Food and art collide in restaurant-galleries

Ron Larrimore knows his ink drawings of skulls might not appeal to everyone, but he's found more buyers than he expected during the month his work has been on display at Snake Hill.

Larrimore is the latest artist showcased at the Highlandtown sausage restaurant, one of a number of Baltimore-area eateries that use their walls as gallery space for local artists. It's a concept that allows artists to reach niche audiences and that makes art more accessible to potential customers.


Larrimore, who teaches special education at Chatsworth School by day, said he's held shows at galleries, bars and restaurants. In addition to his show at Snake Hill — which runs through the end of May — he's also shown his work at Liv2Eat in Federal Hill, Bean Hollow in Ellicott City and the now-closed Yellow Dog Tavern in Canton.

"The places I frequent more are the bars and the restaurants, and I always feel like there's more of a connection between the artists and the patrons of those bars and restaurants," said Larrimore.

Customers are more comfortable in a bar setting than a gallery, he said, and it provides for more natural conversations.

"I feel like in a gallery, you kind of have that attitude that you're there for the art and you're there to discuss the art," he said.

About half his 30 pieces — mostly ink drawings ($40), plus a few acrylic paintings ($70) and a skateboard deck ($100) — have sold.

Beth-Ann Wilson, a bartender at Snake Hill and the owner of nearby Night Owl Gallery, organizes Snake Hill's art shows, which change about every two months. The bar held its first art show for employees because several people on staff were also visual artists.

"That's how we got the ball rolling with putting things on the wall and decided to keep it going," Wilson said.

Art shows started the same way at Blue Moon Cafe in Fells Point, which recently changed its name to Blue Moon Cafe and Gallery.

"Back in the day, we hired a lot of young kids, and they were all artists," owner Sarah Simington said.

Thomas Pearce has become the restaurant's resident artist. Simington has worked with him to create shows specifically to fit Blue Moon's rock-'n'-roll-themed interior.

When she's approached by other artists, Simington looks for pieces that make her think — "something a little edgy, a little different."

"I'm not just looking for some sort of watercolor chicken," she said.

Wilson agreed that the art at his restaurant has to fit its ambiance.

"We're kind of looking for things that fit with the decor and the feel of Snake Hill itself," Wilson said. "We're looking for something that is presented professionally — I think that's even more important than the content of the work. Is it framed? Is there a level of craftsmanship?"


Adam Stab, a local artist who showed his work at Snake Hill in the winter and has an upcoming show at Blue Moon's Fells Point location, said it's also important for artists to consider their audience when designing shows for restaurants. Blue Moon, for example, serves a lot of tourists, so Stab is planning to offer smaller pieces and prints with lower price points in his show there.

He's also shown his work at Golden West Cafe and Holy Frijoles in Hampden.

"For me, anyway, it's been a great venue for small works," he said of restaurants. "It's an easier way than the gallery to send stuff home with a buying audience."

Customers return more than once to see a piece before buying it, Wilson said. That's also why Simington spaces out her shows, changing them quarterly. She likes to give people time with the art.

Simington said the cafes usually sell at least two pieces of art per month, sometimes more.

"The restaurant itself is my dream and what better way to [serve the] community than to help someone else pursue their dreams," Simington said. "And I consider the Blue Moon a multi-textural restaurant. You're not just coming in to eat."

Dining dates

Mark your calendar for these upcoming foodie events.

Thursday: 2017 Crab Derby; 5 p.m.-8 p.m. at Lexington Market (400 W. Lexington St.); $5.

Sunday: "Brewing for Beginners" spring wine-making workshop; 1 p.m.-5 p.m. at Charm City Farms (1310 Hillman St.); $40.