There are times – despite what you may believe – that my dog is not at my side. One of them was Saturday night.
Once or twice a year, a select group of friends and I make it a point to visit all the old-time bars – those among the dwindling few in South Baltimore that haven’t been upscaled yet.
I’m talking about the sort of neighborhood places that are named after a guy as opposed to a concept, the kind where you’re still called “hon,” and where the food — if they have anything beyond bags of chips and a giant jar of pickled eggs atop the bar — is never “encrusted,” just flat out fried.
As Ace and I prepare to hit the road, it seemed a good time to do it again – to say goodbye not just to friends, but to a few old, not yet gentrified bars that might not be here when I get back, including one that I’d just found out will be the next to go.
Popular with old-timers and newcomers alike, the Lighthouse serves up huge portions of food, at affordable prices. When its owner Bill Wedemeyer died last year, his wife, Adele, kept it going, drawing in a steady crowd with its famous crabs, and impressive buffets on Ravens game days.
According to the sign posted in the window, Bill’s Lighthouse has been sold to new owners from California, who plan to transform it into “Café Velocity” and add outdoor dining. Currently, the only al fresco dining that takes place is done by the stray cats (like my former houseguest Miley) who are drawn by handouts from the kitchen staff.
After paying our respects at the Lighthouse, we moved on – first, right across the street, to Leon’s, home base of the Attaboy Club, whose members were holding a meeting in the back room, probably to plot their next bull/oyster/pig roast. The Attaboy Club is always roasting something.
Leon’s is unusual in that it has no outside sign. It’s a nondescript white building that caters mostly to a stalwart crowd of regulars. Yet it has always been warm and inviting when our old school bar crawl crowd shows up. My connection to it, as well as the Lighthouse, began when Ace poked his head through the door.
From Leon’s we moved on to Schaefer’s, whose bar is one of oldest in the city – a carryover from the days that male customers didn’t walk to the bathroom to relieve themselves, instead utilizing the trough-like drain that ran the length of the bar. (Not everything about the good old days was good.)
The sidewalks leading to Schaefer’s are emblazoned with the painted-on jerseys of Raven’s players, and in the back room, you can find a purple pool table.
Moving on to Rayzer’s just up the street, we got a bucket of pony-sized beers and blew a few dollars playing the video horse race game, learning, among other things, the difference between quinella and trifecta.
The last old school bar stop was Muir’s Tavern, whose glowing orange neon sign and upstairs turret give it the look of a medieval whorehouse, and I mean that in a good way.
As we arrived, Natasha, the bartender, stood outside. One customer, Mary, had run home across the street for a moment, and Natasha was worried that – Mary being small and the winds being fierce that night – she might blow away when she tried to return.
Alas, Mary made it back, and reassumed her position at the video slot machine. Our group kept itself entertained with the low-tech bowling game and Muir’s sophisticated Internet jukebox, which lets you download any song, it seems, in the world.
As you can see, though I didn’t have my dog, I had my camera along, and thanks to it and Iris Dement, we were able to throw together this tribute before we depart — a musical slide show about a slowly fading side of South Baltimore.
Posted by jwoestendiek February 22nd, 2011 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: america, animals, baltimore, bar crawl, bars, bills lighthouse, change, dogs, federal hill, gentrification, iris dement, leon's, lighthouse, muirs, neighborhood bars, neighborhoods, nostalgia, old school, our town, pets, progress, rayzers, riverside, road trip, schaefers, south baltimore, taverns, travels with ace, tribute, video
After eight months away, it has been interesting to see the latest twists and turns my old neighborhood in Baltimore has taken.
For 10 years, I lived in not quite Federal Hill, never – until now — within its exact boundaries, but on its periphery: first in the Riverside neighborhood, and later in another that, while it doesn’t have a name, per se, falls under the direction of a neighborhood association called the South Baltimore Improvement Committee.
Living in an “improvement” district keeps you from getting a big head, and perhaps the same can be said of living in Baltimore. To me, the charm of “Charm City” has always been its lack of arrogance. Having “improvement” in your neighborhood name, on the other hand, seems to reinforce a “you’re not quite good enough” message: “Hey, you still have a way to go, SoBoImCo, before you can attach “Hill” or “River” or “Point” or some other scenic term to your name.”
The gentrification of South Baltimore – and whether that’s synonymous with improvement is arguable — was well underway when I arrived 10 years ago, not quite young, not quite upscale, definitely not gentry.
Immediately, I felt more of a connection with the old and vanishing, stoop-sitting side of the area than its younger, newer denizens – those being the rooftop deckers, the wine-tasters, the perpetually texting woo-hoo! girls and the loud, backwards-cap-wearing frat boys who clog up Cross Street
Far more interesting (not to mention closer to my age group) were the old-timers, the ones with stories to tell, the ones who knew the area’s history and had some themselves, the ones who, as the neighborhoods of Federal Hill, Riverside, Locust Point and SoBoImCo transformed, were being priced out of the block they’d grown up on. If that weren’t enough, they were seeing almost all their old watering holes dry up – reopening with trendier names, upscaled décor and higher prices.
A few years after I arrived, the gentrification of South Baltimore was in full swing, and it seemed likely that day would come that it crossed all the way over – that the last patches of the original canvas, all those interesting textures, would be layered over with more boring, modern hues. Then again, what is any neighborhood but a work in progress?
Since being back, Ace and I have spent the month living in a friend’s house in actual Federal Hill before her tenants arrive, and we’ve been enjoying the rooftop deck, and the hot tub on it. (After steeping for five minutes, I do start feeling a little like gentry.) Walking the neighborhood with Ace, I can see that the transition continues – though slowed by the lousy economy — for better and worse.
There are more empty storefronts along Charles Street than I’ve ever noticed before, and two of my favorite institutions are closing up shop.
Gone is the House of Foam, a curious establishment that, in addition to foam, sold a mish-mash of electronic gadgets. As there weren’t too many times I found myself in need of foam, I only went in once, but I loved the name, and the sign. They’ve relocated to a new neighborhood, on Russell Street, in what used to be a Staples.
Also departing is Lucky Lucy’s Canine Café, whose owner Nancy Dixon (also my temporary landlord) has decided to close up shop – more for family reasons than anything else. The shop is up for sale, meaning it could reopen again as a doggie haven, with homemade treats, pet food and toys – or maybe as something else entirely.
Meanwhile, down at the shopping center, the Shopper’s Supermarket has been reconfigured and the entire complex is receiving a facelift. Apparently, with a huge new condominium development called McHenry Row going up, and a new Harris-Teeter grocery store arriving, the management at Southside MarketPlace decided it was time to upscale or die.
There were rumors that the Goodwill thrift store was going to close – highly upsetting to me — but I’ve since heard that, under its lease, it will be around a couple more years at least.
Part of the reason I’m waxing nostalgic is because three two more things are leaving South Baltimore – two of those being Ace and me, at least for a while.
After a month spent reuniting with friends, our travels will continue. We’re headed to Winston-Salem, North Carolina, the town in which I was born, and where my mother still lives. It will be our home base for a few months, during which time we plan a few side trips. Stick with us and you can read about those expeditions, as well as our new living arrangements – in the basement of an aging mansion.
As for that third thing that’s leaving, it’s another classic piece of South Baltimore – one we’ll pay tribute to tomorrow.
(Tomorrow: “One for the Road,” a tribute to the South Baltimore’s old school bars)
Posted by jwoestendiek February 21st, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: animals, baltimore, canine cafe, change, charles street, closing, dogs, economy, empty, federal hill, gentrification, house of foam, light street, locust point, lucky lucy's, neighborhoods, pets, progress, riverside, road trip, shoppers, small business, soboimco, south baltimore, south baltimore improvement committee, southside marketplace, storefronts, travels with ace
Let’s put it this way: He woke me up early today, much earlier than I intended, and all but pushed me down the stairs of the home in which we are temporarily freeloading. Thinking he was in urgent need, I — before getting coffee, which is unheard of – stumbled across the street to the park with him, where he sniffed around for 20 minutes. We weren’t back in the house five minutes when he was back at the door, nosing the knob, lifting both front paws off the ground at the same time, telling me it was time to go to the park again.
Back from that jaunt, he went back upstairs and into my bed, but 15 minutes later, he was at the top of the stairs, looking down at me and staring longingly at the door again. There are friends, canine and human, that he hasn’t reconnected with yet, and he seems to be eager to find them, especially those who have given him treats over the years. Somehow, he manages to keep meticulous records of those people in his brain. I imagine its something like Facebook, but more smell-based.
Seven months ago, Ace and I left Baltimore on a journey that took us around the country twice, covered 22,000 miles and ended up lasting seven months.
And while I think we both enjoyed our time on the road a lot, it’s good — if I may speak for us both — to see some familiar faces, smell some familiar butts and remark what once was and may be again our territory.
Our first day back in Baltimore — yesterday — Ace was eager to revisit Riverside, see and sniff old friends and remind one and all that (the way he sees it, I think) he’s the sheriff of this particular park and answers to no one, unless they have treats.
He stalked about proudly, as if to tell all other dogs, “This is my domain, and, in case you’ve forgotten, I’m the master of it.”
We hit the park twice yesterday, and he’s already dragged me there twice today.
Last night he came along for my first book signing for DOG, INC. — at the bar he spent a lot of time in during his formative years, the Idle Hour. (Thanks to all the friends who showed up, all the folks who bought books and to the Idle Hour management, to which I apologize for walking out without paying. Put it on my tab, please.)
There will be another book signing tonight — sans Ace — at Captain Larry’s, 601 E. Fort Avenue, from 7 to 10 p.m.
By then, Ace will have been dropped off at his godmother’s house because I have to go to New York tomorrow for another radio interview, this one with Leonard Lopate.
Then — just when we’re both ready, after all our travels, to sit still for a bit — we’ll be driving back down to North Carolina Saturday for my mother’s birthday and another radio interview.
So, in a way, our travels aren’t over; and I guess they won’t really be until we figure out where we’re going to live. Between that and any book related traveling we’ll be doing, this means you might have to bear with us a while longer before “Travels With Ace” officially concludes.
And that won’t happen until we figure out where home is.
Meanwhile, anyone need a housesitter?
Posted by jwoestendiek January 6th, 2011 under Muttsblog.
Tags: ace, america, animals, author, baltimore, book, captain larry's, cloning, dog inc., dog's country, doginc, dogs, dogscountry, home, idle hour, leonard lopate, pets, riverside, riverside park, road trip, signings, travels with ace
“Hey that’s My Dog,” a photo exhibit of South Baltimore dogs that has raised more than $1,000 for Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS), concludes tonight at Captain Larry’s, 601 E. Fort Avenue.
Starting with about 200 photos of neighborhood dogs — all hung on clotheslines (the photos, not the dogs) — the exhibit is now about half that size, but lots of dogs, maybe even your’s, remain.
The prints have been selling for $25, but tonight I’ll be willing to accept any reasonable offer — even if it’s just a promise to donate to BARCS in the future. In other words, if you haven’t yet, come get your dog.
The exhibit opened May 3 to a huge crowd, and a musical performance by Sierra the Singing Dog (though she wasn’t in the mood to sing.) It was scheduled to run for a week, but after our closing night ceremony, featuring the accordion stylings of Don Plehn, the good folks at Captain Larry’s agreed to leave it up an extra week.
That allowed us to make, after expenses, more than $1,000 for BARCS, a non-profit organization that, given cuts in its city funding, can use some donations right now.
(BARCS is where I adopted my dog, Ace, five years ago.)
On Tuesday, I’ll be taking the photos down, and those not claimed will be going into the storage unit that will be home to my stuff when Ace and I, and ohmidog!, hit the road next week on our destination-less journey of an undetermined duration.
If your rescue organization or shelter is interested in sponsoring a similar fundraising photo exhibit of dogs in your town or neighborhood, get in touch. Maybe, during my upcoming travels, we can work something out.
Thanks to everyone who supported the exhibit, especially the management of Captain Larry’s, fellow sponsors K-9 Kraving and Lucky Lucy’s Canine Cafe, and David Israel and the South Baltimore Hootenanny for providing the music for the video version of the exhibit (above).
Posted by jwoestendiek May 17th, 2010 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: balitmore animal rescue & care shelter, baltimore, barcs, captain larry's, closing, dogs, exhibit, federal hill, fundraiser, hey that's my dog, john woestendiek, locust point, ohmidog!, photo, photography, riverside, south baltimore
In the year and a half I’ve been writing, taking photos and assembling ohmidog!, I’ve amassed quite a few dog photos. And, thanks to my trademark photographic technique — take 100 pictures and one or two might accidentally be good — some of them are even exhibit-worthy.
So an exhibit it is: “Hey, That’s MY Dog!”
Starting with opening night festivities on May 3, and through May 10, my photos of more than 150 south Baltimore dogs — possibly even your’s — will be on display at Captain Larry’s, 601 E. Fort Avenue, with profits from the exhibit going to Baltimore Animal Rescue & Care Shelter (BARCS).
Above is a preview of the exhibit, set to music by David Israel and performed earlier this month at the South Baltimore Hootenanny, a semi-regular gathering of semi-regular musicians who congregate at Captain Larry’s.
Thanks to Captain Larry’s for providing the venue, and to sponsors K-9 Kraving and Lucky Lucy’s Canine Cafe.
All of the dogs in the exhibit are, or at least once were, from south Baltimore. Most of the photos were taken at Riverside, Federal Hill and Latrobe parks. A handful of dogs now residing, and available for adoption, at BARCS are also included. (BARCS is where I adopted my dog Ace, almost five years ago.)
Those familiar with Captain Larry’s might wonder how one might exhibit photos there — given that nearly every available inch of wall-space already has something hanging. You’ll have to show up to see my solution.
There will be free doggie treats Monday night (while supplies last) and all the unframed prints will be available for purchase. (Dogs will have to view the exhibit from outside.) There is no cover charge, but you are welcome — even if you don’t buy a photo — to make a donation to BARCS.
Hope to see you there.
Posted by jwoestendiek April 19th, 2010 under Muttsblog, videos.
Tags: animals, art, baltimore animals rescue and care shelter, barcs, benefit, captain larry's, dog, dogs, event, exhibit, federal hill, fundraiser, k-9 kraving, locust point, lucky lucy's, ohmidog!, opening, pets, photo, photography, riverside, south Balitmore