All over the city, small bars, social clubs, and watering holes are hidden from view behind two-way mirrored doors in liquor stores or tucked in the back of carry-out joints. They’ve been a gathering spot for many of Baltimore’s working-class and poor neighborhoods for decades—local sanctuaries full of like-minded folk. Patrons clad in maintenance blues and a sewed name patch share space with those dressed to the nines in a fresh suit or fur coat, gold jewelry, or high heels. These aren’t the trendy dive bars frequented by the artsy crowd; there is a different atmosphere in these dimly lit spots with cheap beer and decor decades overdue for updating. One of these bars, Sandtown’s Club Bar, was frequented by a “well-mannered” kid named Freddie Gray who would “stand in the corner and eat his chips,” but all these bars have their own cast of characters. For our Booze and Bowie Issue (see page 18 for our Bowie tributes), which also includes news on craft distilleries by Brennen Jensen and a rumination on vodka by Karen Houppert, City Paper decided to investigate some of these secret bars. Visit citypaper.com for photo galleries of these hidden spots.
(Photos: J.M. Giordano Text: Kenneth Breckenridge)