Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Belvedere

What do you get when you contain a full restaurant/bar and a night lounge and a catering company and a teen night club and a Russian coffee shop and about three dozen other businesses inside of a 100 year old hotel-turned-condo building? You get The Belvedere, a great example of a tool to be included in the arsenal of inclusion.

Located at 1 East Chase St. in Mount Vernon, The Belvedere opened in 1903. It was originally a staple hotel of Baltimore, with many famous & important people having stayed as guests. It was converted into condominiums/apartments in 1991. In the lobby level, there is the Owl Bar, which has been a part of the building since it opened over 100 years ago. I have the advantage of working in the Owl Bar as a hostess, so I get to greet & seat every customer that comes in (during my shift). Having worked here since January, I can tell you that there is truly a diverse clientele . The Owl Bar attracts customers of all type of classes, hometowns, ages and races. Since the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and Lyric Opera House are within walking distance, a lot of people come by for drinks and/or dinner before or after the shows. So as you can imagine most of these people are of the “older & richer” type. But, there are also younger college kids that come in because schools like UB and MICA are nearby. And I have consistently seen a wide variety of people of different races come through; everyone from Caucasians, African-Americans, to Indians and Hispanics. As well as people of different sexual orientations; because of Mount Vernon’s strong gay community, many gay customers often come in. People who live in the building often visit and enjoy a drink, as well as out-of-towners who heard about the building because of its extensive history. And all of these kinds of people sit at the bar and talk to each other. I have seen people talk across separate tables to each other, just strangers interacting with strangers because of the unique atmosphere.

A variety of people also work at the Owl Bar. In addition to myself there are some other local people who are from Baltimore, but there are also many employees who aren’t even from the U.S. For example, there is a waitress from Ukraine, 2 cooks from Jamaica, and many workers from Mexico and other Hispanic countries. We are all of different ages and backgrounds, sexual orientations and religions, yet we all work together comfortably and surprisingly well for a restaurant. And although this diversity itself is not necessarily the entire meaning of the open city, I feel like it is a big step toward the open city, in that The Belvedere allows for those essential “interactions” which contribute to the idea of an open city.

These interactions are often interesting and always seemingly eventful. As mentioned before there is also a night lounge and catering company inside The Belvedere, both of which are sister entities to the Owl Bar; all three are owned by the same people and together the company is called “The Belvedere Restaurant Group.” Truffles The Catering Company of course books weddings as any good catering company does, but they have the distinct advantage of having event space in their building, as there are large ballrooms in the lobby and on the 12th floor of the Belvedere. So, having 1-4 weddings per week in this building brings through a very wide variety of people from all walks of life and from all over the world. And although every bride thinks her wedding day is special, this may not be the case at the Belvedere. If you have your wedding on a Friday or Saturday night, be prepared to put up with the large rowdy crowd and security outside of the building because of the underage/teenage night club in the basement. There have been so many dangerous occurrences because of the clientele of this nightclub, that the Belvedere permanently posts police security outside the building all night every Friday and Saturday to help keep the peace and keep an eye on the rowdy kids. Weekend nights are especially bustling with different kinds of people also because of the 13th Floor night lounge. Located on the top floor of the building with an amazing view of the city, this bar includes a small dance floor and live music. Wednesday and Thursday nights are oriented around jazz and ballroom dancing, while Friday night is reggae night and Saturday night is salsa night. The variety of live bands makes the 13th Floor perfect venue for open-minded people to come and mingle.

In addition to what I have talked about, there are about 5 other businesses in the basement level including a dentist’s office, a dry-cleaners, and a Russian bagel/coffee shop. Also, there are many condos-turned-offices for a variety of companies spread out throughout different levels the building. In describing all this, I feel like this is reflective of Jane Jacobs notion that a “used” street is a safe street, and essentially one which contributes to the idea of an Open City. I think it continues to hold true in The Belvedere, that a “used” space, in this case a building, can greatly contribute to the development of the Open City. If more buildings were used in the wide variety of ways in which the Belvedere is, there would be more progress towards opening up the city because it would allow greater opportunity for heterogeneous interactions. These interactions lead to developing the atmosphere of the Open City, and this is why the wide-range utilization of The Belvedere is a tool in the arsenal of inclusion.

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