Homage to the King just isn't complete without Miss Bonnie

January 08, 1994|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,Staff Writer

The Baltimore publication party for "Mondo Elvis" was supposed to take place this weekend at Miss Bonnie's Elvis Shrine.

What better way to celebrate a book that adds another strand of tinsel to Miss Bonnie's glory than an Elvis birthday party at the saloon that bore her name?

She would have loved it.

But Miss Bonnie died too soon to welcome another crowd of poets, drunks and hipsters who had claimed her narrow bar at the corner of Fleet and Port streets as a private clubhouse.

People came to know the joint as Miss Bonnie's Elvis Shrine, but the sign in the window just said "Bonnie's," and as many folks came by to visit the gentle redhead behind the bar as they did to honor Elvis.

Probably more.

Yes, Lavonda "Bonnie" Hunt died far too soon last Aug. 31 at age 62, just a few weeks after the 16th anniversary of her beloved's death.

Said one regular: "Without Miss Bonnie, the Elvis Shrine is just a smoky room with too many pictures of a guy in funny clothes."

Of all the hare-brained schemes that Miss Bonnie allowed me to make real in the place where she made her living, the notion that thrilled me most was turning her bar into a literary salon.

To that end, I staged poetry readings to benefit literacy programs; put a chicken-wire basket at the end of the bar for fliers about short story contests and journals taking submissions; and, for a few strange semesters, taught a fiction class there with writer George Minot.

With an Elvis bedspread hung on the walls; an iron pole on top of the ice machine that once kept half of the fabled Music Gates swinging in front of Graceland; neighborhood regulars at the bar amused by our antics as they waited for the daily lottery number; and a talking shuffleboard game interrupting discussions of point-of-view and verisimilitude, Miss Bonnie's was the perfect antidote for academic writing programs.

(George Minot left Baltimore a few years ago for the prestigious Iowa Writers Workshop and reported no talking shuffleboard games there.)

And, in my mind, chugging 60-cent bottles of Old German beer in the shadow of the King is as close as I'll ever get to sharing a Pernod in Paris with Ernest Hemingway.

I drove by Bonnie's bar on the way to work yesterday morning, driving east on Fleet Street in a cold rain. Boarded up since her death, the bar has yellow and blue "For Sale" signs hung all over it.

Only the wall facing the side alley is free of such indignity.

There, staring toward downtown without expression, is a giant mural of the King's face done as a birthday gift for Miss Bonnie by local artist Raphael Pantalone.

As I often told my barroom writing students, let us suspend our disbelief.

Isn't it nice to imagine that Bonnie is with Elvis today, watching him blow out 59 candles and sharing as many pieces of cake as they like?

Mr. Alvarez contributed a short story to the recently released book "Mondo Elvis."

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