Tag Archives: Old School

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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Hello Neighbors, and Welcome to Mister Chop’s Neighborhood

Whenever we travel anywhere outside Baltimore, we can’t help but notice the differences and similarities Charm City has to whatever city we’re in. When we went to New York to visit a friend last week, we noticed plenty of both, including one difference in particular that struck a nerve.

It was only about two minutes after our arrival that we met our friend’s neighbor. The old lady who lives upstairs is almost as stereotypically NYC as we are Baltimore: Irish, Catholic, working class, and lived in the same apartment paying way less than market rent for more than 50 years. She had that quality peculiar to retirees, where her sphere of activity had shrunk from the whole city to Queens, to the neighborhood, and finally, at 80, to the building itself. We’re not saying she was a busybody, but she did know everyone in the building and what they were up to at any given time.

A visual approximation of the Chop in his neighborhood.

It hasn’t been the only time that it’s come up recently, and it got us thinking that we’re the exact opposite. We don’t know hardly any of our neighbors, and frankly, we don’t want to.

It’s not just a difference between New York and Maryland, or between apartment buildings and rowhouses, but mainly a difference between the 20th century and the 21st. Fifty years ago, neighborhoods were not only a lot more homogeneous, but the people who lived on your block were also the same people you went to work with. They were the same people you went to church with, and having only three channels on TV, they were the same people you went to the Moose or the Masons with, or just down the corner bar. When people bought a house back then, they didn’t do it with the intention of flipping it at a profit and moving to the county as soon as their first born was ready for kindergarten. Of course, some people didn’t buy their houses at all… a lot of people inherited them.

Things aren’t that way any more.

We’ve lived all over Baltimore, so we’re no strangers to bad neighbors. We’ve lived next to junkies, alcoholics, white trash, thieves, lead-paint-eating children, tranny prostitutes and even yuppies. There was one neighbor in particular who liked to yell things at us from across the street, such as:


Now that we’re a homeowner we like to mind our own business more than ever, and associate with people because we have an affinity with them, not because we happen to live near them. That option to just wait for the lease to end and pack up and leave isn’t there anymore. By the same token, we plan to be here for a loooong time, so there ought to be no hurry to make nice with the neighbors. There’s plenty of time for that later.

And anyway, none of them really rolled out the welcome wagon when we moved it. We’re still waiting for our homemade lasagne and chocolate cake.

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Chop on the Spot: Dan Brothers Shoes

Now that the holidays have come and gone and the dead-of-winter hibernation period has fully set in, we’re beginning to make subtle preparations to go a-traveling again. One of the most important of those preparations is the acquisition of a new pair of solid-yet-comfortable everyday shoes that can withstand many hours of standing still in comfort.

We settled on these chukka boots from Johnston and Murphy, which feature a crepe rubber sole and sheepskin lining, and which were comfortable the moment we tried them on, and won’t really require any breaking in at all.

These boots were made for... standin' around.

This isn’t a post about shoes though: it’s a post about a shoe store. When we first set out to shoe shopping, we began by going into Benjamin Lovell in Harbor East, and were sorely disappointed. Their stock was so depleted, and the store featured so many empty shelves that in another neighborhood you might think it was a drug front. As the only customer in the shop we were double-teamed by the staff, who after not having our size of the one shoe we sort of liked, made a point of saying “Well, if there’s something else you need we can order it for you.” Really? No shit? There’s a new invention called the internet. We can order shoes from it without you, thanks.

Since we were downtown anyway, and already had one of those little parking meter slips for the dashboard we stopped by Famous Footwear and, well, that’s 3 minutes of our life we’ll never get back. Don’t ever go to Famous Footwear. Unless you want to buy a pair of Sketchers. Then go.

Which brings us to Dan Brothers. Over the years, we’ve been by there dozens of times, but never really been drawn in. (There’s not much in the way of window displays.) We’ve even been to their website, which is not a particularly good website, and could use a redesign.

The store itself though is outstanding. The large inventory is beautifully displayed and runs the full range from smart-casual to business to formal, even including exotic skins and boots, and a clearance section with shoes you might actually want to wear. Dan Bros is about as old-school Baltimore as you can get, and the friendly, local staff gives the place more the feel of a neighborhood barbershop than a shoe store.

In 70 years they claim to have sold shoes to everyone from William Donald Schaefer to Muhammad Ali, and we can see why. If you want to be the sort of bastard that walks in someplace, orders a good Scotch, puts your feet up on the table and hears someone ask “Whoa, where’d you get those shoes?” Then you’d do well to swing by Dan Bros. It took some self-control for us to walk out of there with only one pair, and we’re certain our first visit will be the first of many.

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Throwdown Viewing Party, Live Music @ Mum’s Tonight

If you’ve been following this blog with any sort of regularity, you might already know that we’re definitely not a foodie, but you definitely know that the last thing we’ll recommend doing is watching primetime TV.¬† In a bizarre twist of fate tonight, that’s exactly what we’re recommending¬† in one of the most random events we can remember happening… ever. Tonight is the night that the Food Network is set to air the Dangerously Delicious episode of Throwdown with Bobby Flay.

The show will premiere at 9 pm, and Baltimore will be celebrating with a viewing party at South Baltimore’s own Mum’s. Yep. Mum’s. This is going to be sublime in so many ways.

If you know Mum’s at all, you know it’s not the kind of place that lacrosse players, condo-board types and tourists just stumble into on a whim. The show will not be competing with the World Cup or the NBA Finals for screen space. Nope, this is going to be a dedicated crowd, and they’re all going to be giving their full attention to booing, hissing and cursing Bobby Flay. And why not? It seems to us that there could be no more stark contrast in the culinary world than Flay and Rodney Henry. One is one of Baltimore’s prominent small businessmen who literally invented what he’s made from nothing. The passion and dedication that Henry has poured into his shop comes through in each bite, and he certainly deserves every bit of success he’s found. He can also rock a hat better than just about anyone in Baltimore. The other is a grating prettyboy with a rich-kid attitude who revels in his own celebrity and is the antithesis of everything Baltimore is about.

The Chop loves us some quiche, and broccoli mushroom cheddar quiche alll-most made our list of the top five late-night drunkfoods. We’re hoping the that the Dangerously Delicious crew will bring along a few varieties to go with Mum’s cheap drinks.

One thing we know the Pie Man will bring along is his guitar. In addition to the throwdown, tonight is one of the more unconventional bills you’ll find in the Baltimore music scene. We haven’t actually seen Rodney Henry play since his days in the Glenmont Popes, and the last time we saw the Popes was right around the same time we got a driver’s license. So yeah, it’s been a while.

He’s also got H.R.’s Human Rights Band to agree to play. They don’t make too many appearances, so the chance to check them out at Mum’s is worth noting. There’s been a lot of talk on Baltimore streets about H.R. since that citypaper article came out a couple years ago. The Chop has heard plenty of gossip and rumors that we will not repeat here. We’re going to go see the man for ourselves.

The bill is going to be rounded out by the duo of Lazlo Lee and Heidi Lynn and Baltimore’s Link Wray influenced garage-a-billy Young Jaguars.

Come on Baltimore. It’s time to put your fork where your mouth is.


Mum’s is at 1132 S. Hanover St. in Federal Hill. Doors at 8. Throwdown airs at 9, and will be re-run at midnight if you’re watching at home.


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Kickball in the Schoolyard

As you probably already know, many area Catholic schools are slated to close due to ‘budget issues’. We’re going to reserve any comment on the Church as a whole, and instead stick to what we know best. We have very mixed feelings, to say the least.

Although the Chop is (mostly) a product of the Catholic schools, we are not now and have never been a Catholic. Our old school is among those that are closing this week with the end of the academic year.

What are we doing to mark the occasion? Are we forming some henny-penny ‘concerned citizens’ group to try to ‘save our schools’? Are we going to go to mass and say the rosary? Are we going to go get a lapdance from a schoolgirl-themed stripper? (Maybe.)

No. We’re playing Kickball.

Playing kickball in the schoolyard was central to the Chop’s adolescent development. It was what we did every day both at recess and after school for years. If we were missing a kickball game, we felt like we were really missing something. We had to know everything that went on in the neighborhood as it happened, and if anything ever happened worth gossiping about, the news hit the schoolyard first.

That school was where we learned to ride a bicycle. It was where we had our first kiss. Smoked our first cigarette. It was a place we made friends that we still have today.

We were lucky to have grown up in an old-school neighborhood. It was full of Polacks and it was the kind of place where 3 generations of family would own 3 houses on the same block. You knew them all and everybody’s dad had a job that paid. And that church and its school were the center of all of it.

That neighborhood is not the same anymore. Our family moved to the far suburbs long ago. The jobs are long gone, and now, so is the school.

You can’t go home again, but today we’re going to go play kickball and afterward raise many a sentimental glass with the Catholics.


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