After the fire, The Block shows some signs of life

Midway Bar, others have reopened to smaller crowds

December 24, 2010|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

The Sunday after a devastating fire consumed The Block, I went to grab a couple of $2 Bohs at Midway Bar to see how the city's beleaguered adult-entertainment district was coping.

It had just been two days since the area was reopened to the public, and signs of the fire were everywhere. The street was still blocked, and police tape cordoned off the Gayety Show World bookstore, which was gutted.

But there were also signs that the area's bars were slowly getting back on their feet.

As I walked down the street, guys in overcoats peddled free tickets to various strip shows as boldly as they had before.

"No cover here tonight," one of them yelled. "C'mon, naked women!"

For years, Midway has been the only place on the Block that's a bar and nothing else.

Even if there aren't strippers dancing inside, the bar is unmistakably of its surroundings. The walls are decorated with decades-old, hand-painted portraits of burlesque dancers from The Block's glory days. They didn't so much look like the glamour shots of dancers as those of Depression-era MGM starlets.

And strippers make up a bulk of the its clientele, popping in between shifts to buy soda and Utz potato chips and to make a phone call away from the all the clubs' ruckus.

Vicky Brandt, who's worked as a bartender here for 28 years, told me then that business was dead; this week, she said she's never seen the area as depressed as it is now.

On the day of the fire, she was on her way to work when her manager called to tell her not to come in. Apparently, the smoke inside Midway was so thick, he couldn't see the cash register in front of him.

Initially business was down because people didn't realize the Block was back open. But now that all the police tape has been taken down, that's slowly improving. "More and more people are coming in," she said. "I don't know if it's because of the holidays."

Although it's still not back up to the days before the fire — "There are a lot of people who lost jobs in the fire that don't haven't found new ones yet," Brandt said — she's bullish on recovery. "I hope it picks up," she said. "It's my income."

Eric Maza

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