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The Baltimore Beat.....Beat Baltimore

Circa l960's .....Artsy and Hip?

   Remember beatniks? In the l960's they had not quite made the transition to hippies. Baltimore's beat street was Tyson Street, Read and Tyson, where for a short time sat a coffee house called Checkmate. Espresso coffee was associated with beatniks. Black clothing was de rigeur: beards and sandals for the men, long hair for the women. Picturesque, pastel Tyson Street, 900 block, curved around, illuminated only by 3 old-style gas lampposts. At the corner, Tyson St. meets Park Avenue. Leon's – long known as a gay bar.
   A humorous story involves a longtime Read Street resident (East of Charles Street, a more respectable part of Read Street), blond-wigged Ms. Dewey (R.I.P.)

A group of downtowners decided to dine at the Chase Street restaurant, Tyson Place. The majority of diners were guys, well-dressed and good looking. Ms. D. seemed clueless as she commented in her voice that carried, “Look at all the men in this restaurant! All these men! How unusual!” She was unaware of the narrow walkway through the back which led directly to an inside door in Leon's.

A few blocks south, at 214 W. Mulberry Street, corner of lower Tyson Street, was the shrine of Baltimore's beats/hipsters, Martick's. The front room contained the bar. The back room with its tables, checkered tablecloths and back breaker, buttocks-breaker chairs, offered a limited but good food menu. Malcolm, with her flowing red hair, and tall bearded Dudley served you. Weekend nights served up a 3-piece jazz combo. Martick's was one of the few places that was somewhat integrated.  The corner of Park and Mulberry thrived. Just east on Mulberry was a seldom used exit from the Enoch Pratt Library through the children's department. Here was the exit where it might be possible to sneak a book out.

Abe Sherman was a known Baltimore character who ran the bookstore at the SW corner of Mulberry and Park Avenue.You went to Sherman's if you fancied being insulted. After 3 seconds: “Are you buying or reading! If you wanna read, go over to the library!” What a contrast he was to the true gentleman Mr. Lee, who ran the socialist New Era bookstore in the 400 block Park Avenue. Around 1967 some thugs threw a brick through the window of the store and A. Robert Kaufman organized a brigade to guard it.

Park Ave. was the Chinatown at this time. There was an unadorned Chinese restaurant called “MeChunLow's,” bring your own wine, on a second story, up a narrow flight of steps. People lined up on these steps to await its 5:30 opening. White Rice Inn and China Doll flourished around the corner on Park Avenue.
   If you wanted to go out to eat without “going out to eat,” you might go to the cavenous Cove, a large square-shaped informal restaurant with many booths. The Cove was on Franklin Street (I think). The 800-900 block of Charles Street always seemed to be restaurant blocks. The Mount Vernon restaurant had wonderful tall booths in the back and a menu that was as thick as a book. Harvey House had a piano bar as you went in, with singing drinking patrons. At Christmas, the decorations truly put you into the other kind of spirits. (One cold night in the 1980's a regular piano bar singer, Mrs. Catherine Taylor,age 60+, left the warmth of this restaurant near closing time to wander down Charles Street on a bitter cold night en route to her car on Hamilton Street. (See section on Mysterious Murders).

   For the really artsy crowd, it had to be the Peabody Bookshop and Beer Stube, 913 N. Charles Street. It is my understanding that The Peabody Book Shop was opened in 1922 by Siegfried Weisberger, who immigrated from Austria in 1912. Later the Beer Stube was added. To gain entry to the Beer Stube, you once had to show to picture ID's proving your age to be 23. When this rule started, I don't know. The rule certainly was not in effect in l940 when my mother sat there with my father-to-be, who carved his name on a table. Mom was 19 when I was born. Since a driver's license was the only picture ID most of us had circa l960, one could only infer that the Peabody courted international travelers who could flash a passport. (Fewer Baltimoreans had them in those days than these days).

In later years admissions requirements grew less rigorous and Dantini the magician would perform “a few simple little magic tricks.” His appearance led some drinkers to retreat temporarily to the long, narrow dusty bookstore at the front. The books must have originally belonged to Siegfried's grandfather, so ancient did they seem. One suspects that there were few book sales and even fewer thefts.

One more restaurant on the circuit was the tall, ominous looking Deutches Haus on Cathedral at Preston. It was rumored to have been a Nazi cell in the 1940's and a communist cell a decade later. Of these things I have no knowledge but I do remember hearing that a man was shot dead in front of the place in the l950's under puzzling circumstances. The restaurant had about 7 stories. To get to the ladies' room, you had to climb to the top. The upper floors usually seemed dim and deserted, although the meeting rooms were often let out to groups. Mr. Franzine managed the restaurant, the elderly Mrs. Bertha was a waitress. White haired Mr. John Eltermann usually sat at a table smoking his pipe.

This writer was introduced to the arts theatres in the early l960's. People will recall the Stanley and Mayfair theatres on the w. side of Howard Street. Directly across from them stood the Little.
On 25th near Charles, the Playhouse offered foreign films and, for me, a foreign scent for a movie house, the most exciting scent for me to this day—the scent of brewing coffee!