A line of folks stood sipping lattes outside a Fells Point coffee shop yesterday afternoon.
They would have sat, but -- alas -- by city decree, the Daily Grind has no right to outdoor chairs.
This is news to the hundreds of customers who have taken their coffee along with a waterfront view for years at the Thames Street coffeehouse's outdoor tables.
The Daily Grind found out this month that although it had permits for outdoor seating, the city issued them in error.
So when neighbors complained this month about noise, the city said the tables and chairs had to go.
Daily Grind owner David Key taped signs in his shop's front window apologizing for the vanished seats and urging upset customers to come inside and sign a petition. Nearly 500 of the disappointed and caffeinated have signed.
"We have been told we never should have had the permit in the first place," Key says. "It doesn't really make a whole lot of sense."
Daily Grind customers have enjoyed the seating along Thames Street for about five years and tables and chairs on the coffee shop's back patio for about two years, said Key. He successfully applied for his outdoor seating permit in 2000.
Though patrons love the option of open-air coffee, some neighbors loathe it.
People who own homes on Lancaster Street, with back yards facing the Daily Grind's back patio, complained to Key and to the city that clanking mugs and boisterous coffee klatches were disturbing their peace.
Homeowner Lisa Kolodny-Hirsch has repeatedly protested noise that she says starts as early as 7 a.m. and lasts until 11 p.m.
Kolodny-Hirsch said she knew that before the city allowed Key his outdoor permit in 2000, officials had denied him in 1998.
"So David would really get the message, they capitalized and underlined for him: No outdoor seating," she said. "David's been a bad boy."
David Tillman, spokesman for the Housing Department, which oversees zoning enforcement, said the city should never have approved the permit.
"This is a situation where there was a miscommunication," Tillman said. "It's unfortunate. It happens. We make mistakes, we're human beings."
Key said he doesn't understand why he can't get an outdoor seating permit while restaurants and bars on his block can.
The Greene Turtle and the Admiral's Cup have tables out front.
John Steven Ltd. has patio seating, and the Cat's Eye Pub is expecting to open a patio as soon as this summer.
"They have liquor. I have coffee," Key said with exasperation. "They have live music. I have nothing."
Cat's Eye manager Terri Rychlak doesn't get it either.
"They're not bothering anybody, what's the problem?" she said, adding in mock horror: "Oh, my God, God forbid -- conversations. ... There are worse things in the world than hearing a few glasses clinking and people laughing."
Key said he plans to appeal the city's decision.
Will Parrish, a Daily Grind barista, said people should expect a little noise when they live in a neighborhood known for its pubs and nightlife.
"This is Fells Point, you know. You're putting yourself beside business," Parrish said. "People are going to be drunk at 2 a.m. Face reality. You can't live in a daydream."
Annette McGuire, who owns a gift shop a few doors down from the coffee shop, said the outdoor seats weren't causing trouble -- she even had a couple of chairs out front that the city also put the kibosh on.
Loss of atmosphere?
This sort of uptight attitude and apparent inflexibility is chipping away at the neighborhood's character, McGuire said.
"It took away the quaint look, the village look," she says. "It loses atmosphere. It's too bad."
Student Tiffany Bowers joined other upright coffee drinkers outside the Daily Grind yesterday.
Fells Point, she said, is exactly the kind of place where you want outdoor seating and the look of people sitting outside and enjoying the city streets.
"At a coffee shop," she added, "it's more important to have that than in any other place -- it really is the core of a neighborhood."
It's the sense of community, Parrish said, of being outside, drinking coffee and meeting people:
"When you walk by this place and the sun is shining and people are sitting outside with dogs and kids, there's a feeling of, like, Baltimore, you know?"