The Colonial Theatre Tea Garden

The beauty spot of downtown Richmond was, in 1921, the Tea Garden of the brand-new Colonial Theatre. Herein, we recreate the essence of elegance, joy and hauteur that was once found in Virginia's first real picture palace. Bathtub gin is available at the top of the grand ramps.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Years ago one of Baltimore’s big department stores — this was way before my time — was Bernheimer’s. They started out in a smallish Victorian building and later built a gorgeous, five-story colonnaded palace in Fayette street, finally building a gigantic but bland store building at the Busy Corner. The new undertaking was a little too much and seems to have bankrupted the store; it didn’t last five years after the new construction and the two combined buildings became the May Company’s main flagship Baltimore store.

The thing with Bernheimer’s was that, although it arguably had one of the most beautiful store buildings in the city, it was considered tacky. Their wares, apparently, were perfectly nice but inexpensive and it just didn’t have the cachet of Hutzler’s or O’Neill’s. The populace couldn’t deny its Teuto-Marylandish tightfistedness and people shopped there anyway, but started asking ask the delivery wagon to stop around the corner rather than in front of the house, so that no one would know they’d been shopping at Bernheimer’s. Mr. Bernheimer retaliated by having all his trucks painted with the legend “What This Truck Is Delivering Has Been Paid For,” reflecting his no-credit policy.

Cheapness is still rather a matter of pride in these parts; the New Yorker puffs up with glee over the multi-figure price tags of Saks and Barney’s (what is it with those stores anyway? I’ve only ever seen absolutely trashy things in either) but the Baltimorean, complimented on a new dress, will smugly point out that she got it for half price at a Hecht Company clearance sale (sadly, the only thing resembling a department store that we have left).

And so it should come as no great surprise that we’ve welcomed Wal-Mart with open arms. I’ve been anti-Wal-Mart for quite a while now. They’ve sucked the life out of more small towns than the Depression did. Wal-Mart is an absolutely soulless, heartless organization masquerading, with its relentless smiley face, as everybody’s pal.

But God save me, they’re cheap. And, surprisingly, they recently built a store inside city limits. So how could I stop myself from going to Wal-Mart periodically? I mean, last week I actually got two fairly presentable casual shirts for $3.00 apiece, and shampoo for 79¢. It’s irresistible!

Except, that is, for the people that shop at Wal-Mart. If the crowd there is indicative of those who shopped at Bernheimer’s, I know why they went out of business. I found another reason to like Wal-Mart: every time I go there, I am easily the best-built and most aristocratic person in the store. It doesn’t matter whether it’s the one in admittedly déclassé South Baltimore or the store in comparatively tony Hunt Valley. Those stores are an absolute beacon for every overweight high school dropout between the two oceans, and I always feel very good about myself after looking at these people.

On that same Wal-Mart foray last week I saw what I now consider to be the ultimate Wal-Mart shopper. I know that her name was Darlene because her skeletally-thin boyfriend/husband/brother called her that. Darlene probably weighs in at about 250 lbs., which would be fine if she were a little taller than 5'4". When viewed she didn’t seem to have washed her longish hair in recent memory. In light of all this, she had elected to wear a tank top and stretchy jeans. Airbrushed across the... well, there’s no nice way to put this... ass cheeks of the stretchy jeans was her personal statement of self: “BOOTYLICIOUS.”

I’ll still go to those stores occasionally because they’re amazingly cheap, but I think I will start asking for unmarked bags. And if they ever start delivery service, I’m certainly going to have them park around the corner.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

If it takes nothing more than a slightly deranged grizzled old farmer from North Carolina to shut down Washington, we really don’t need to be picking on any other countries. Dear God, the Mercy High School basketball team could take over the United States, at this rate.

Frankly, I’m with the guy to a certain extent; I don’t know a whole lot about farm subsidies in general — hey, my annual nasturtium crop is the only thing I’ve planted that has any value besides being ornamental. On the other hand, I’m very much against the “landmark” federal lawsuits against tobacco companies. It’s a particularly nasty manifestation of the Nanny State. I don’t care what information may or may not have been made public, nobody with three brain cells ever thought smoking was good for you. I’ll never forget my first cigarette because I coughed, hacked and bloody near vomited. I did want to look like the Chesterfield man, but I never for one minute believed that tobacco was anything but poisonous. Therefore, my election to smoke periodically (usually when looking like the Chesterfield man will get me somewhere) is my own fool problem.

So here we are on Code Cornflower, or whatever it is this week, and this codger drives a John Deere into Constitution Gardens? Now, I realize that interesting things do periodically happen in Washington, but being as that city has managed to engulf a hundred-mile radius of farmland into its suburban maw, I can’t believe that a John Deere didn’t look just a little bit out of place driving through the city streets. Those things also move with the speed of a crippled — er, differently-abled — garden slug, so it’s not like he sped past before anyone could notice.

And now, of course, he’s snarled the entire Federal district of the city, because everyone’s assumed that he’s a terrorist. Which he is, of sorts, but of a fairly pleasant home-grown nutbox variety. There is no more need to shut down streets for ten surrounding blocks than there is to, say, bomb Midland, Texas, though that might not be a bad idea at that. If this dude really has explosives, I’d be very surprised. He’s just a crazy coot who wants his day in the sun. Besides, if he were a terrorist, why hasn’t anybody done anything about it? The DC Police SWAT team doesn’t even have tranquilizer darts or stun guns? No wonder that town is so crime-infested.

Ah, these modern times. Issue a Code Magenta one day, and the next day someone drives a particularly out-of-place vehicle at 12 mph into a high profile location, creating no suspicion, and then an entire city closes down for a minimal threat.

I’m not too worried about North Carolinians on John Deeres, but the guys behind the Prang-box alerts really make me nervous.

Monday, March 17, 2003

I always feel justified in observing St. Patrick’s Day because, after all, it’s my name day. Once, several years ago, I was able to convince my humorless Presbyterian boss that I had to have the day off because it was a religious observance. To my credit, I did in fact go to Mass that day, and at St. Patrick’s. I then proceeded to walk down the street from St. Patrick’s Church and visit every bar between Bank street and the water, ending up back on St. Paul street in a less than religious state.

I love our St. Patrick’s Day parade here because it’s the last of the really big parades. The Toytown Parade went the way of the dodo when its sponsor, Hochschild Kohn & Co., faded into the realm of pretty memories. The newer parades all run for about six blocks along Pratt street, to cater to the twitchy tourists and suburbanites who enter apoplectic shock if they have to find anything more than a block from the ghastly Harborplace. Also, the parade provides the one time annually that it’s absolutely acceptable to be somewhat sloshed while standing in the middle of Charles street. And I did, dear Diary, I did; yesterday afternoon found me planted squarely in front of the Professional Arts building with a beer and the growing realization that I was half crocked at four in the afternoon.

High on the list of Things Stereotypically Irish is sentimentalism. Those people may have been in Maryland since 1810, but they still get misty-eyed over Cork and Clare and Peg in the low-backed car. Which is all well and good, but sentimentalism doesn’t always translate to practicality.

The Irish in Baltimore are a strange lot. They’ve been around so long and there are so many of them. Quite a few of the early settlers were Irish aristocrats, who looked down on the peasantry that came over in the 19th century. Still, Irish blood is Irish blood and all the sons of Eire kept pretty much to themselves. Big chunks of West Baltimore and South Baltimore were Irish territory, but it was the old Tenth Ward that was the epicenter of things Irish in Maryland.

And so yesterday there was much sighing and longing for the Tenth Ward and Old St. John’s Church. Oh, for the good old days of the Celtic and Apollo theatres and First Communion Masses at St. John’s! The days when the St. Patrick’s Day parade was held on Greenmount Avenue, then all-Irish, because snooty Charles street never would have had it.

I, myself, haven’t been over in the Tenth Ward for years, because it’s now a very good place to get shot. The last Mass was said at St. John’s in the Seventies and the venerable old Italianate structure boarded up, and so it remains. A lot of the Irish, as their circumstances improved, moved up the street into St. Ann’s parish; now even St. Ann’s is struggling.

It’s unfortunate that the sentimental attachment to the old neighborhoods doesn’t translate into action. Instead of reminiscing, it might be nice to see someone actually do something to help the old Tenth back to its feet. Rodgers Forge and Towson may not have the neighborly feel and charm that the Tenth Ward once had, but they’ve surely got the Irish investments.

Friday, March 14, 2003

Bonsoir, mesdames et messieurs! J’écris à vous ce soir en français parce que... parce que je pense que les gens américaines qui ridiculent la France sont idiots.

Ce soir mes amis Brian (on ne peut pas ce nom traduire en français, je pense) et Étienne se sont retires chez moi pour diner. Alors, il fait encore froid, et encore, j’ai oublié acheter l’huile.

Mais, le printemps est presque arrivé! Ce matin a Johns Hopkins j’ai vu les Narcisses, assez les Crocuses (pardon, je ne sais pas le mot français pour “crocus”). À Baltimore, on connais que le printemps est vraiment arrivé, quand le crocus (encore, j’apologise) premier fleur à la jardin du Cardinal.

Avez-vous ca maison belle vu? C’est un maison trés grand et trés élégant, puis la centre de Baltimore. Il est située à la rue Charles, en arrière de la Cathédrale de l’Assomption de la Vierge. C’est un maison austere, et construit de granit à Maryland.

Mais — non! Pensez vous, que c’est granit? N’est-ce pas. C’est la Roche de Baltimore, le Formstone! C’est horrible, c’est belle, c’est Baltimore. On pense, d’habitude, que le Formstone est un caricature, une farce. Mais ici, ce n’est vrai. Ici, a l’Hôtel d’Archeveque, il est fait beau. Il est fait au granit vrai. Il fait beau, et nous l’aimons.

Quand Dieu Son quartre beniraient avec le Crocus, Ils ses oeils tournaient aux Tulipes, aux Hyacinthes... et tout le monde fleurissent!


Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. I am writing to you now in French because... well, because I think that the Americans who now ridicule France are idiots.

Tonight my friends Brian and Steve repaired to my house for dinner. Unfortunately, it was cold again and again, I forgot to order oil.

But Spring is almost here! This morning at JHU I saw daffodils, and lots of Crocuses. In Baltimore, we know that Spring is really here when the first crocus blooms on the Cardinal’s lawn.

Have you ever seen that beautiful house? It’s a very big and very elegant house, right near the center of Baltimore. It sits right on Charles street, behind the Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is an austere house, built of Maryland granite.

But — no! Do you think that’s granite? It isn’t. It’s the Stone of Baltimore, Formstone! It’s horrible, it’s beautiful, it’s Baltimore. It was built of brick in the 1820s, but later sentiments wanted the lovely brick house to match the granite of the great Cathedral itself. It would have been difficult — and expensive — to make a granite curtain wall for the Residence, so the resourceful Baltimoreans adopted a hometown cure — Formstone — and there it is today. The same process that looks false and silly on Arunah Avenue looks just like real Maryland granite on “
der Karlstrasse.” One thinks, out of habit, that Formstone is a caricature, a joke. But here that’s not true. Here, at the Archbishop’s palace, it is made beautiful. It’s made into real granite. It is beautiful, and we love it.

When God blessed his quarter of the city with the crocus, he then turned His eyes to the tulips and the Hyacinthes... and then everything blooms!

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

If I can find one, in a show of rare Francophilia, I’m going to hang a French flag in my window. The announcement that two of our representatives have arranged to strike the word “French” from the menus in House restaurants makes me contemplate renouncing American citizenship. Give us your tired, your poor, your hungry, but only if they toe the Republican Low Protestant Xenophobic line.

All of this foolishness has happened before. In the first World War, most of the American people thought we were best advised to keep our feet out of the stormy waters. In a nation that still had plenty of mercantile and cultural ties to Germanic nations, it didn’t seem advisable to go to war against either side. When the Angloid jingoists finally yanked the United States into the fray, the government and media of the day went on a blitz, so to speak, to convince us that Germany was evil incarnate. Sheet music (all of it lousy) was cranked out by the thousands with titles like “(We’re Gonna) Bing! Bang! Bing ’Em on the Rhine” (a not-so-clever pun on the city of Bingen-am-Rhein), “To Hell with the Kaiser” and such. (I recently gave away a folio of this crap, not wanting anything so blatantly anti-German under my roof.) Stage and screen stars with German names anglicized them overnight and — best of all — sauerkraut was renamed Liberty Cabbage. Sound familiar? Only thing is, at least we were at war with Germany; France is our ally and we’re dropping its language from our vernacular??? Interestingly, during the second World War, when we had perfectly good issues with Germany, there was considerably less vitriol in the propaganda. The first time around we had to drum up public hatred when there was no reason for it; the second time around the reason provided itself in the form of National Socialism and nobody needed the crappy, vicious one-steps.

For years, I’ve been the only one that applauds during Casablanca when the band plays “Die Wacht Am Rhein.” Now it looks like I’ll also be the only one applauding “La Marseillaise.”

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Sorry, everyone, you’re going to get the week’s worth of blog postings in the next two days. I just never got around to posting.

Tuesday, March 4

I had very good intentions of making some traditional Fat Tuesday sorts of food for tonight, but I became distracted and didn’t get around to it. I don’t have the little tiny Jesus to bake into a Louisiana style King Cake and chicken-and-waffles seemed like more effort than I wanted to expend. Worse, I couldn’t make the traditional doughnut thingy that Pennsylvania and Maryland Germans use, because I forgot to make the dough last night.

There was also some contention as to the name of the things. Everyone up in the Lehigh Valley calls them “fastnachts” or some variation thereof; the name means “fasting night” and reflects the Ash Wednesday fast. Which seems a little weird, because the doughnut thingys are consumed before the fast as a sort of last hurrah. In Western Maryland the confections are called “kinklings.”

All I can say is: you try typing “kinkling” into Google and see what comes up. There are no fastnacht-ish recipes, but there are a hell of a lot of bondage sites. I finally relented and entered “fastnacht” instead and was rewarded with a slew of good recipes, two even written in Pennsylvania Dutch, which I actually understand. It’s like German written by a Bulgarian three-year old and spoken by an Australian citizen of Swedish birth. All the same, I forgot to make the dough ahead of time, and it has to sit overnight, and as of Wednesday morning you can’t eat kinklings (the food, damn it, get your mind out of the dungeon!) or the universe will tip on its axis.

After one trip to the Carnival in New Orleans, it’s hard to sit down to dinner this one day out of the year, with or without kinklings (the food, blast ye, the food!) and realize that this is all you’re going to do. No imbibing of exotically potent Hurricanes, no flashing for beads. If there’s one defining moment of the Mardi Gras in New Orleans, it must be that it is the unique combination of time and place in which perfectly respectable people will show very intimate parts of their bodies to absolutely anyone for the dubious reward of a string of plastic beads worth approximately three cents.

Oh well. At least I have a few strings of three-cent beads, even if I’m without... um, fastnachten.

Wednesday, March 5

I was awake uncommonly early this morning to go to Mass, Ash Wednesday being one of the few non-Sunday holy days that I annually manage to observe. What had promised to be a nice day turned into a spectacular day, an unseasonably delightful 57 degrees. People were walking around campus and surrounding North Baltimore in shorts and T-shirts, with happy dazed faces.

Apparently, last night in Fells Point a few people decided to wear even less and got arrested for their trouble. A few chicks at Bohager’s (the in spot if you’re 21, cute, dumb and drunk) flashed à la New Orleans and the place got raided.

Did someone turn the clock to 1933 when I wasn’t looking? Ordinarily, I’d like the flashback, but this time I just don’t see anything wrong with... the flashing. You can see a lot more than boobs at strip joints all over town, and I find it very hard to believe that any of the Bohager’s crowd was offended — with the possibility of a few women who were too modest or too modestly endowed to join the fun. And, given the general inebriation at that place, I doubt that modesty was much of a factor for anyone.

I’m primarily disturbed by the Police Department’s sense of importance. Vast sections of the city don’t know that last night was Mardi Gras; their culture long ago slid into such a tomb of poverty and drugs that Mardi Gras and its meanings, both sacred and secular, are void. Crime is still very much an issue whether it’s Mardi Gras or not. Domestic violence and turf warfare take place without the help of plastic beads and innocent victims are caught in crossfire much more menacing than wasted college students.

I hope that the police just wanted to get a free eyeful. It’s more comforting than to think that they found a few bare breasts an actual threat to the quality of life in the city.