I remember it like it was yesterday: There I was the day of my 21st birthday, standing in line at The Hippo awaiting my very first club experience. Choosing Hippo as my “first” was a no-brainer really – where else could a young, queer girl go in Baltimore City to have a great time, feel completely accepted and free to be herself, without judgment? It was cold that night and I could feel the wind ripping through my tiny leather jacket and low-rise jeans, but I waited patiently. Once inside my worries and cares quickly evaporated and all I felt was the vibe… the music was booming and the crowed was moving, dancing hard, and so was I. I met so many awesome people that night, many of which are still in my life today.
Much like myself, many of us in the LGBT community have quite a few, fond memories of Club Hippo and just like me, they are heartbroken to see it go. The Hippo has been a LGBT staple since 1972, back when there wasn’t a plethora of places for us to go and just be. Charles L. “Chuck” Bowers (owner) created a safe environment for all people to meet, relax, dance, and socialize. Depending on your mood, you could attended karaoke, bingo, hip-hop night, ladies night, and an array of other happenings. Needless to say my favorite has always been ladies night.
While I enjoyed my last ladies night at Hippo I got the opportunity to speak to some amazing women that helped make the club unique including, Vera Mosley, local women’s promoter (and founder & co-owner of Gallagher’s Bar & Grill) our host for Ladies Night. She also remembers bringing in her 21st birthday at Club Hippo stating that, “I’ve been coming to the club since I was 21 years old, and I may have even sneaked in a few times before. I’ve brought in many wonderful birthdays and rang in the New Years here.” When asked about her fondest memory of the club, she said that “They are all fond, especially right after Pride (back in the day) when everything was at Druid Hill Park and everyone would just come back here afterwards, after the block party. But if I had to choose just one memory, I’d have to say it was the first drag show here – Josey (a bartender) & the Pussy cats. It blew me away!” I would have loved to see that!
After we both exchanged, some big laughs and tearful smiles she said, “I have a feeling that tonight will be one of those memories too – bittersweet.” Vera went on to say that the club exceeded all her expectations. Some of her favorite parts of being there were “honestly, just having a really cool place to chill, the bartenders (always being so good to everyone), the energy of crowd, the support, and of course the music.”
Ah yes, the music. I also spoke with Baltimore’s very own DJ Rosie, who got her start at The Hippo 11-½ years ago, after working previously at Gallagher’s and Club Coconuts. I can actually remember dancing to a few of her mixes there too! DJ Rosie’s favorite memory of being at The Hippo shows another side of the club, a more personable side. She recalled when management (and the owner) threw a party for her and her wife prior to them getting married. She said, “They opened the club privately, just for us. We had about 50 or 60 people here and we had a dance party – it’s just what my wife and I really wanted as a gift!” she went on to say that, “Chuck has been really good to my family and myself over the course of my time here.” When I asked her about what she will miss the most about the club, without missing a beat she said, ”There is a sense of loyalty and family between all of us here; we have all been through different things over all this time and everybody has always been there for each other. These are special people in my life and not being able to see them every week … that’s going to be hard.”
I’m sure these memories only scratch the surface of all the memories that the club holds for each of us who had the privilege of attending – oh, if those walls could talk. I think DJ Rosie said it best, “I don’t think that the energy in this club can really ever be duplicated – it’s one of a kind. There is nothing like it in Baltimore. Finding this again is going to definitely be hard – it’s going to be hard to lose it.”
It’s safe to say that, whether you were young or mature, gay, straight (or somewhere in-between), Club Hippo always had a space for you and it will be sorely missed. t
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