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, April 30, 2007

Crime is only crime, apparently, when it happens in a big city.

Last week a guy got murdered at the McDonald's on the corner of Calvert and Lombard in downtown Baltimore.

Crime in Baltimore is nothing new. Actually, I think the city is probably safer now than it was in 1907, but the milieu is different. If one lived on Charles or St. Paul in 1907, the likelihood of ever encountering something dangerous was almost nonexistent; whereas living near the waterfront in the rough-and-tumble sections brought you up against something nasty almost every day. These days, crime isn't as respectful of social boundaries; it is entirely possible to get mugged even in the hallowed lanes of Guilford.

I was not surprised at all by the murder at a downtown McDonald's. I would have been--but, as it turned out, the murderer knew the murderee. They had, in fact, walked in together; a fight broke out between them, and one knifed the other. End of story--at least for the one.

The paper interviewed a few "people on the street," as is its wont. One woman stated that she was "going to go back to the County to work" because "the city is just ridiculous."

In the same week, though, a clerk at a Columbia, Maryland 7-11 was murdered. The perps didn't know her; she just happened to be the clerk on duty when they decided to rob the place. A couple of years ago an English teacher at St. Paul's School (one of Baltimore's snootiest) was gunned down at the stylish mall in Towson because he "disrespected" one of the sacks of shit who was trying to rob him at the time. These were both suburban locations, the ostensibly "safe" world.

And yet, "the city is just ridiculous."

I feel much safer in the city, really. I am more likely to know the people whom I see on the streets in my neighborhood. Most of my suburb-dwelling friends do not know the people who live near them; I know almost all of my neighbors. I know who does and does not belong on this block; my suburban friends don't even know their next-door neighbors by sight. In the city, there are always people milling around; in the 'burbs, there's a deathly quiet on the streets while everyone sticks glued to their TV in the air-conditioned dead zone. If I were to get into a fight outside, seventeen people would open their windows to see what's going on. In Cockeysville, I could have my throat slashed and nobody would notice.

What is it about the suburban areas that makes people so sure of their safety? Is it simply the idea of rowhouses? When, years ago, I visited Cleveland, my hosts reminded me that the area was pretty rough. I couldn't believe it, because it was a neighborhood full of big freestanding Victorian houses with gigantic porches and big lawns. On my planet, rough neighborhoods involve treeless streets of ancient rowhouses. (For that matter, a lot of NICE neighborhoods do, too.) But, I simply couldn't compute the idea of a neighborhood like that being a "bad" area.

I think, really, that there's now an overwhelming belief that any "city" neighborhood must be automatically dangerous. If it's inside a big city, it must be evil; and that includes Baltimore's Guilford, Richmond's Monument Avenue, Norfolk's Ghent, Washington's Connecticut Avenue.

Crime is no longer confined, though, to officially "bad" areas. I feel much safer in a neighborhood in which I'm well known than I would in a place where nameless, faceless people ply the six-lane highways between their homes and the video store one-half-mile distant. And, if I must get my throat slashed, I'd rather die in front of the Byrd Theatre than in the Pampers aisle of a 7-11.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Some recent notes on drinking, fashionable and otherwise...

Over the past few months, I've been in the Friday habit of joining some of the other Parkville High School English faculty for drinks at the fine establishment known as The Firehouse, on Joppa road. The Firehouse is a bar of the old school.

For practical purposes, I hate to hear anything described as "old school," because it seems to imply that the speaker finds the subject laughably old fashioned and not necessarily good. However, rest assured that if anything is outdated, I probably like it, and it's probably better than whatever crappy little fusion joint it was that you like totally discovered in Olde Towne Alexandriae last week.

I like the Firehouse because it is full of nice normal people who simply want good drinks and bar food. I have ordered a few various cocktails there and nobody has ever batted an eyelid. Janet, the waitress who usually takes care of us, sees me coming and knows to get the bourbon-and-CocaCola right away. Also, the name of the place is not incidental; it's full of big firemen.

Thus, I was a bit surprised when my friend Christine ordered a "vodka and orange juice." I looked at her, attempting to scrape my jaw off of the floor, and asked her if that wasn't the drink known to mankind as a Screwdriver.

"Yeah," she said, with her best Long Island attitude, "but do you know how hard it is to find someone who knows what the hell you want if you ask for a screwdriver?"

I am. In fact, I recounted the incident that spawned the birth of this blog nearly five years ago. I am now contemplating the development of a new scientific theorem: the Inverse Relationship between Fashion and Cocktails. My theorem will be based upon observations gleaned primarily from public establishments, but also from private entertainment.

Case #1. The Firehouse--see above. Further, Kelly's Bar in East Baltimore; also the Quest in East Baltimore. In all of these establishments, I am a well-known fixture. None of them are considered fashionable; nor are they in stylish parts of the city. However, I have been able to obtain Manhattans, Gin Rickeys, Bronxes and Old Fashioneds in all of the above.

Case #2. The Hotel Belvedere. This is one of Baltimore's most storied and hallowed locations, and after 104 years remains THE place to see and be seen. I am also reasonably well known here. It does have a signature Manhattan, which is nectar of the immortality-enabled. Yet, with the exception of Holly--one of the bar managers and a fine lady--most of the staff remains ignorant of many basic cocktails. One, a few months ago, didn't even know the difference between Bourbon and Scotch. Worse, though it is one of the premier boozing establishments in Maryland, there is no Rye on the bar.

Case #3. Private parties, take one. Now, mind you, I'm used to fraternity parties with a couple of hundred people in attendance. Mass quantities of beer are just fine but honestly, folks, I'm way over 21 now and as a career lush, I can't get drunk on beer anymore. I just fill up and feel bloated and annoyed. Beer is something to be consumed with dinner. Tasty, yes; inebriating, no. Yet, there are a bloody lot of people out there who believe that it's just fine to have twenty people over and serve nothing but beer. Crap, y'all, the war is over--splurge and get some whiskey and gin, too!

Case #4. Private parties, take two: Reservoir Hill. Last night, I went to a small dinner party over in Reservoir Hill. The hosts had it right (as they always do) and had bourbon, scotch and gin readily available, with wine for dinner. You see, a full bar isn't even necessary really: those three liquids take care of the cocktail needs for 90% of the population.

Case studies 1 and 4 involve bars in unfashionable areas and parties at the homes of older people. Studies 2 and 3 involve fashionable places and younger people. Thus, I suppose that if I were to fit this idea into the T-proofs that my high school Geometry teacher loved so well, the statement would be "Traditional environments spawn good drinks" and the proofs would lie in the case studies.

It's become common for random causes to have a retrofitted bus cruising the city for various purposes: the Neuter Scooter for pets, the MammoVan for...well, for boobs. I think I should find an old bus myself and establish a wheeled cocktail lounge. BoozCrooz could make the world safe for the well-mixed cocktail.