Another generation at Rowley's Irish bar

This Just In...

April 14, 2000|By DAN RODRICKS

YOU COULD tell when Rowley's was open by the traffic light attached to the exterior wall. If the light was green, the late Thomas A. Rowley -- pronounced Roley -- would serve you a beer on a hand-crocheted doily. If the light was dark, so was the bar.

The light has been more off than on during the past few years.

Tom Rowley joined his honorable Irish-American ancestors in the Great Emerald Isle in the Sky in December 1996. His wife, Fran, opened the bar in the evenings and thereby kept alive a Southwest Baltimore tradition that dated to the Civil War.

Rowley's opened at Schroeder and Pratt, near what is now the B&O Railroad Museum, when Lincoln was in the White House. It's been in the same family since, and next month, another generation cometh.

Patrick Rowley -- he pronounces it Roley, too -- will take over where his Uncle Tom and Aunt Fran left off.

He and his wife, Anne Rowley, and his brother, Michael, have been renovating the place since the fall. Ann found 110-year-old photographs of Rowley's interior that inspired the restoration. Starting with the exterior Formstone and glass block, they stripped away a century of funky decorating to get back to the late-19th-century look of the bar.

They found a brass cash register in the basement, the same one depicted in the old photographs, and plan to find a prominent spot for it in the new place, which will be a bar and cafe.

"We're calling it Patrick's of Pratt Street," Patrick Rowley said yesterday during a shopping trip to buy flooring materials at the Home Depot in Glen Burnie. "But it's going to be known as Baltimore's finest Irish cappuccino and wine bar. It's going to be a funny, fun place. We'll pull your leg as quickly as we'll pat you on the back. We have bottled water with our own label on it, and the label says, `This water may have been in Ireland washing St. Patrick's feet, or maybe not.' "

And they're keeping the traffic light.

Once the establishment is rewired, Rowley's will use the green light to indicate that it's open for business. That green light should be on most of the time, because Patrick's of Pratt will serve breakfast, lunch and dinner.

But will they break with tradition and open on St. Patrick's Day? That's something the late Thomas A. Rowley never did because, he once said, "I can't stand the Irish when they're drinking."

"Yes," Patrick Rowley says. "We'll be open every St. Patrick's Day."

And what about the doilies on the bar?

"Yes," he says. "we'll have doilies, and cloth napkins, too."

And the Irish ghosts said to inhabit the place?

Rowley is sure they're still around. They've been sighted. They seem to be pleased with the renovation.

Rowley is hopeful for a May 1 opening. The renovation has been going smoothly, Rowley says, and agencies of the city of Baltimore have been a big help. "I think the new mayor has a lot to do with it," he said. "He's Irish, you know."

Speaking of whom...

Dodging a trap

At his weekly news conferences, Mayor Martin O'Malley is still learning to wrestle with the rhetorical grenades lobbed by conservative talk-show host Les Kinsolving. The red-jacketed Les takes his place at the front of the City Hall press table each Thursday, hoping to snare O'Malley into a slip of the tongue on some national controversy, from flag-burning to Elian Gonzalez. It's low-rent journalistic Afghanistanism -- setting a trap with a prickly issue far from an immediate concern of the mayor of Baltimore. O'Malley shows patience and cool in answering most of Kinsolving's questions.

Yesterday, with a member of the People's Republic of China visiting to observe political interaction between American politicians and reporters, Kinsolving asked the oft-acerbic O'Malley to comment on a recent quote by Teamsters President James Hoffa Jr. Hoffa had criticized the World Trade Organization for considering China as a member, noting human rights allegations against the communist nation. Kinsolving quoted Hoffa as saying, "They will have blood on their hands."

"And they call me brash," O'Malley replied, artfully dodging the question.

A biting response

Also yesterday, O'Malley welcomed West Baltimore state Del. Nathaniel T. Oaks to the news briefing to honor Oaks for receiving a national award. The National Caucus of Black Legislators named Oaks its 1999 Legislator of the Year, describing his successful push to establish a city Civilian Review Board for police. Oaks stood at arm's length from the mayor, who began to read a city citation in his honor.

"Come closer, Delegate Oaks," O'Malley said. "I don't bite."

"Not often," Oaks replied. is the e-mail address for Dan Rodricks. He can also be reached at 410-332-6166, or by post at The Sun, 501 N. Calvert St., Baltimore, Md. 21278.

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