On Friday evening, the snow started falling. The forecast had coalesced around the word “blizzard” but lots of people were out and about enjoying the first snow of the season. Diane and I met friends at Grand Cru — the wine bar in nearby Belvedere Square. Despite the fact that it’s an easy walk, I drove over entertaining the idea of leaving my car in the upstairs parking garage. If the forecasts were correct, history indicated that my street would be impassable for at least a few days. There were a few reasons why being housebound for several days seemed unacceptable.
It was a normal Friday night at the bar. We used to come here all the time but, when Grand Cru changed hands nearly a year ago a lot changed. Nelson Carey, the former proprieter who died suddenly in July, 2014 used to say that bar crowds were fickle — they’d come for a while and, suddenly, go elsewhere. Some of the old bartenders left immediately. Others left gradually over the first months that the new Grand Cru was open. There are still a few of them left and I’m always happy to see them. A lot of the regulars that drew me in nearly everyday for several years, simply stopped coming. And with that exodus, the pull on me to go see who might be there diminished quickly. However, Diane and I still go over most Friday nights because some of our regular cronies are usually there.
I should clarify that there’s nothing particularly wrong with the new Grand Cru — although there are a few things that are irritating. Rather, it’s just not the same bar. It couldn’t be. In fact, well before the Carey family sold the bar, it had already changed. As the saying goes, after Nelson died, his absence was palpable. The old Grand Cru was deflating before our eyes. So, the new Grand Cru is not a bad place, it’s just a different place and no matter what the new management did, that difference was inevitable.
So, Friday evening at the bar was a regular Grand Cru Friday. Many of our friends were there and, as usual we enjoyed each others’ company. Perhaps it was my imagination, or my own anticipation of the snowfall, but everyone was very happy and energetic. We had a very nice time.
When we left, I abandoned my plan to leave the car. The wind had picked up and it was snowing hard although it had accumulated only an inch or so. The car is in the driveway and there it will remain at least until Monday perhaps longer.
On Saturday morning, we awoke to about 8 inches of snow. The wind was wailing and it was snowing furiously. We pretty much stuck to our usual Saturday morning routines and every so often, we’d check the accumulation. On the Grand Cru Facebook page on Friday, they had posted promising to be open for the duration of the storm (well, normal hours anyway) with a few specials: a free glass of hot mulled wine for coming in the door and a promotion which promised a dollar off for every inch of accumulated snow on checks of at least $30. A number of our friends live within walking distance of the bar and we’d made tentative plans to meet there on Saturday afternoon.
In the early afternoon, phones and computers started bleeping with text messages and Facebook messages and pretty soon, Diane and I were suiting up to walk to Belvedere Square.
This is what it looked like as we went out the front door. Of course, this doesn’t describe the amount of snow swirling in the sharp wind. Since I can see without my glasses, I had the forethought to put them in a pocket before venturing out. Even so, for much of the walk I could barely see anything. Diane can’t see anything without her glasses so as her glasses frosted and accumulated snow, she had to rely on following the orange blob that was my coat. We walked up our street, struggling a bit to stay upright and in the tire tracks that some brave soul had made not very long before. We were counting on Belvedere Avenue to be fairly walkable and were looking forward to getting out of the deep stuff. Near the corner of Belvedere a snow plow — not one of the big serious snow plows but a large truck with a blade mounted in front — was stuck in the snow. The driver was working with a shovel to get himself free and was maintaining a reasonably good mood. There was a time when I would have pitched in to try to get him moving but that time was ten years and a few injured spinal disks ago. To get by the plow, we had to walk through the deep snow that went right up to the sides of the truck. Fortunately, we could hold on to the rails along the bed of the truck which helped us stay upright but the snow, seriously, came to mid thigh on me.
As we anticipated, Belvedere Avenue was much easier going. Although it was snow covered, it had been plowed and the snow was packed down. There was virtually no traffic so we walked down the middle of the street. We still couldn’t see very well. The traffic light at Belvedere and Clearspring was easily visible and helped us remember that we were in very familiar territory. And the bar was perhaps 100 yards from that traffic light.
There was a car, not even a 4 wheel drive vehicle but an older station wagon, stuck in the intersection. The driver was standing beside the car as we stumbled past. Diane said “The bar’s open,” and he just said that he couldn’t leave the car there. He said he needed a shovel. We certainly weren’t going to walk back home to get a shovel for him so we wished him luck and kept going. I marveled that someone would venture out in a car utterly unsuited for the weather without anticipating the need for a shovel or other things that might help unstick his car if it happened.
There were a few plows working the parking lots at Belvedere Square but there wasn’t a single car in them. As we struggled across the parking lot, I was thinking “they better be open!” Soon, though, we saw the lights on through the double doors. As we entered we were greeted warmly. Surprisingly, there were at least 20 people there including one of the friends we were coming to meet. After I cleared the snow from my beard and brushed off my coat and hat, we sat at a table and Jack, one of the bartenders, brought us each a glass of mulled wine. Lovely.
They had let the kitchen staff off for the day but had made a nice black bean chili that they were offering for a dollar a bowl. Everyone was very friendly and happy and there was an implicit understanding that we were all neighbors since none of us had driven there.
There was a giant Jenga game going on. I had never seen Jenga blocks of this size but there they were. Diane and our friend Nancy took their turns removing and replacing blocks but I was content to stay in my seat and watch.
Lots of laughter and shrieks when the tower tumbled to the floor.
Being the sort of day it was, I forgot my age and along with my customary beer or wine, there were shots of spirits consumed. Fortunately, we must have remained prudent because neither of us were worse for the wear because of the whisky.
Our neighbor across the street from our house had invited us and other near neighbors to come that evening for a blizzard party. I had been planning to walk back later in the day to go to The Swallow At The Hollow , another neighborhood bar that had promised to be open, to watch the Maryland Terrapin basketball game. I knew, though, that once I got back home, I wasn’t going to make that walk again in the same day. So, neighbor’s blizzard party was on the agenda. Regardless, we still had to walk back and, putting that task off, we stayed at Grand Cru until we had just enough time to get home, get presentable (remove snow from beard, etc.) before crossing the street to the party.
Here’s a picture of Diane sitting across from me with the Grand Cru bar in the background. We still had to bundle up and make the walk home but, first, another round or so. One group came in and I thought that the man had brought some children with him. It’s not all that unusual for children to be at the bar, at least during the day, but it seemed an odd thing to do in the middle of a blizzard. As it turns out, it was just that one of the men in the group was quite tall and the two “children” turned out to be lovely young women. Other friends came in, some were new and some we knew but everything was just friendly and nice. It was as if, just for awhile, the ghost of the old Grand Cru presided and informed the new Grand Cru. It was a lovely afternoon.
When we walked home, it was still snowing heavily but the wind had tempered and we were able to see fairly well. Somehow, the stranded station wagon was gone although, looking at the snow where it had been, it was unclear how it could have happened. When we got to Clearspring, the snow plow that had been stuck was gone — although the hip deep snow at the bottom of the street was testament to the fact that the driver must have backed up the hill and gone down our street to be on his way. The snow on the ground sparkled under the street lights. The last stretch, down our street, was as hard as it had been when we ventured out. We were delighted to find that, while we were gone, the kids had shoveled a path from the front porch to the road. And, equally fortuitous, the neighbor who we were to visit for the blizzard party had similarly cleared a path. So, the idea of venturing out again wasn’t daunting at all.
We had a lovely evening meeting with neighbors, some old friends some new faces, eating soup and drinking wine. After a few hours, back in the house, I’d put pajama pants and slippers on and was enjoying a final glass of wine. I wasn’t surprised to hear the phrase in my head that told me that “all was right with the world.” Well, that’s clearly not entirely true, but in my life, in my slice of Baltimore, with my family and friends . . . it was.