Around behind a Chinese restaurant off North Rolling Road, facing into a back lot where trailer trucks park, is Spittel's, the kind of essence-of-Baltimore suburban bar-cum-crabhouse where you want to ask when the crew arrives to shoot the John Waters movie.
"No Tank Tops or Sleeveless Shirts," a sign on the door to the main restaurant admonishes, and the interior runs to red plastic Leatherette on the round seats of bar stools and chairs. Over the door to the adjoining Why Not Lounge -- "we're really proud of the bar we've made," the owner of the two places says -- the "o" in Not is an eight ball. The ambience there is of broad, green-felt table tops. At the foot of the Astroturf-covered entry stair, the decor favors fresh-cut lumber, as new tops go onto tables to get the outdoor beer garden open by mid-May.
Last June, when Barbara Goldberg and her daughter, Gail, took over Spittel's, Maryland was still in recession.
They went to work making changes to help customers find their way around behind the Chinese restaurant. They moved the
pool and billiard tables out of the main dining room and into the new downstairs bar, hoping to strike a blow for peaceful dining.
But just as the state struggled toward recovery in January and February came one of the most brutal winters on record.
"The winter killed us. I guess it did a lot of people," Mrs. Goldberg said.
Unable to meet their debts, they did what a lot of small Maryland businesses have done -- they sought protection from their creditors under Chapter 11 of the Bankruptcy Act and hoped that spring and a strengthening economy would bring more customers.
Instead, it brought a new tribulation no one could have predicted.
In The Sun's weekly listing of bankruptcies, Spittel's was reported as having filed under Chapter 13.
Although that does not mean liquidation, many people read it that way, apparently believing anything other than Chapter 11 means you're out of business.
Under Chapter 13 individuals or small businesses may reorganize -- just as larger companies may under Chapter 11.
That difference, between the numerals 11 and 13, turned a difficult situation into "a nightmare," Mrs. Goldberg said.
"After a while, friends and customers would make comments to our family, or call us up to express condolences that we'd 'lost' our business," Gail Goldberg said.
"We can't prove anything, but somehow, Chamber of Commerce and Jaycees and other groups that met here started to book into other places, and one university women's group always calls every Thursday to ask if we'll still be open for their Sunday meeting," she said. "People that we barred from the place as problem drinkers started coming back and demanding service, telling us we didn't own the place any more."
"People think if it's in the paper it came from God, and even after the paper printed a correction, some people still think we've lost the place," Barbara Goldberg said.
The Goldbergs want people to know they are still fighting to keep Spittel's.
Last week, Gail was back in Bankruptcy Court, seeking approval to accept a $10,000 loan from a vendor who is willing to help them stay afloat. As soon as May brings warm weather, they plan to open the outdoor beer garden, a key moneymaker.