1st Fells Point fest with drinking limit still amuses crowd

DRY, BUT FUN

October 04, 1992|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

Baltimore's favorite neighborhood festival took off under blu skies and sunshine yesterday although it was raining in the hearts of those who organized the 26th annual Fells Point Fun Festival.

"The city bureaucracy has made us feel unwelcome in the very neighborhood this festival saved," said Bea Haskins, the festival coordinator. "We may not survive."

For the first time in a quarter-century, drinking on the street was ,, banned at the outdoor waterfront party on direct orders of Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke. The decision was announced a month ago by Mari Ross, a mayoral aide who, according to festival sponsors, admitted she had never been to a Fells Point Fun Festival.

"This is the festival of all festivals, this is where we all get to party at the same time, and it ain't right what they done," event volunteer Albert Plum said behind a big sign on Wolfe Street warning people not to drink on the street.

A parking lot at Thames and Bond streets was fenced off as an open-air "beer garden," but festival planners feared that drinkers reluctant to be penned in would avoid the brew concessions there.

Beer stand revenues -- about $38,000 last year -- have traditionally been the biggest moneymakers for the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point, the festival's sponsor. Operating costs last year totaled about $80,000.

Organizers were predicting about $19,000 in beer sales this year, a profit they said might prove too small to justify all the work.

Public safety was the reason given the preservation society for the policy change, although Ms. Haskins said that 200,000 attended last year's event with only two arrests. While organizers cannot prove it, she said, they suspect that influential homeowners in the neighborhood persuaded the mayor to ban public drinking.

Nick Filipidis, owner of Jimmy's Restaurant on Broadway, remembered selling hot dogs out of his father's diner at the first festival 25 years ago. Never, he said, have there been any problems that the police could not easily handle.

Mr. Filipidis said: "I'll tell you why the city did this -- stupidity, paranoia and lack of historical knowledge."

The crowd trudging west on Thames Street to the beer garden had to pass a table where festival organizers were collecting protest signatures to send to Mr. Schmoke.

By mid-afternoon the number of signatures was approaching 1,000, with many more expected when the festival reopens today.

After signing her name, Anna Harryman wrote to the mayor: "You want to legalize drugs, but we can't walk around with a beer? Please."

At tables in the garden, where security guards stood watch to make sure no one slipped out with a cold one, Sheila Ridgeway and her friends bemoaned the fact that they could not walk around at their leisure sipping beer and taking in the sights.

"We hate it," she said. "I've been coming down here for 15 years and if I want to drink beer I have to sit here and do it. I can't walk around and listen to music and get something to eat and look at the art. We're restricted; we're not going to stay as long as we used to."

But outside the fence, the festival rolled on much as it has in recent years, and no one appeared to be hating life because they couldn't walk the streets with alcohol.

Chester Rakowski and his bunkies, the old Baltimore "river rats and boatyard bums," sold open-pit beef and pork across from the Captain James Landing at Aliceanna and Boston streets. Residents put out tables with unwanted junk from their basements -- Super 8 movie cameras for $10 and "Supremes A-Go-Go" records. Greek flags flew from gyros stands, bagpipes soared from the square, and near the little park at Wolfe and Thames kids squirted paint onto spinning pieces of cardboard for instant masterpieces.

"It's going pretty good, busier than I remember, and the weather is just gorgeous," said Megan Hamilton, tending bar at the Cat's Eye Pub.

It has also changed for Veronica Piskor, whose brother made and sold T-shirts for the very first festival, but not so much that she wants to see it go the way of the defunct City Fair.

"It used to be more art, back when Fells Point was like Greenwich Village. People used to dress up," she said. "But I hope this isn't the end. I really do."

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