Last night I took my wife out for a birthday dinner. One of the things she’s been craving a lot these days are Maryland crabs, and we’ve had to put off indulging while we dig ourselves out of the financial basement.
There’s a place down on Main Street that used to be a dive bar for locals. Many moons ago we stopped in with some friends for a beer, and the old fellow behind the empty bar had to unlock the door to let us in. We had a choice of beer in cans (his exact reply when we inquired about the selection was, “We got everything. Bud, Bud Light, Coors Lite, Miller, and Miller Lite.” As if all other beers had ceased to exist.) and little other input—the kindly fellow continued smoking and kept the volume on the TV up to “ear-splitting”. The sparse selection of liquor and wood panel decor reminded me of the old-time neighborhood bars in Canton that seemed to cater to the same fifteen or so pensioners when I first moved there in 1996. By 2001, most of them had been sold and converted into some form of yuppie martini bar, closed, and reopened again. (The rest were converted into highly coveted corner-unit residential housing for Hummer-driving meatheads.)
I kind of miss those old-time places, with their hand-lettered signs for coddies and fries, cheap domestic draft beers, and baseball games on the TV. One of my favorite memories of Canton, in fact, was the community response to local sports. The night I remember in particular, I was busy constructing the porch off the back of the house, and listening to the Ravens game on my B/W portable TV. After a long drive, the Ravens scored, and I heard cheers rise up from all around the neighborhood through open bar doors and kitchen windows. My little house didn’t seem so small anymore—it felt like I was in a community, and that, I guess, is what city living used to be like back in the day.
This local place was bought out a year or two ago and remodeled into a neighborhood restaurant/bar with a nautical theme, and now it offers a selection of local seafood served by a phalanx of bored-looking hootchie cheerleaders. Normally I dislike vapid sorority girls, but the crabs have been excellent each time we’ve sampled them—full, clean, and heavy with Old Bay. In fact, they use so much Old Bay at this place, you have to shovel the overflow off the table into a bucket. That’s tasty eating. They do crabs, and do them right, and that’s pretty rare these days outside of the city. They’ve kept the overall feel of the place pretty original in the bar area, and as we waited for a table we sat at the bar in front of the Orioles game, tolerating the smoke for the promise of tasty shellfish. Soon, we were sitting in front of a dozen steaming 38’s and dove in with abandon while the place began to slowly clear out around us. As we walked drowsily back home in the evening cool (and before Jen’s contact lens rolled up into the back of her skull), I was thinking that felt good to have a neighborhood bar again.