After a remodel of over $1 million, the Baltimore Eagle on North Charles is back and bigger than ever—and now, it’s much more than a traditional leather bar.
For the uninitiated, the leather subculture is usually associated with gay men. It’s a fetish culture that likely stemmed from post-World War II biker fashion, and the Eagle, founded in the 1970s, was once just a hole-in-the-wall leather bar.
Now, the Eagle has a designated space just for leather men and women, Code Bar, where on Friday and Saturday nights, only patrons wearing leather and fetish gear are admitted inside. But for those who aren’t part of the leather subculture, there’s also now a sports bar, an upstairs nightclub called the Nest, an art gallery, even a barber’s chair for anyone who wants an Eagle haircut. And these spaces are open to anyone.
“The thing I love is that every weekend we see this huge, diverse group of people coming in, and it’s not just gay men, it’s the whole gambit of everybody in the community at large,” said Charles King, who owns the Eagle with his husband Greg King and partners John and Bob Gasser. “That, we’re really proud of.”
Since the Eagle is still, traditionally, a gay bar—or gay bars, since the new additions—King emphasized that the building will remain a safe space for members of the LGBTQ+ community.
“We still need a safe space that we can call home in a sense, a place that we can feel comfortable with our partner of our choosing, and we wanted a space that would be inclusive to everyone,” he said. “If you’re going to walk through our doors, you’re going to be in a certain environment, and if you’re cool with that, great, and if you’re not, we’d prefer that you don’t come through our doors.”
King wants to dismantle the idea that many gay bars are closing because they’re not needed anymore.
Although LGBTQ+ people are more accepted at this point in history than they have been in the past, he says it’s widely believed that such safe spaces are no longer needed.
“If you were with somebody of the same sex, you probably wouldn’t feel comfortable going to Fells Point,” he said. “You wouldn’t feel as comfortable and you certainly wouldn’t get intimate with your partner.”
And while King doesn’t like to talk politics, he does acknowledge that the gay community could be at risk in the uncertainty of the Donald Trump administration.
“We have no idea what he’s going to do or what he’s going to pull, and I think that a space like this is more needed now than ever.”
While the leather subculture has always been big within the LGBTQ+ community, it’s not quite big enough to justify one bar that supports four owners in a city as small as Baltimore. The Eagle’s new additions were built, in part, to help financially support Code Bar and keep their leather roots alive.
“We had to diversify in a way that we thought could support us and support a place for the community, and of course support where our roots are from, for the leather bar,” King said. “This model allows us to be able to do that, and hopefully it will sustain itself.”
And so far, the Eagle is more than sustaining itself.
“Last weekend, we literally had a line around the bar,” said manager Ryan “Kanoa” Scott. During slower afternoon and weekday hours, Scott gives tours to Eagle newcomers and curious clientele who haven’t yet seen the new remodel.
“Downstairs seemed very masculine, so up here we went for a more feminine touch,” said Scott as he guided a small tour group upstairs to the Nest, the red cabaret-themed nightclub that housed apartments before the renovation.
The Nest’s calendar is currently booked until mid-May with comedy acts, drag shows and charity events, which King says happen almost every weekend.
“Charity is the cornerstone of who we are,” he said. “For example, there’s a fundraiser coming up on April 1 that’s for My Big Gay Animal Shelter, they’re doing a fundraiser here to raise money for the animals. We’ll do fundraisers for anybody who’s interested, we don’t say no to that. It’s who we are.”
With a full calendar until spring and weekend lines that stretch around the building, the owners and employees of the Eagle are optimistic in their vision of welcoming diverse crowds of people while staying true to their leather roots.
“Opening up to non-leather elements doesn’t dilute that,” said bartender Joe Velazquez. “As the straight world’s embracing us, we’ve got to embrace them too.”