+ By Desiree Smith-Daughety + Photos by Mary Ella Jourdak

Eastport, locally known as the Maritime Republic of Eastport (MRE), boasts history tracing back to the colonial era, just like its “rival” across the Spa Creek Bridge, the city of Annapolis. The Eastport Democratic Club (EDC) is a quiet, long-standing fixture of the area. This social club, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of touristy, downtown Annapolis, is nearing its centennial. Founded in 1929 and incorporated in 1931, EDC has served as a community meeting place ever since its beginnings. It retains various pieces of its historical record, including board minutes from a meeting that took place during its first year.
The private club is located on State Street, on a commercially designated property that sits within a residential section of Eastport that’s just an oyster shell’s throw from Back Creek. EDC is membership based, so as a private club, one doesn’t just walk in as one would into another local bar. And don’t let the name fool you—one need not be a card-carrying member of any particular political party to become a club member. Its name refers to an older definition of democratic that’s inclusive. “We are apolitical,” says Michael Hughes, who serves as secretary for EDC’s board of directors. “You will find all groups and councilpeople here—we don’t get political. You might come in and sit next to a doctor, a lawyer, or an oysterman—it’s just people getting together to have a good time.”

An incoming order at the speakeasy bar.

Hughes further dispels the notion of a space where political party rallies are held and fiery speeches are made. Instead, the location provides a space for community and civic groups to meet. He recounts that the club’s operational philosophy is “a social club that welcomes all and operates to serve the community and offer a neighborhood gathering space.”
Once a speakeasy with a befittingly nondescript entrance, the club has a front door that is now easily accessed from its gravel parking lot. Nonmembers can buzz the doorbell, and club members use their issued member cards to let themselves in. EDC is a volunteer organization whose members, who pay a reasonable annual membership fee, are equal owners. But they are involved in more than just letting the good times roll.
“We are a social club but one with a purpose,” says Hughes. EDC is involved with and supports various local charities and events, including the SPCA of Anne Arundel County, the Eastport Volunteer Fire Department, the annual MRE’s Tug of War with Annapolis, and Eastport Elementary School. It hosts the annual St. Patrick’s Day weekend Eastport Green Beer Races event as well as an Oktoberfest and other events throughout the year. “Charity is always a cornerstone of all our events,” says Hughes.
EDC recently drew close as a community to support one of its own. To date, the club has helped raise $34,000 to assist with medical bills for a member who was critically injured; he was struck by a hit-and-run driver while he was crossing Chesapeake Avenue at State Street, relatively near the club, this past December.

The original back staircase and door with peephole to allow covert entry to the speakeasy is still in use.

Over the years, the club has evolved. During the COVID-19 pandemic-related shutdowns, EDC found a silver lining—one that included safe socializing. Because area music lovers missed going out to live music shows and musicians missed having people see them perform, the club stepped up. It provided an opportunity for both: a nice, safe, open outdoors environment, ideal for social distancing, and live music offerings twice a week. As a result of their efforts, club members discovered that, at one point, they had snagged the number 9 slot on Yelp for live local music in Annapolis.
The music has since moved indoors and is featured two to three times per week. Members come to enjoy a live show and order an inexpensive drink. And, of course, there’s socializing through food. “On Wednesday and random other evenings, our members cook for other members and curate their own menu that showcases their favorite style of cooking,” says Hughes. On a typical weeknight, while a band is setting up in a corner, a hubbub of voices commingle. New and old friends greet one another, and the room comes alive with conversations. People of all ages fill the space, which is staffed by volunteers.
The early-pandemic live music has had a positive impact on the club; it now boasts a membership roll of about 900 members (and membership had to be capped because the club can only accommodate a certain number of people). The membership boost provided the opportunity—and funding—to remodel the downstairs space in 2022. The area was given a facelift, with a new bar top, a fresh coat of paint, new flooring, and acoustic ceiling tiles. All the work was done by volunteers, including updated design elements such as lighting. The ceiling tiles, resembling punched tin, and the dimmed lighting hearken back to the location’s olden days, evoking a speakeasy vibe, which is fitting, as the downstairs space is now called the Speak.
Future plans for EDC include offering smoked and craft cocktails at a large bar. On the wall hangs an old gambling device, possibly a roulette wheel, something the Antiques Roadshow might like to see, that was found in the attic. It is for decoration only! The club is re-creating those speakeasy days in name only. █

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