Patrick's of Pratt Street has been open and run by the same family since 1847 but the West Baltimore bar will close by September. (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun video)
Sitting at the bar of a Baltimore Irish pub recently, Patrick and Anne Rowley wondered why there was no "pub" spirit. They sipped their drinks, paid and left.
"Not one person said, 'How are you doing? Where are you from? How'd you find us?'" Patrick Rowley said last week, still sounding surprised. "Some of these places, they call themselves 'pubs' — which is short for public — but they're not public at all. They're little private social organizations."
The Rowleys know the difference, and not just because they travel to Ireland multiple times a year. Since 1999, the married couple has run Patrick's of Pratt Street, what many consider "the oldest Irish pub" in the country and — to the dismay of its regulars around the city and beyond — the bar they'll close this month. (Patrick declined to provide a final date, but said it will be closed for good come Sept. 1.)
Founded in 1847 by Patrick's great-great-great-uncle Patrick Healy, who emigrated here from Ireland's County Mayo, Patrick's of Pratt Street has been continuously owned and operated by Patrick Rowley's family ever since.
"When I was in school, everyone asked me where I lived and I told them 'suburban Pigtown' because we didn't have a name for this neighborhood," Patrick said inside the bar, located down the street from the B&O Railroad Museum.
As he grew older, he would occasionally stop by the bar — which operated under different names over the years, like Nolan's and Rowley's — to say hello to his uncle, the owner, but he was no regular.
But in 1999, despite little experience running a bar, Patrick and Anne Rowley purchased the space for a simple reason: "Tradition," Patrick, 69, said. "It was in the family."
Their approach was simple, and spoke to their desire to continue to serve their community.
"Just treat people right," Patrick said of the attitude. "Price out the beer so that we're a fair price. Try to make a living, and we did. We accidentally did well. I think a lot of people came in, and they liked us. I'm not that boring if I get you drunk enough."
Talk about an understatement. Patrick has a huge personality, quick with a joke at his expense or yours. He joked about a (nonexistent) stripper pole in the back, and I watched him hand his cellphone to a first-time patron, asking him to answer it. ("I thought it was a robocall," Patrick chuckled after.) He laughs a lot, but not as much as you'll laugh with him.
"Pat's crazy," Anne Rowley said as her husband nodded. "All the Rowley men are crazy."
For years, the Rowleys had a full staff, but three years ago, they decided to cut back to make more time for their travel business. (They coordinate quarterly trips to Ireland.) The switch to operating 20 hours per week also meant eliminating staff. Now, Patrick is the only bartender and barback, while Anne is the lone chef.
In between answering questions on a recent visit, Patrick poured beers and switched out kegs, and Anne delivered her famous crab cakes.
While people love the food and reasonably priced beer (no Natty Boh, by the way, but Guinness and Harp are on tap), it's the atmosphere created by the Rowleys that the community will miss the most.
Chris Marsheck, a musician in the local Irish group the ShamRogues, stops by once a week. He's seen many Irish pubs while touring the East Coast, and none come close to familial feeling Patrick's has, he said.
"This is a place anybody could come into. If you didn't know anybody, you were a friend by the time you left," said Marsheck, a Charles Village resident. "I and a lot of other people are going to be really sad when this place closes its doors for the last time. It's the end of an era, really."
The feelings are mutual between patrons and owners — so much so that Patrick has given 33 regulars keys to the bar over the years. They're allowed to come in if the bar's closed (as long as it's before 2 a.m.) and drink, with the only rule being they have to clean up. (Marsheck is one of the 33.)
"I didn't want that conversation getting to the liquor board when I would be open for the next month, but by the time they call me in, I'm already gone now," Patrick said, smirking.
When asked why he's closing, Patrick pointed to a stool behind the bar. He's tired of being on his feet, and he's ready to devote his time to the travel business with Anne.