Echoes of Prohibition

A Fell’s Point building still bears a potent reminder of Prohibitionist days.

Prohibition is a nearly forgotten time in Maryland history, despite the still-visible paint on the side of a Fell’s Point building urging residents to “Vote No.” But, hidden under floorboards and behind walls of the city can be found many remnants of a time when the whole city of Baltimore seemed to collectively reject a federal law.

The Lord Baltimore Hotel, when it transferred ownership from Radisson’s, knocked down a wall during renovation of their ceremony hall, only to find a secret room filled with 1920’s and 30’s era silverware and dining dishes. Though the alcohol had long since disappeared, it seems some cautious hotel owner had kept the room a secret just in case the law should return.

Meanwhile, in Druid Hill, a basement bar boasts its ties to Prohibition as a half-bar half-speakeasy. In fact, the whole of Fell’s Point is littered with basements with claims, whether right or wrong, to having once played the part of an illegal bar.

The Owl Bar is largely unchanged since its early 20th century beginnings.

And no conversation about Baltimore’s Prohibition-era past could be complete without mentioning the Owl Bar, whose connections to those dark times are so wrapped up in legend and rumor that it is impossible to say what’s true and what’s false.

What we do know with certainty is that the Baltimore population, including many officials, opted not to stop drinking at all. There were multiple occasions where mobs of residents came together to violently stop police or federal agents from taking their alcohol, which was being semi-openly shipped into town by train into Camden Station. The mayor himself set to “accidentally” making his own wine by leaving his grapes outside and not preventing their fermentation.

Clearly, Baltimore was and a wet city. It will be interesting to see, as more work is done on excavations and inspections, what else we find lurking behind faux walls in city buildings.

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