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Schaefer's, full of colorful characters, oozes old-Baltimore charm

The Baltimore Sun

Down in South Baltimore, near where West Randall Street dead-ends into the railroad tracks, you'll find an old corner bar called Schaefer's.

Well, technically, it's Schaefer's Sports Bar & Restaurant. But nobody bothers with the whole name.

Not too many Baltimore bars have histories quite like Schaefer's. The folks who run it claim the business goes all the way back to the 1880s (under various names), and its liquor license is the second one the city ever issued.

Whether that's entirely true is beside the point. From the black raven painted on the purple front door to the blue-collar clientele inside, Schaefer's is a Baltimore bar through and through.

Schaefer's takes up two Formstone-coated rowhouses. The bar sits on one side, and a pool table and small dance area occupy the other.

A couple of friends and I went there on a whim one recent weeknight and were greeted by a few characters, including a guy named Bo who looked a lot like Charles Bukowski. Bo and a few of the other folks inside gave us an oral history of the place.

At one point, Schaefer's was a stag bar, which means only men were allowed inside.

If nature called, patrons could relieve themselves in the metal trough which used to run along the bottom of the wooden bar. I almost spit out my beer when I heard that. Apparently, the trough is still there, though it's now covered by a good chunk of floor.

Bo gave us the "tour" of Schaefer's, which meant showing us the photos on the walls from its recent events. Bo's a member of the Schaefer's Pleasure Club, which takes yearly trips "downy" ocean and holds blood drives, cookouts and other charitable events.

Looking at the pictures and hearing about some of the events, it's clear Schaefer's brings together a good chunk of the neighborhood.

Bo bought us a round of beers, and we each got him one in return. Since we hadn't finished the beers we had, the bartender gave us each a round plastic token that looked like a large poker chip. We traded him the chip for a fresh beer when we were ready.

Before we headed out of Schaefer's, we had to leave our mark.

There were already several dozen dollar bills taped to the mirror on the wall behind the old wooden bar. Each one had a word or two written on it in black magic marker. My favorite: "Fatboy."

A couple of friends and I decided to add our own to the Mirror of Fame -- only we didn't realize how hard it would be.

I mean, what do you write?

Your name? Nah. Too generic. There were already a bunch of bills with someone's name on them.

The way I see it, you're better off writing something funny or obscure.

I went for obscure and wrote "EBSS" on mine in thick black marker. The initials, (pronounced "eee-biss,") stand for "Eccentric Billionaire Sam Sessa," which is a career goal of mine. It should keep people guessing, which is another goal of mine.

All of the recently revitalized pubs and clubs in South Baltimore bring a fresh look and new energy to this part of town. But bars like Schaefer's -- with their colorful characters and inviting atmosphere -- help remind us of Baltimore's close-knit community and rich past.

Schaefer's Sports Bar & Restaurant in South Baltimore is at 121 W. Randall St.

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