Theater club

After a 21-month shutdown, Club Charles is open again

For the first time in months the lights are back at Club Charles.

The legendary bar opposite the Charles Theater recently reopened after a 21-month hiatus, allaying fears it will never reopen.

One of its most famous patrons, filmmaker John Waters, spread the word during his vacation show in Baltimore last week.

“I heard, and I pray it’s true, Club Charles has reopened,” Waters told a fan who asked for a bar recommendation during the Q&A portion of his show.

“I think it’s a miracle,” Waters continued. “I spent so many years there. I think it’s a great bar that attracts all types of people so I’m very, very happy to hear that it has reopened. This is the best news Baltimore has had in a long time, I think.

Waters stopped on Sunday, after some of the regulars posted on social media plans for some sort of reunion to celebrate the reopening. He resumed his old seat at the bar, right next to the front door.

Other customers said they were happy to see “Club Chuck” back – and unchanged – just in time for New Years Eve.

“It’s a Baltimore landmark,” said Hilary Pierce, art curator and president of the Art Collector’s Athenaeum. “The people. The culture. The things that happened here. This place was magical… There will never be another place like Club Charles.

It is “the ultimate dive bar,” the current equivalent of what the underground was in the days of Prohibition, said Steven Reech, chairman of the 1945 Insurance Group.

“I have been around the world. It’s the coolest bar I’ve ever been to in my life, ”said Reech. “You’ve got everyone from preppies in Brooks Brothers costumes to punk rockers to housewives who came to the Charles Theater… you never know who’s going to walk through the door. “

Part of his appeal, he said, is in the memories he holds and the fact that he doesn’t change.

“I’m walking here and it’s like I’m 21 again.”

Over the years, Club Charles has attracted an impressive number of famous clients, including many actors working on the John Waters films. The list includes Johnny Depp, Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Paulina Porizkova and the late Ric Ocasek. The late chef and writer Anthony Bourdain stopped by while working at Harborplace, before he rose to fame.

Located at 1724 N. Charles Street, the bar has a reputation for periodically closing for long periods of time and then reopening without notice. Managers closed it several years ago, for example, with a handwritten sign on the door saying it was “CLOSED TO REMOVE GRAFFITI,” and then it didn’t reopen for three months. The latest shutdown was its longest drought on record.

The bartender on Sunday duty, who was called Lorenzo B, said Club Charles closed on March 24, 2020 because “the city told us” – a reference to the order of then-mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young that all bars and restaurants in town are closing temporarily to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. The city has since authorized the reopening of bars and restaurants as long as managers adhere to public health guidelines regarding mask wearing and other safety protocols.

Club Charles reopened about three weeks ago. Lorenzo said Waters played a role because he sent owner Joy Martin a Christmas card with a note urging her to bring it back. “It influenced her,” he said. “It really sparked something.”

Joy Martin’s mother Esther Martin bought the building in 1951 when it housed a bar and restaurant called Charles Seafood and changed its name to The Wigwam. In 1981, she redesigned it and renamed it The Club Charles, with the goal of attracting art students, moviegoers and other young people to gravitate around the neighborhood, which is now part of the Arts and Entertainment District. Station North entertainment.

Her transformation of the bar into a retro-chic nightclub was successful, with Waters saying she had changed it from “Baltimore’s scariest bar to the coolest.”

Joy Martin took over day-to-day management in the 1990s after failing health forced her mother into semi-retirement; Esther Martin died in 2003.

For now, Lorenzo said, Club Charles will be open Thursdays, Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m., with extended hours on New Year’s Eve. Management aims to be open seven days a week. seven from February, he said.

Ed Gunt