In 1951, my father bought a tavern in Highlandtown, at the corner of the East Kresson and Fairmount, from a Mrs. Mary Menniger. Before that, the building was, a tavern, when first built in 1900, a confectionery and a bakery during Prohibition, and by the late 1930’s, a tavern once again. Dad installed an orange and green neon sign outside, a very long arrow that surrounded the very long name, Spigelmire and the word BAR underneath.
The first time I saw it, as a four-year old, I thought, this place is OLD. The side street it sat on was not paved with asphalt. Instead, it was black cinder, and it led to a junkyard and a long distance truck dispatcher office. Factories lined Kresson street when you looked west.To the east, two blocks of row houses, not the kind with the famous Baltimore white marble stairs. These houses, all built at the start of the twentieth century, had worn wooden stair, formstone here and there, and a few of those fancy painted screens. Kids playing on the sidewalk in front of their houses. No trees within sight. The railroad bridge crossed over Kresson street at an oblique angle, and at Lombard Street, Hudak’s stood on one corner, another bar faced it on the opposite one.
To the locals on Kresson Street, my dad’s bar was “Spigelmires,” in Baltimore parlance, “Spigel Marr’s,” and that was how my dad answered the pay phone on the wall, at the far end of the bar: Spigel Marr’s, Jim talkin’.”
Like Cheers decades before Cheers, the Place was where everybody knew your name. If they didn’t, they asked. There were regular customers, and there were the daily customers, about a dozen, each of whom claimed his spot at the bar. And they were all men. Ladies did not sit at the bar. A woman might appear with a large, washed out-and-dried pickle jar and ask the barmaid to fill it up with draft beer to take home. Or she might come in by the side door Ladies Entrance on a Saturday night with her husband or a girlfriend, and take a seat at one of the tables in the large room adjacent to the bar…