Opened in 1977, Hammerjacks was synonymous with rock & roll in Baltimore for two glorious, debaucherous decades, playing host over the years to everyone from Guns N’ Roses and Ozzy Osbourne to Iggy Pop and the Ramones. Joan Jett shot the video for “I Love Rock ‘n Roll” there. Iron Maiden featured the club on the cover of its 1986 album Somewhere In Time. John Waters filmed crucial scenes for his cult classic Serial Mom inside. Belly up to the bar on any given night and you might have spotted members of Poison, Def Leppard, or Journey hanging out after nearby arena shows. “Hammerjacks,” the Baltimore Sun declared in no uncertain terms, “defined the Baltimore popular music scene.”
Founded by Baltimore native Louis Principio, Hammerjacks first came to life as a gritty dive bar located in a converted rowhouse on Charles Street, where it thrived for five years before moving into a larger, 22,000 square foot space on Howard Street. It was at this site, a former brewery built of solid brick with high ceilings and exposed wooden beams, that Hammerjacks would host its first concert, with Eddie Money, and cement its storied legacy. Eventually growing to comprise two adjoining spaces—a two-story bar with large pass-throughs allowing patrons to look down on the crowd below and a 1,000-capacity concert hall next door—the club turned an industrial-zoned wasteland into a nightlife Mecca, bringing in some of the biggest names in music for packed, sweaty, and unforgettable performances. KISS, Megadeth, Alice In Chains, Blondie, Nine Inch Nails, Tool, Rage Against The Machine, Soundgarden, Peter Frampton, Danzig, the Black Crowes, Oasis, the Pretenders, Teenage Fanclub, Living Colour, Skid Row, Ratt, Cyndi Lauper, Coolio, Waylon Jennings, and Foreigner all played the concert hall in its heyday. And on nights that Hammerjacks didn’t have a band, you could still count on the club to deliver a wild time, from Laser Crazy Nite every Saturday to its still-infamous Best Buns In Baltimore contests. Many a 21st birthday was celebrated with a scantily clad dance on top of the bar, and singles citywide knew Hammerjacks as the place to hook up in Baltimore.
Topped with an enormous neon sign depicting the venue’s iconic logo—a hammer and lightning bolts in a nod to Principio’s past experience as an electrician—Hammerjacks inspired a fierce and lasting loyalty among its clientele that few clubs ever achieve. Bartenders were known to be on a first-name basis with thousands of regulars, and patrons to this day continue to wear their Hammerjacks shirts as a badge of honor. Such devotion made it all the more painful when the Maryland Stadium Authority took ownership of the property in 1997, razing Hammerjacks to the ground in order to create a parking lot for the new Baltimore Ravens’ stadium. While the venue was briefly resurrected as a more DJ-oriented dance club a few years later on Guilford Avenue, it never managed to achieve the heights of its glory days, and, in 2006, Hammerjacks closed its doors for good. Or so it seemed …
Today, work has already begun on a new era for Hammerjacks, which finds itself rising from the ashes in a sprawling former warehouse space just a stone’s throw away from its beloved Howard Street location and across the street from M&T Bank Stadium (home of the Baltimore Ravens). Led by a group of Maryland-area residents, the revival will honor Hammerjacks’ legendary past while at the same time reimagining the future of live music, sports, and entertainment in Baltimore, combining all three to forge an inclusive, diverse, and affordable destination for the entire city.
Much like the original venue, the new Hammerjacks is leaning into its industrial surroundings, with a design that embraces the historic building’s lofty ceilings and exposed brick and steel architecture. And, much like the original club, Hammerjacks’ 21st century iteration will begin as a bar before expanding into a concert venue. The first phase of the new Hammerjacks features recycled shipping containers fashioned into food and beverage stations and the outdoor space will see a wide variety of usage, from large-scale NFL tailgate parties and live events.
For two decades, Hammerjacks lit up the night as the people’s club, a place that welcomed all and set the standard for good times in Charm City. Now, almost fifty years after first opening its doors, Hammerjacks is back and ready to raise the bar, inviting seasoned regulars and a whole new generation alike to join them in carrying on the legacy of a true Baltimore institution.