Local bars and their patrons celebrate Dec. 25 in a unique way

Enjoying the Christmas spirits

December 26, 2006|By Gadi Dechter | Gadi Dechter,Sun staff

In a rowdy Bolton Hill tavern, they argued over whether the black bile spewing from kung-fu hero Jet Li's mouth was really chocolate sauce or chewing-tobacco juice.

Down at a Fells Point watering hole, the debate was also juice-related: whether to stick with the 2002 Joel Gott zinfandel or sample the 1986 chardonnay from Cakebread Cellars.

Over National Bohemian beer and popcorn, stuffed lobster and Chateauneuf-du-Pape, two rather different groups of urban dwellers spent Christmas Day in an untraditional, but quintessentially Baltimorean, setting: the neighborhood bar.

"I figured years ago that there were other people like me out there, who did not have anything to do or anywhere to go," said Mount Royal Tavern bartender Mick King, who has been hosting a "Kung-Fu Christmas" party in the Bolton Hill dive bar for five years.

"I could just lay in bed all day, but I do this for other folks who cannot get home, either," said King, whose family lives in western Massachusetts.

At 11:30 in the morning, there were about 15 people in the tavern, engrossed in Jet Li's epic good-versus-evil flick Fearless, playing on the television set above the bar.

During the fight scenes, the only sound in the bar was the crunch of popcorn, and the occasional slurp of King's homemade potato soup.

An approving cheer erupted when Li sliced a combatant's sword with his own. Then, a ringing from someone's pocket.

"OK. Who's got their cell phone on in the theater?" King growled.

For Yale Partlow, 28, who has been studying the Filipino martial arts of kali and arnis for 10 years, the party was more than an opportunity to watch DVDs with friends. It was also a way to lift his spirits on what he calls an "extra-sad" Christmas.

Partlow, a prep cook and nursing student at Baltimore City Community College, broke up with his girlfriend a few days earlier. In recent years, many of his relatives have died, he said. About a year ago, his brother was hospitalized with a mental illness. He was expecting an unhappy holiday.

"Until now," he said, shortly after walking into the bar. "It makes me happy to be at the Tavern. It is a safe haven from the world."

Nearby, house painter Ron Good, 42, elbowed up to a Natty Boh. "It is good to be around people," said Good, who lives in Remington but whose relatives are mostly in Washington state. "I have got no place to go. If it wasn't for this, I would be sitting at home watching TV."

He took a sip from the beer can and smiled. "Except I can't find the remote."

Despite a few hard-luck stories, the atmosphere in the tavern was anything but down.

"It's not like we're in here drowning our sorrows," insisted Stacey Purnell, 41, a bank branch manager. "We're in here celebrating Christmas by doing something different."

Purnell and her boyfriend, Brad Bell, spent the morning cooking Christmas dinner, which they planned on eating that evening with her son. Like all the people gathered there yesterday, they considered their fellow bar regulars family.

"Friends are your chosen family, and this is a room full of friends," said John Moomau, two hours later and four miles away at One Eyed Mike's in Fells Point. "This is what I envision Christmas should be."

Moomau, the manager of Austin Grill in Canton, was eyeing the eggplant tapenade appetizer, the first of several courses - including tournedos of filet mignon, fois gras and stuffed lobster - offered up by proprietor Michael Maraziti at his bar's private Christmas party.

"This is our fourth party, and it grows every year," said Maraziti, whose family lives in Rhode Island. "Mostly these are people who don't have family in town. Close friends, good customers."

This year, the party included about 25 guests and thousands of dollars of wine, much of it brought in by the celebrants, said Arthur Perschetz, a Washington attorney who moved to Fells Point from Guilford six years ago.

"These are all people from the neighborhood," said Perschetz. "A huge variety of people who are successful and comfortable in our lifestyle."

Engineer Bary Hearon could not get time off from work to visit his 83-year-old father in Florida, his only living relative. "This is more enjoyable than being at home," Hearon said, "especially at Christmas. It really makes my holiday a lot more special."

The menus were different, but the sentiment at both bars yesterday was the same.

"This is uplifting," said Cordell Ailor, 60, a Mount Royal Tavern regular for 20 years. "Most of us have known each other for a long time." He scanned the bar and nodded. "This place has a certain class to it."

gadi.dechter@baltsun.com

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