Tag Archives: Corner bar

Chop on the Spot: Griffith’s Tavern

Part of the appeal of any neighborhood bar is being in a spot where “everybody knows your name,” but as we discussed in a previous post, a little anonymity can go a long way sometimes. There are times when a man wants a little solitude; not too much, just an hour or so to sit in the dark, not be bothered, have a drink and be alone with his thoughts.

It’s at times like these- these blessed, quiet hours, that you might find the Chop in Griffith’s Tavern with a cold draft and our phone turned off, hiding in plain sight. Griffith’s is truly the best of both worlds- the place where the bartender will learn your name and your drink, but where you’re guaranteed not to run into anyone you’d rather not run into.

Griffith's Tavern... the bar that time forgot.

In a way, hiding in plain sight is what Griffith’s does best. It sits there right on Hickory, just a block up from the Avenue smack in the dead-center of Hampden proper. It’s still pretty easy to miss though, being as non-descript as a bar can be. There’s comparatively little traffic passing that corner, and even some of the Hampden locals who pass the place on foot mistake it for being either a private club of some sort, or being closed down entirely. The small sign with business hours posted is the only clue that it’s actually a functional bar. Being attached to the back of a rowhouse, with solid steel doors and tiny, barred windows the place is willingly uninviting from the exterior.

On the interior, it’s nothing less than the bar that time forgot. Stepping inside the door is literally like stepping back in time. Wood paneling is the predominant theme, accented by a nicotine-stained drop ceiling, an ancient, never-refinished wooden bar, and a Bud Light clock over the video poker machine which looks to date from about 1985. One flatscreen TV jammed up in the corner is the only nod to modernity.

The flashback continues behind the bar, where you’ll see a few things that are tough to find in some bars these days; glass-door coolers with cans of Busch, pints and half pints of liquor for carry-out, snack food and a “medicine cabinet” stocked with singles of Tylenol, Advil, and Bayer, which come in handy in the kind of bar that opens at 9 am and has no food menu. There’s even an old coffee pot behind the bar.

Of course, the regulars at Griffith’s don’t notice anything being out of date, because that’s just the way things have always been. Griffith’s caters to Hampden’s last genuine Hons. We’re not talking about the neck-tattooed, Newport-breath, recovery program ‘Hons’ you find in Zissimo’s or Dmitri’s either. Griffith’s is like the beauty parlor; the place your mom and your aunt get together to gossip about the neighbor’s kids. A $2.50 draft is cheaper than a perm. Much like a salon or a barbershop, the conversation here is general. Anyone can take the floor and put in their two cents at any time, and not be thought rude for doing so. Or you can just sit back and listen. You don’t even have to listen that long before you hear a few good digs at the expense of a certain Hampden restaurateur.

Griffith’s may not be the best choice for Saturday night. It’s not the bar you pick to meet a friend for dinner. If you’re looking to flirt or meet someone, you’re definitely in the wrong place. But if what you seek is a cold beer and a peaceful hour, enjoyably spent then there may be no better bar in Baltimore.

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House Rules: Check Cashing at the Corner Bar

The Chop is a stand up guy. How do you know you can trust the Chop? Because we don’t fool around with office buildings and churches and meeting rooms and all of that mess. All of our most important business, and most of our life decisions are conducted properly… down at the bar.

People often ask how we got started in our career, and the answer is “by talking to some guy in a bar.” We sold a car in a bar once, and rented an apartment too. We’ve borrowed and repaid money, made several major life choices and met some of the most important people in our life. Of course, we’ve also cashed a paycheck or two.

Baltimoreans have a knack for conducting business in bars; whether it's legitimate, illicit, or duck-related.

In this thoroughly modern world even going inside a bank branch is considered a somewhat old-fashioned activity, but we remember a time, if only vaguely, when people eschewed banks in favor of the financial services available at the local bar. Time was a man would get his check on Friday afternoon and carry it straight to the bar, where they’d cash it for him and he’d drink a certain portion of it after a hard week’s work. He might even take a part of it home as a money order in the amount of his BGE bill or car payment.

It’s strange to think of now, in an era when “totally free” checking, free debit cards and free online banking are the standard among banks, but for most of the 20th century a very large number of middle class people didn’t even have bank accounts. Those that did often used them primarily for savings, as opposed to checking, credit cards and other services. If you’re old enough to remember things like passbook savings and balancing a checkbook, then you know that those things were such a headache that they would drive a man to drink; with their minimums, monthly fees, long lines and bankers’ hours. Back in the day, it was just easier to manage your money in cash with the help of your favorite barmaid.

That’s to say nothing of another big advantage to doing your banking at a bar… the ability to hide money. If you’re flush, there’s seldom any need to hide money. Who among us is always flush though? At one time or another, we’ve all been hesitant to deposit a check because we never learned to balance a checkbook and we might come up short. If you’ve got an auto-pay bill or an overdraft fee looming, direct deposit can really fuck you when you’re trying to figure out who to pay first. Keeping your check away from the bank will allow you to insure that top priorities like the mortgage and grocery bill get paid, and the rest can wait if they have to.

Then there’s the wife. If you got a few hours of overtime on the check this week, well, she doesn’t have to know about that, does she?

For the most part these days, bar owners are out of the check cashing business. Only the oldest of old school bars do it (reluctantly) as a favor to their most regular and long-standing customers. Our own finances are more advanced than we ever thought they’d be, with our fancy free checking and credit cards and electronic transfers. Sometimes though, we miss our own little cash economy, and not having to stop at the bank before we hit the barstool.

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