The Mount Royal Tavern has been around since the repeal of Prohibition in 1934 and sure looks it. Although its defiantly down at the heels appearance would make an interior designer faint, this tavern has been a scruffy classroom of sorts for generations of Maryland Institute College of Art students and faculty members.
In its typical low-key way, the Mount Royal Tavern has a homemade promotional sign on its worse-for-wear front door touting the bar as the drinking hub of Baltimore's cultural corridor. OK, so maybe well-dressed Meyerhoff audiences don't congregate here, but Institute students, Theatre Project denizens and southward roaming Club Charles-sters feel at home.
For one thing, they're drawn by the cheap drinks. A 12-ounce draft for 65 cents is the kind of economics that's appealing to a starving artist. Management caters to this set, but is also wise in posting an "absolutely no tabs" notice above the bar and refusing to accept credit cards.
The bar's current owner, Chris Kozak, is himself a 1976 Maryland Institute grad who tended bar at the Tavern before eventually buying the place. He says that back when painter Eugene Leake was the Institute's president, many of its administrators and faculty members would gather at the Tavern and mix with their students. While some of the teaching veterans are still in the habit, the Institute's more upscale rep in the past decade has tended to keep more recent faculty arrivals away. As for shifts in the student population, Mr. Kozak says with dismay that among the latest crop "some of these students have never heard of the Beatles."
The Maryland Institute grad-turned-bartender estimates that during the school year half of his customers are Institute-affiliated, with the rest mostly University of Baltimore students who need a break from their business textbooks and Bolton Hill residents maintaining that neighborhood's venerable gin-belt reputation. In barroom ecosystem terms, you'll notice that the younger customers tend to cluster around the pinball machines and jukebox at the back, while the faithful neighborhood regulars claim their usual bar stools near the front.
What with a light rail station virtually next door to the Mount Royal Tavern, baseball fans who park nearby and take the train the rest of the way to the downtown stadium may also soon be discovering a tavern where there have been more shouted conversations over Rauschenberg than over Ripken.
Mount Royal Tavern
Where: 1204 W. Mount Royal Ave.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
Menu: morning coffee; light lunch menu of sandwiches and chili from noon to 2:30 p.m.
Credit cards: not accepted.