Charles Village is a house divided. Its white residents tend to migrate toward watering holes like Charles Village Pub in the north and the younger, hipper places like P.J.'s Pub and the so-called "secret bar" a little farther south, while the neighborhood's African-American residents prefer Terra Café on St. Paul and Melba's Place on Greenmount. After a trip to the Sunday market a few weeks ago, we were taking to a few of our white friends about Melba's. "We've always wanted to go there," they said. "Isn't that a black club?" they asked. We decided to act like good neighbors and find out.
The first thing that William, Melba's impeccably dressed bartender, says is "welcome." That comes a bit of shock when you're used to "'sup chief?" and "What can I get for you, boss/hoss?"—common to neighborhood joints in Fells Point and Federal Hill. After the comforting greeting, William, who has been at Melba's for about a decade, ran down a good-sized list of bottled beers. We settled on a tasty dark rum with a splash of ginger that ran a whole five bucks. Not a bad price for a place where the staff wears bowties. As William moved on to other thirsty guests, we had a chance to really take in the room. It's bright and almost reminds us of a movie set, it's that perfect. There's a small dance floor in the front, which is getting plenty of play as a couple gets down to some old-school hip-hop. The back room is a massive space with a huge dance floor and two bars which were open and waiting for a birthday party to arrive. Back at the main bar, we talked to a few patrons who have been frequenting Melba's for quite a while. The bar originally opened on Monroe Street back in the '90s before moving to Greenmount around '99.
After finishing our drinks and watching more couples slide off their bar stools and onto the dance floor at the urging of Rob Base and DJ E-Z Rock, we said goodbye to William. Outside, Greenmount Avenue was just starting to get going with the late-night crowd. We were glad we stopped by Melba's to finally meet our neighbors. And man, are they cool.