened, gay people had to go to a gay club to meet gay people. That’s just how it was. You didn’t have all this online stuff,” notes Gilbert Morrisette, The Hippo’s longtime director of operations.
The news of the Hippo’s closing was met with an outpouring of affection from Baltimore’s gay community, for whom the club has been a touchstone through the disco era, the AIDS epidemic, and the gay-rights movement.
“I’m torn on the matter,” admits Paul Liller, the deputy director at the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, Transgender Community Center of Baltimore and Central Maryland (GLCCB). “For The Hippo, for the place, I hate to see it go. But for [Bowers], he needs a break.”