Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Mount Royal Tavern

"The basic requisite for such surveillance is a substantial quantity of stores and other public places sprinkled along the sidewalks of a district; enterprises and public places that are used by evening and night must be among them especially. Stores, bars and restaurants, as the chief examples, work in several different and complex ways to abet sidewalk safety." (Jane Jacobs. "The Uses of Sidewalks: Safety")

One will look no farther than the Mount Royal Tavern to test Jacobs' hypothesis. The bar, located on Mount Royal Avenue, straddles the border of the MICA campus and at least one Baltimore neighborhood known for its "blind-eyed" streets: Bolton Hill.

The Tavern not only provides the direct service of sidewalk safety--an undertaking often elusive to the constant patrols of Baltimore City Police and MICA Campus Safety (whose headquarters is conveniently entrenched a few converted row houses away)--but also, I would argue, opens the city significantly in a few other ways.

The overall inclusionary effect of the bar can be witnessed each afternoon as the long chain of multicolored (and *aged) elbows lines up across the long blue counter top at that most horizontally-structured democratic institution: the bar. Not unlike Lexington Market, it's the diversity of the Mount Royal Tavern that distinguishes it from other city spaces in Baltimore--a cross-section from any given evening reveals patronage from all over... and from an array of racial and economic backgrounds.

It could be the geography that makes the bar such a mix--the MRT sits within comfortable walking distance of the Bolton Hill, Mount Vernon, and Reservoir Hill neighborhoods, as well as yards from a light rail stop, drawing from the MICA community, (more than once I've chanced on the honor of the impromptu--and always revelatory--student-teacher conference barside), neighborhood regulars, contractors, construction workers, businesspeople, vagrants, vagabonds, poets, musicians, or anyone who happens to wander in. Or it could just be something exquisitely universal about the ambience: the renaissance ceiling mural, revolving art exhibit, excellent beef jerky... or maybe it's just the prices. It's still the only bar I know where you get to set them.

Recently I managed (in truly low form) to skimp on one of the cheapest beers in the house: the infamous National Bohemian. I had stacked my last five quarters precariously on the edge of the bar and leaned back on my stool, hypnotized before one of more bizarre spectacles of the modern era: televised horse-racing. It seems slightly remorseless that, far from liberating them from their generous (can generosity include that which we give against our will?) relationship to the human race, the age of mechanized transportation (that, it should be noted, mockingly quantifies its superiority with the mammalian namesake "HP") has instead asked these strange, beautiful creatures to run their shit even harder into the ground....

With a start I dropped my feet, hurling my stool forward against the bar, awakened from tv dreams by the not unpleasant rasp of the female bartender, who had--with the visible gravity of her own late-afternoon inebriation--slumped over her side of the bar so that we were face to face.

"You're short, honey. It's 1.75" (adding the aroma of cigarette that had been noticeably missing from the voice crawling across the room from the jukebox in the back.)

"My mistake"

"I dont give a shit, I'll pay for it."

And she did.

*Of course, the Tavern excludes those under 21, but should they really be out after dark anyway?

One might note that this isn't a bar policy, but a national one. If it (and other public policy decisions) were up to the MRT, the world (and every sentient being in it) would certainly..... I might save the utopian flavor of this entry by cutting it here.


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