IN FELLS Point yesterday, almost all property was waterfront property.
A sign in the window of the Dead End Saloon, on Fell Street, declared, "Isabel Is Barred" - but owner Barbara Grela had to shut down the place with water up to the basement rafters. On Thames Street, parts of it now resembling the river Thames, folks floated along in rowboats and kayaks as a city firetruck blared at them to paddle out of the way. At the foot of Broadway, looking south past the Admiral's Cup Tavern, so much water flooded the nearby promenade and rose along old-fashioned metal streetlight poles that it resembled Venice with a pretty bad hangover.
Theresa Ferraro was one of those in a crowd of disbelieving gawkers. She is 75 years old and lives at the Polish National Alliance senior apartments a few blocks north.
"The pier ain't here," she said, her voice full of wonder as she turned to nearby onlookers, as though seeking confirmation. "I don't see it. I hope I have my right mind, 'cause I can't recall not seeing it here before this."
On the morning after Isabel did her worst, this cobblestone Southeast Baltimore neighborhood did its best - to recover from high water and winds, and from power outages, and to keep its sense of perspective. Though Fells Point was hit about as hard as any community in town, it could have been worse.
"Oh, Lord, yes," agreed Jack Trautwein, the community historian and owner of P.J.'s Place on Lancaster Street, where water rushed into his basement. "We're lucky the rain wasn't harder. This was just all that wind pushing all that water up the Chesapeake Bay, till it landed here."
Instead of anguish, the neighborhood seemed to respond with a collective shrug of its shoulders. It will muddle through. In fact, along much of the waters' edges, a kind of holiday mood prevailed. Taverns and restaurants did a lovely business. This was one to tell the grandchildren about.
But some establishments closed against their will. At Kooper's Tavern on Thames Street, a sign out front advertised a new drink, "Bloody Isabellas." But a city health inspector said drinking would have to wait. There was an inch of water in the tavern's basement, and no power. Despite an overflow crowd at Kooper's, the place would have to shut down.
"It's not up to me," said inspector Bill Morris. "It's just department policy."
"Come on," said Kooper's owner Patrick Russell, trying to hold back the bureaucratic tide. "We're not selling food, we're just selling drink. It's a place to gather. It's a community coming together."
"I'm just a peon," Morris said. "It's not my call."
Then, against a chorus of semi-amiable boos, Police Maj. Scott Williams walked into Kooper's to announce the joint would have to empty out.
"For this?" laughed a patron named Gene Curran. "Hell, I'm from Highlandtown. Half the bars there are worse than this on their best days."
Outside Kooper's stood Al Stepowany, 75, a real estate agent for Long & Foster. He was wet up to his waist, having to "wade through three feet of water to get out of my apartment building." He lives at Thames and Wolfe. "Our parking lot became part of the harbor," he said. "I had some nice people come by in a canoe and help me."
He laughed it off. But a veil of good cheer covered plenty of anguish. On Fell Street, Helen Blowers stood on the sidewalk and pointed to her basement. The water was all the way up to window level.
"If we'd have towed a couple of tons of sand down here," she said, "we could have called it Fells Beach."
Down the street, Greg Clark, a maintenance man at Belt's Landing, showed a couple of visitors where the floodwater stopped only because there were five steps leading to the residential building's lobby. The water reached the third step and then receded.
"Like a miracle of God," Clark said.
Just south of Belt's Landing, though, the residents at Henderson's Wharf Inn weren't so lucky. "We could watch the water coming up the hallway," said Judy Kahan. "Furniture was floating in the lobby."
"And then," added Marcia Sample, "you're watching all of this with no power, no lights, stuff floating all around, and it's just haunting. I think some people got up this morning because their beds were floating."
On Thames Street, three men emerged from the murky waters inside the old municipal garage. They'd just gotten off a city tugboat, the Cape Romain.
"How high is it in there?" somebody called out.
"This high," said Leon Mach, pointing to his belt. He glanced back at the waters. "It's like a big fish tank in there," he said.
Across Thames, amateur photographer Joel Hawtof snapped pictures of the water. He has his darkroom on Aliceanna Street. He said he'd shot every roll of film he owned. But he wouldn't be able to develop them for a while. His darkroom, he said, was under three feet of water.