The Elvis Bar: You can't buy it for a song

January 09, 1994|By MICHAEL OLESKER

How do you put a price tag on a shrine? Try this: $104,900. That's the Realtor's asking price for Miss Bonnie's Elvis Shrine and Bar, on Fleet Street in East Baltimore, the slightly rambunctious cultural mecca that went on the selling block three weeks ago, after owner Bonnie Hunt's death from a heart attack last fall.

Meet the price and take custody of a religious treasure trove: not only the bar and Miss Bonnie's furnished apartment directly above it, but all imaginable morsels of Elvis memorabilia, including photographs and ministatues of Elvis thin and fat, Elvis on movie posters, on mirrors, on vinyl and on velvet, Elvis with that novocaine lip and that hormonal hair, Elvis laughing and Elvis weeping, Elvis in a green Army uniform and a white jump suit, Elvis with guitar and without, Elvis inside a jukebox filled with his music, Elvis on the covers of such literary epics as "The World According to Elvis" and "Soldier Boy Elvis," and a huge Elvis mural on the Port Street side of the bar which is, for those who would deny Elvis' death, simply to die for.

All this, for a mere $104,900? Well, yeah. And, truth be told, it's already been heavily reduced from the original asking price of $165,000 and won't necessarily remain an Elvis shrine after it's sold, despite a plaintive sign in the place reading, "Elvis: Only If You Can Keep His Memory Alive."

Thus Elvis Presley, who would have turned 59 yesterday, instead prepares to die another death.

"Actually," says Frank Lanham, the O'Conor, Piper & Flynn real estate agent who's handling the sale, "Elvis doesn't do much for the price. He was [Bonnie Hunt's] thing. She had the place on the market before she died, but then she took it back off.

"She was offended by the low bids she was getting."

Lanham was seated inside the darkened, unheated bar the other morning, surrounded by scores of silent Elvis images that seemed poised to make music.

In the bar's morning chill, though, they were merely haunting reminders of a man forever frozen in time, and it was a time that had passed.

"We've got a lot of people calling," says Lanham. "Some of them are fascinated by Elvis, and others aren't. The majority might forget Elvis altogether. But there are some pieces in here that might be worth some money. You know, his name is big again. The stamp and all that."

Miss Bonnie, 62, who survived five marriages and years as a barmaid at various waterfront taverns before buying this place and turning it into an Elvis shrine 14 years ago, died last August.

She left behind two sons, Wayne and Dene Mosley, both longshoremen, who have no interest in taking over the place.

"We're not business types," Wayne Mosley said last week. "But it's a great buy. The living quarters upstairs are fully furnished. Anybody that bought it wouldn't need anything but a toothbrush to move in.

"And the Elvis stuff, well. . . . there's even a picture of my mom with Elvis' drummer, who came to the bar one time."

Lots of people came to the bar -- Elvis lovers from Washington, from Nashville, sometimes busloads of them, musicians, celebrities like the fellow who played Chip on "My Three Sons" -- but not enough neighborhood people to swing a profit.

Some felt it was a rough crowd inside the place. Others thought the music too loud.

Next door to the bar lives Florence Chenowith, who caught some flak a few years ago for complaining about the decibel level from Miss Bonnie's. She was thus branded an Elvis hater, an unfortunate tag in the neighborhood.

"I'm not an Elvis hater, come on," Chenowith said last week. She waved a tattooed hand dismissively. "No one hates Elvis. Come on, I was the first one in the neighborhood to put the Elvis stamps in my window, wasn't I? But the noise from the bar was so loud it was making my house vibrate."

She tried to sell the house a few years back and put a sign in her living room window: "House for Sale. Elvis Lovers Only. Come Live Next Door to the Elvis Church and Shrine."

When there were no takers, she tore up the sign. Now she's wondering if new owners will pad the walls if they're intending to play loud music.

"When the bar was open," Chenowith says, "you'd get people walking out at closing time, in the early morning, screaming out, 'Elvis is alive.'

"And they tell me that, when Bonnie died, they put some of Elvis' stamps in her casket. What I say is, let them both lie in peace."

What the real estate market says is this: For $104,900, you can have the bar, the apartment, the Elvis memories.

And thus, once more, we will witness the passing of an era.

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