In the hospitality industry proprietors will invite local artists to display their art and sell it. This helps the artist gain exposure, confidence, and a little cash, plus the owner doesn’t have to waste money littering the walls with abandoned thrift store folk art.
At Mt. Royal Tavern, in the Bolton Hill section of Baltimore, art is ubiquitous. A replica of the Sistine Chapel adorns the ceiling, earning the tavern it’s nickname as “The Dirt Church”. A 4′ x 6′ painting of a group of naked rubenesque women of various skin tones hang behind the bar. The walls are decorated with vintage neon beer signs, classic lager print ads, and loose drawings of drunken ephemera. The heavy art influence takes a cue from the Tavern’s close proximity to The Maryland Institute College of Art located across the street. The casual vibe and familiar revelry between patrons are a byproduct of the Tavern’s diverse crowd and staff which include: painters (house, canvas, and Curtis), inner city school teachers, World War II veterans, fire-dancers, carpenters, guys who wear sunglasses at night, ghostwriters, undergrads, Smooth Jazz enthusiasts, grad students, and directors. John Waters drank at the Tavern back in the Cry Baby days.
Every month the tavern curates a new exhibition which hangs along a plastered brick wall, adjacent from the bar, next to a vintage cigarette machine. I recently had the opportunity to be apart of one of the tavern shows and during the reception I spoke with head bartender and show curator, Ben Franklin.
Is there always a new show every month?
We do a new show every month with an opening every first Thursday, except during July which is always the Foodscape show and their opening is always the Sunday before Artscape.
You bartend on the MICA campus and you also graduated from MICA. Can you tell us a few differences between the scene from then and now?
First let’s clarify. MICA does not have a campus. They have many buildings on a city street (well streets now) and the Tavern just happens to be the only non-MICA building on this block. As far as then and now, back then MICA was the Maryland Institute College of Art and was much smaller. I believe there were about 82 or so students in my freshmen class, compared to the more than 500 students they’re bringing in each year, not counting grad students — and the focus back then was more on the fine arts.
The Tavern over the years . . . I’ve been here for 18 years now –22 if you count the Christmases. Back in the nineties, the bar was wall to wall every night of the week. It was full of people from every walk of life. Sadly in the new millennium the economy dropped off and business dropped off; then the smoking ban came. I can think of hundreds of people who used to come in that I haven’t seen since. That really hit us hard considering 90% of our customers were smokers. Fortunately things have improved these past few years.
What did you major in at MICA and who were some of your influences?
How did you come up with this salon show concept? How long has it been running?
When I originally started the salon show it was kind of inspired by an Artscape rejection show that I was apart of 15 years ago. I thought it’d be an opportunity to show a lot of art by many different artists. This show marks the 14th year.
The Mt. Royal Tavern is located at 1204 W. Mt Royal Ave. They are open everyday from 8a – 2a and are cash only although there is a cash machine in the bar. The salon shows feature local artist of varying skill levels.To find out more about the salon shows or how to participate in them please stop by the Tavern and speak with Ben Franklin or an associate bartender. All photographs and video clips for this article were retrieved via Google and You Tube.