Charm City, 'a center of weirdness' Details magazine rates 6 clubs in Md. among nation's hottest spots

June 16, 1993|By Mary Corey | Mary Corey,Staff Writer

Paradox. Club Orpheus. 14Karat Cabaret.

Don't look for these in the Fodor's guide to Baltimore. If you want the lowdown on the city's coolest hip-hop hangout, techno haunt and drag queen den, turn instead to the July issue of Details magazine.

There you'll find 23 glossy pages featuring "the 300 best nights out in America" -- six of which can be found right here in Maryland.

Local couch potatoes may experience culture shock after reading that the state is home to a disco that doubles as the Miss Gay Maryland Pageant site (The Hippo), a carpet warehouse-turned-country bar (Tornado Alley) and even the "Versailles of Rock" (Hammerjacks).

The person least surprised, though, was Details senior editor David A. Keeps.

"Baltimore has always been a cool town," he says. "It is a sort of center of weirdness. The club scene reflects the same influences that brought John Waters to the forefront."

Overall, Baltimore ranked somewhere between New York and Little Rock, Ark., in its hot club quotient. Sixteen spots in the Big Apple made the grade, including Zone DK, a sex club with "dungeon appliances." But only one in Clinton country got the nod: B.J.'s Star Studded Honky Tonk, a former lumberyard where Merle Haggard performs.

Months of research led Mr. Keeps to one heartening conclusion: Night life is alive and well in America.

"These reports about the demise of night life are greatly exaggerated," he says. "People today seem to want either the communal rave thing . . . or something more intimate like a poetry reading at a coffeehouse."

Civic pride notwithstanding, not everyone agreed with the magazine's assessment.

Steve Kicas, manager of Hammerjacks in South Baltimore, says his nightspot doesn't belong in the "headbanger" category.

"That's what Hammerjacks used to be," he says. "That's not what it is now. We're a broad-based, middle-of-the-road, college-oriented, alternative-music club."

Others, however, were simply glad to be singled out.

"It's great news," says Wayne Davis, owner of Paradox in Southwest Baltimore. "We're geared toward having fun, and we try to attract a very diverse crowd."

To compile the list, the magazine consulted writers from around the country, who sent in thousands of recommendations. The more enthusiastic the writer and the more bizarre the spot, the better the club's chances of making the final cut.

But in the end, Mr. Keeps relied on his own taste.

"We thought of this as travel writing," he says. "We put in information we'd like to have if we were on the road. And people really need this. Have you ever looked at those travel guides? They're so square."

Rated Md.'s best

* Coffeehouse: 14Karat Cabaret.

* Country: Tornado Alley, Wheaton.

* Disco: The Hippo.

* Funk/Deep House: Paradox.

* Headbanger: Hammerjacks.

-! * Techno/Rave: Club Orpheus.

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