Baltimore nightclub is to close Saturday

Hammerjacks, heavy metal, rock icon, has been sold to developers

May 24, 2006|By LORRAINE MIRABELLA, ROB HIAASEN AND SAM SESSA | LORRAINE MIRABELLA, ROB HIAASEN AND SAM SESSA,SUN REPORTERS

Hammerjacks, once a Baltimore icon of heavy metal and rock, will close Saturday after the sale of its building to developers.

The club never regained its legendary status after its reincarnation in 2000 in a two-story brick building on Guilford Avenue, where disc jockeys spinning dance club numbers and hip-hop were more common than live music.

But in the days before the cavernous club under an Interstate 395 overpass was razed and paved over for Ravens stadium parking, bands such as Guns `N' Roses and the Ramones could practically make the expressway vibrate.

The nightclub's Web site is running a countdown to last call, down to the millisecond. It says the club has been sold.

A message on its voice mail says: "The rumors are true. May 27 Hammerjacks will be closing their doors forever."

Club owner Michael W. Hunter Jr. did not return calls yesterday. Neither did developers Bresler & Reiner Inc. of Rockville and Richard W. Naing of RWN Development Group, who have presented the city with redevelopment plans for Guilford Avenue north of City Hall.

But it's likely Hammerjacks and other buildings between Saratoga and Pleasant streets, such as a parking garage and self-storage facility, will be torn down to make way for a tower with housing and ground-level shops, the city planning director said. That would continue a redevelopment frenzy that has taken hold downtown and has begun along the Guilford Avenue corridor with new apartments in the Saratoga Court building at Guilford and Saratoga.

For some in Baltimore's club scene circles, especially those who remember the old Hammerjacks as a cultural phenomenon, news of the sale, first reported by The Daily Record, hardly registered.

Don Wehner of Up Front Promotions, a regional promotion company, booked acts for a decade at the old Hammerjacks, which featured entertainers such as Tupac Shakur, Queen Latifah, Marilyn Manson and local bands like Jimmie's Chicken Shack. For Wehner, the club he knew and loved is gone.

"Hammerjacks closed in the fall of 1997," Wehner said. At its current location, the club "didn't even make a dent in the live music world - maybe not even in the DJ world."

The newer Hammerjacks did find a niche as an outlet for Baltimore's unique urban club music called the "B-More" sound - ultra-fast, drum-driven dance music. Along with Club Choices and the Paradox, Hammerjacks also has featured some of the best-known local producers and supporters of the B-More sound, including DJ Rod Lee and DJ "Club Queen" K-Swift.

"I know them both, and with all due respect to them, the Hammerjacks that exists is not the Hammerjacks that made the music scene in Baltimore," Wehner said.

Seth Hurwitz, a regional concert promoter and co-owner of the 9:30 Club in Washington, also fondly remembers the old Hammerjacks in the 1980s during the era of the big-hair bands.

That was a time when the club, in a converted brewery building in an industrial patch of South Howard Street, had an image "as a haven for big-haired, scantily dressed, hard-rock gals and their longhaired boyfriends in tight jeans," The Sun's former pop music critic, J.D. Considine, wrote in 1997. Despite that image, he wrote, "the appeal was far broader."

Hammerjacks remained vital to Baltimore's music scene in the 1980s and 1990s. It featured two clubs -a two-story bar with DJs and a concert hall that had opened in 1985 - where 3,000 fans could rock the night away.

"It was a big part of the landscape," said Ron Furman, owner of the Max's on Broadway bar in Fells Point, who occasionally helped promote shows at Hammerjacks. "It personified that style of music, dress, what was being played on mainstream radio at the time. It had some of that MTV feel to it, but it was definitely that blue-collar working man's bar at the same time. Everybody felt comfortable in there, and it had the allure of having a dark side."

"It was rock `n' roll," Furman said. "They played all those `hair' bands, and it had that illusion of being rough. It was a drinking man's bar, but at the same time vast and big. It was a place where you could see acts in a bar atmosphere. You could see the Guns `N' Roses of the world."

In 1997, the Maryland Stadium Authority purchased Hammerjacks in a deal to acquire three tracts on South Howard Street for $3.1 million. The former owner, Louie Principio, told The Sun at the time that he believed the property was worth at least $4.4 million, but he was tired of the fight. "I feel like someone punched me in the stomach," he said then. Principio could not be reached yesterday.

Principio went on three years later to open the new Hammerjacks on Guilford Avenue. He planned to bring bands in a more limited way and reserve weekends for DJs playing mainstream rock `n' roll and dance music.

Drummer John Allen played at the newer Hammerjacks, most recently with rock group SR-71 in 2002, and also played at the previous location.

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