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.

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

In the realm of social propriety, one is allowed certain lapses of time and judgement. One of the most forgiving rules is that of the wedding gift. You see, there have evolved so many different concepts of "correctness" around wedding gifts that almost anything goes. Nice Southern people believe that wedding gifts should be something beautiful; practical Northerners think they should be something useful. In many cases both beautiful and useful things are inherited or, in modern days, already owned since both parties have lived independently for several years. Tradition dictates that the gift should be sent, well before the Big Day, to the bride's parents' home. This has long since ceased to be even amusing, much less practical, since it is likely now that the bride's parents live in Richmond, the groom's parents in New Orleans, and the couple themselves in Savannah. One rule has held fast, thankfully: that one has a year after the wedding day to decently offer a present to the happy pair. I have invoked this repeatedly for a variety of reasons--either I don't have any idea what to get them, or the bride's pattern was discontinued in 1928, or I was completely broke when they got married, or there aren't any damned department stores left. In at least one case, I owe people a wedding present who are now pushing their tenth anniversary. (These people know that I'll get around to it; but as they're neither sticklers for convention nor silverholics, they're probably less bothered than I am.)

Convention is not so kind regarding correspondence. One must be prompt with it. I bemoan the death of RSVP -- everyone puts that little tag line on invitations, but no one feels compelled to actually respond. (If you don't, and you get to the party and there's not enough food for you, it's your fault, not the host's!) The minute you hear of a death, be it from a family member or the newspaper, hie yourself to your writing desk and send a note--please, not a sympathy card; they're trite and Hallmark makes enough money from Mother's Day. And thank-you notes? Gone the way of the dodo, it seems. I do still know a few nice people who actually write out their bread-and-butter notes before the party happens, so that they can drop them in the mailbox on the way home. If there is one thing that my mother drove home with a double-barrelled Manhattan, it was the need to send a thank-you note every time somebody did so much as tip his hat to me.

Thus, I am appalled at my own recent discrepancy, because I did not send a thank-you note to someone who gave me a very nice gift indeed. This person will hopefully read this (she does, periodically) , recognize my fault and hopefully forgive the gaffe.

The gift in question was a little checkbook cover. I had been griping for some time about checkbook covers; I wanted one of those nice leather ones with gilt edges that would look very official and important on my desk. This one was better.

It features old postcard views of Richmond. Now, every time I pay the bills or even dash off a twelve-dollar check to the grocery store, I can see pictures of my favorite city in her heyday. Here are the famous Broad Street theatres; and there the beautiful Hotel Richmond--as much as I love the Hotel Jefferson, the Richmond is my not-so-secret favorite. And right there on the front of the book is Richmond's Fashion Center--none other than Thalhimer Bros., the big department store that I once loved so well and (and which, for an all too short time, wrote me a paycheck). I wish that I were writing checks to Thalhimers, even now.

So, Lisa, my apologies for not writing the thank-you note. Every time I sit down to my desk I will be able to see pictures of the lovely city that I would like to call home--and will think of the wonderful people who live there, too.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

It will, of course, surprise none of you to know that I am one of the last smokers standing in this section of Baltimore--or, at least, one of the last under sixty. Proper Baltimore, along with proper everywhere else, gave up smoking back in the early nineties, when the hand-wringers got full cultural control of the nation. Everyone in East Baltimore still smokes like the proverbial chimney, which may go a long way to explain why I like that crusty, Formstone-clad section of the world.

I will not be too surprised if Maryland decides to go smoke-free. That will make all of its liberal huggybears very happy, and they will feel that they've done SO MUCH to make the world a SAFE, SANE place--as they fire up their smog-vomiting SUVs to drive seventy-three miles to work.

I am, however, increasingly annoyed by the self-righteous letter-writers, who smugly inform us that one day soon they will be able to enjoy bars without having to COUGH and SMELL SMOKE. Evidently, it has not occurred to them that bars and smoke go hand in hand. Perhaps they dream of a day in the happy nineteenth century when one could go to a bar and enjoy a cup of tea without the horrors of smoke. I wonder if they've ever bothered to truly consider the era; the average bar of the nineteenth century contained horrors that made the errant Camel look like a lollipop. And then, by the twentieth century, when bars became places that decent people might want to patronize, smoking was firmly in.

One of my colleagues--who is a marathon runner, but who periodically enjoys a cigarette--points out that bars should be thankful for the overwhelming smell of smoke, because one of the things it overwhelms is the stench of stale beer and, even more horrific, beer breath.

I won't worry about the ban too much. The huggybears will be able to have smoke-free bars around the harbor, and can pat themselves on the back before they drive back to their air-conditioned suburban nightmares. Probably the only venue that I will really lose will be the Hotel Belvedere. I'm fairly content that I'll still be able to smoke in East Baltimore's bars whether it's legal or not. It will be awfully hard for the cops to enforce anything since they'll be among the first ones lighting up--right along with the teachers.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

I don't quite feel up to hacking up my own post, this morning, and so--since I'm already happily dreaming of a nice little porch-front rowhouse "Somewhere West of Boulevard" (with apologies to the Jordan Motor Car Company), I'll just repost part of LK's recent blog.

This is done in the way of thumbing my nose to all who like to deride Richmond. Also, I'd like to take credit for the previous paragraph, which must be one of the most punctuation-heavy that I've ever composed.

And now to our correspondent in Mulberry street:

Style's cover story for the February 7th issue is on the problems of aging suburbia.Many post 1950 houses were built for speed, not longevity. Run-down and inexpensive homes attract a high number of people who don't give a damn, and what used to be thought of as "urban blight" sets in, in neighborhoods with 1/4 acre lots and curving roads and cul-de-sacs that make routine police patrolling more challenging.Meanwhile, the cost of fairly sturdy, often attractive city homes goes up and up. Style cites a recent Brookings Institution study of 100 metropolitan areas. Of Richmond, one of the areas studied, a co-author of the study (Elizabeth Kneebone) noted "'it's the only metropolitan area in the study where the poverty trends in the city and the counties moved in opposite directions.'" The number of poor people in Richmond went down; the number living in poverty in the counties went up.The rest of the article considers the service needs of poor people and the readiness of local governments to ensure that the health, safety, and education needs of all area residents are met.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Fifty years after minstrel shows and their ilk were made illegal, racial stereotypes persist in the United States. They probably always will; as long as there's the slightest bit of physical dissimilarity between two life forms, one will deride the other for one reason or another.

Probably the most charming and least-detrimental stereotype that I have ever encountered, in a city with omnipresent racial tension, is double-sided and is more amusing than hurtful.

White people are all marauding, cold-loving Vikings. Black people are all heat-natured jungle dwellers.

You can tell this in Baltimore because of the way they dress. Any time the races come together, which in this town is pretty much daily, you will hear someone say "Black/White people just don't know how to dress for the weather!"

Now, this is often uttered in reference to me, as I have a tendency to wear shorts all year. This habit is partially born of comfort--I just like shorts--and partially because I am aging badly but still have nice legs and want to show off the only body part that hasn't gone South on me. Common knowledge in the black community: it doesn't matter how cold it is, white folks are still going to wear shorts and flipflops. Conversely, some of my black friends/neighbors/students start bundling up when it drops down to sixty degrees. Common knowledge in the white community: it doesn't matter how warm it is, black folks are still going to have a coat on. You can even tell what part of white Baltimore a guy is from; if he's a snooty North Balto boy, he'll wear a heavy coat with shorts. From Dundalk--long underwear, jeans and boots; but a tank top and nothing else. Last winter I showed up at a local bar with my friend Jeff, who is from Dundalk. Naturally, I wore shorts and he had a t-shirt on. Someone pointed out that, between the two of us, we had enough clothes on for one person.

I'm starting to think that there is something to this global warming silliness just because people evidently wear a lot less clothing now than they did a century ago. The accoutrements involved in stepping outside the house in 1907 were considerably more complex. Was it just that much colder, or didn't people mind the hot, scratchy wool so much?

If that's the case, this last week has been tailor-made for 1907. About time--we have real winter! Amazingly, I remembered to order heating oil.