The Bars Of Our Youth: Hammerjacks (Baltimore, MD)

This is The Bars Of Our Youth, a twelve-part look at some of the clubs and bars the Culture Brats frequented in their younger days. Today, Dave takes a look back at the now defunct Hammerjacks in Baltimore, MD.

SOURCE: Hammerjacks Online
I was never much of a nightclub guy. In my high school and early college days in the suburbs of Baltimore, Maryland, I did go to a couple of places fairly regularly: a dance club called Maxwells and a bar/restaurant called Pappy's. There were two primary reasons I frequented those places: (1) the people I worked with at the time (most of whom were older than me) went there almost every week and (2) neither place was too particular about checking ID at the door. I missed the "grandfather" clause that allowed people under 21 to drink by a couple of years.

When I was finally old enough to (legally) get into any club or bar, I gotta be honest--most of the time my friends and I hit the strip clubs. (In Baltimore County, that meant bikini bars, but we thought they were pretty awesome.) I'm not sure how it first came about, but at some point, I'm guessing it was around 1989 or 1990, my buddies and I finally made a trek to the nightclub that was the subject of Baltimore legend. A place called Hammerjacks.

Hammerjacks went through three incarnations in its lifetime. It started its life in 1977 as a small tavern in a converted row house on Charles Street. It died quietly 29 years later as a two-story dance club that wasn't even a ghost of the memory of the phenomenal venue that the name still evokes in those of us who grew up in Baltimore during the 80s and 90s.

It's the "middle" Hammerjacks that I experienced, and it was a truly amazing place. Situated under Interstate 395 on South Howard Street, the second Hammerjacks was THE place to go for concerts starting in 1982. Built in an old beer warehouse, it was big enough to hold 2,500 people, and it had probably half a dozen bars scattered across the ground floor and a balcony level that ringed the "concert side." (The other section was known as the "club side.") It was big enough to attract name acts, but small enough to make the concert experience seem more intimate than a civic center or a stadium. Not that anybody who ever frequented Hammerjacks at the time would ever use the word "intimate" to describe it. The place was so famous (or infamous) that people outside of Baltimore had heard of it. A friend of mine once saw a Hammerjacks bumper sticker on a tank at an army base in Germany!

Hammerjacks was a big draw for '80s glam and metal bands. At one time or another, Faster Pussycat, Child's Play, Kix, Ratt, Skid Row, Extreme, and Poison all graced the stage. It was apparently one of Bret Michaels's favorite Baltimore hangouts. Guns N' Roses made their Baltimore debut on Hammerjacks' stage, and solo acts from famous bands like Brian May from Queen and Slash from Guns N' Roses often showed up. And local favorites Crack The Sky played there regularly.

But, like I said, my friends and I were more interested in strip clubs at the time. That's how we ended up as regulars at Hammerjacks. Every Tuesday night, there was a contest sponsored by local radio station WGRX. It rotated between "naughty negligee," "bikini," and "wet t-shirt." It was also 50-cent draft night. The combination of cheap beer and semi-naked women was too much for college guys to resist. The contest always started at around midnight, but the place was packed hours earlier. To get a spot right by the stage, we'd always arrive at around 9 PM. We'd take turns getting rounds of beer so we wouldn't lose our prime space. It was this ritual that taught me how many beers one person can carry. (Ten, provided nobody minds if your fingers are in the cups.)

I did manage to take in one concert at Hammerjacks: The Ramones. That was a truly amazing show. If you never got to see The Ramones live, you really missed out. It was like having a syringe full of pure adrenaline injected into your brain. I swear they played all of their songs that night in a little over an hour. They accomplished this by playing them at about 1.5 times their normal (already fast) speed, with only a quick, "1234!" separating one song from the next. What a rush! And we were really close to the stage, almost right above it, looking down from the upper level.

It was weird that I spent so much time at Hammerjacks. It was definitely not my normal vibe. It was dimly-lit, the walls were black and exposed brick, the bathrooms were bio-hazards where the floor was covered in questionable liquids and broken beer bottles (and, not infrequently, vomit), and the clientele were the typical '80s punk, hard-rock, and biker types that I normally avoided. But you know what? I loved every minute of it.

The second incarnation of Hammerjacks closed its doors in 1997, when it was torn down to create a parking lot when the Baltimore Ravens' new stadium was built. On that day, Baltimore mourned. That place will always be alive in our memories, though... and on the Internet as well. When I was poking around the Web recently, I found out that you can still buy t-shirts and bumper stickers with the Hammerjacks logo on them. (There's also an awesome vintage video mini-documentary about Hammerjacks on the site. Check it out!)

If you aren't a Baltimore native, it might be tough to understand the allure of the place. But for us, Hammerjacks rocked! --Dave

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