Hometown Beer

My brother and I were standing in the back of the bar looking across the room when a young man with a hard hat walked through the brightness of the door and then up to the bar. The helmet on his head shined from the lamp above the brim. I told my brother, I don't know what, but that is a great scene for a joke.

THE SESSION #133 — Hometown Glories — BEER BLOGGING FRIDAY The Sessions, a.k.a. Beer Blogging Friday, is an opportunity once a month for beer bloggers from around the world to get together and write from their own unique perspective on a single topic. Each month, a different beer blogger hosts the Session, chooses a topic and creates a round-up listing all of the participants, along with a short pithy critique of each entry. 

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For this month’s edition of The Sessions is hosted by Gareth at Barrel Aged Leeds. Gareth is a writer that hails from West Yorkshire, UK. The proposed subject is ‘Hometown Glories’. He invokes The Session writers, "Take this and run with it how you wish, but when thinking about possible subjects I had in mind an imminent visit to the place I spent my formative years and blogging about it’s highlights and wider beer scene."

Possible starting points could be:

  • Describing the types of bars/pubs you have in your home town, how popular are they? Has craft beer culture made much of a splash?
  • Are there any well-known breweries? Is there a particular beer or style that is synonymous with your home town
  • History of the town and how that can be reflected in its drinking culture
  • Tales of your youth, early drinking stories
  • Ruminations on what once was and what is now? Have you moved away and been pleasantly surprised or disappointed on return visits?

The Tavern of My Youth

I grew up in the Dundalk MD USA a suburb of Baltimore, MD USA. Baltimore is famous for its many street corner bars. Some crossroads in the city may even have more than one neighborhood pub. That culture had dribbled into nearby Dundalk. Dundalk, if famous for anything I suppose, was the Bethlehem Steel mill at Sparrows Point.

About Dundalk

Steel manufacturing began in Dundalk in the late 1800s. That facility was later sold to Bethlehem Steel in 1916 during the time of World War I. At one time it was the largest steel mill in the world. It has since closed. It offered my family a living and persuaded my father and mother, his brother and his aunt (and other relatives) away from rural West Virginia. I even worked there during the summer of 1976, as did many of my fellow high school buddies. For some it was a summer job, for others it became a career.

Steel was first made at Sparrow’s Point in 1889, by the Maryland Steel Company, a subsidiary of the Pennsylvania Steel Company. By the mid-20th century, the Sparrow’s Point waterfront plant was the world’s largest steel mill, stretching 4 miles (6.4 km) from end to end and employing tens of thousands of workers. It used the traditional open hearth steelmaking method to produce ingots, a labor- and energy-intensive process.

Bethlehem Steel Corporation of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania purchased the Baltimore County mill in 1916. The mill’s steel ended up as girders in the Golden Gate Bridge and in cables for the George Washington Bridge, and was a vital part of war production during World War I and World War II.
— Wikipedia

Dundalk grew during the 1960s and 1970 to become the largest unincorporated town in Maryland. It was named after Dundalk, Ireland. According to Wikipedia, Henry McShane, an Irish immigrant, established McShane Bell Foundry on the far southeast outskirts of Baltimore along the Patapsco River. He was asked by the railroad what to call his stop. His reaction was to name it after his former home of Dundalk, Ireland. There is a McShane Way in our Dundalk today. 

In 1916, Bethlehem Steel purchased 1,000 acres of farmland to develop housing for its shipyard workers. This is has grown into Dundalk that we now know.

I use to joke that Harp beer was brewed in Dundalk (pause)... Ireland. Well, it was at one time until Diageo closed the brewery in 2013. Diageo is the same company that now owns the new Guinness brewery on the west side of Baltimore.

Coming of Age

Our neighborhood had several pubs within easy walking distance. As a youth growing up, several of the elders were regulars of these local watering holes. My dad, not so much. He was happy with a case of Pabst cans while working in the backyard. I would hear stories from the other kids as told by their fathers, tavern news about this or that, and some pub names became familiar. But none of this really mattered until I turned 18 and of legal drinking age. Yes, when I turned 18 that was the drinking age then. Of course, that has since been raised to 21 but that never affected me much.

That momentous event, turning legal drinking age, was while away in college. Coming back for holidays and summer breaks, some of us would visit our favorite of these local pubs. I really don't know we choose Botteon's Tavern (boe-tee-on), it was probably due to the fact that one of our dad's frequented it and the name stuck in our memory. Therefore it was a safe place — in theory.

On one of these trips home, I remember bringing home a girlfriend from college and she, a neighborhood buddy and I walked to Botteon's for a beer or two. Okay, probably more, but that was long ago. The thing I do remember was the walk back. A bit more joyous than the walk there, we were singing the Bruce Springsteen song Spirits in the Night out loud while doing the Wizard of Oz dance down the yellow brick road. It was fun, we were young and invincible, ready to conquer the world and the neighborhood.

A Miner Walks into a Bar

On another occasion at the pub, my brother and I were standing in the back of the bar looking across the room when a young man with a hard hat walked through the brightness of the door and then up to the bar. The helmet on his head shined from the lamp above the brim. I told my brother, I don't know what, but that is a great scene for a joke. Almost as soon as the words left my mouth, we watched as Harold Botteon, the bar owner, looked across the bar and into the young man's eyes. With little hesitation and no flinching, we told him, "We don't serve miners here". We looked at each other and laughed out loud. Perfect, he had nailed it!

A Father Remembered

Probably the last time I was in Botteon's was after the funeral of the father of one of those neighborhood buddies. Mr. Len was the father that first engraved this place into our minds. As a tribute, as a source of memories and a salute to the old neighborhood and our youth, we stepped into Botteon's once again. This time we were older, accomplished men. This had been our neighborhood, but it wasn't any longer — we were the strangers now. We talked and watched on as this place now belonged to those men and women who had probably walked here to drink a beer at the bar or shoot a game of pool with friends. The room seemed smaller and darker than I remembered it. Had it changed or was it us?  

We had a shot and a couple beers. Talked about the old days and our hopes and plans for the future. We left and when we did we let go of a piece of our youth. The passing of our parents has removed any reason to go back. My mother still lives in the same house my brother and I grew up in and that brings us back on Holidays. As for the others, I never see them. Those houses where we use to play have been sold to the parents of a new group of kids. Strangely, you never see them outside playing like we used to. 

Today and Tomorrow

While working my brain to dig up some of these fancy facts and memories I learned that that building was established in 1925. I wonder if it was a bar then? From a legal document I discovered online, I learned that it was a bar at least back as far as 1936 or 1937. It was known as The Railway Bar up until 1943 when it temporarily became known as Cecelia's Tavern. It was later sold to the Botteon brothers in 1957. That is the era of which I am most familiar. It was again sold in 1983 to Albert Testaini. It's not Botteon's Tavern anymore, it's now known as Jolynn's Railway Inn. From the outside, it looks about the same. A new sign hangs over the entrance with its new name. It probably even looks the same on the inside. I may never know.

The Cheers of Dundalk

Paraphrasing from The Railway Inn Facebook page was this post which says a lot about these small neighborhood bars.

I wish you would take off the “Dive Bar” listing. It is not a dive. It is a friendly “Neighborhood Bar” and should be categorized as one. And strangers always comment how friendly everyone is. If it had better decor & more room, it’d be a small “Cheers”.
— Facebook post

Here is a toast to Botteon's Tavern, The Railway Inn, Hops Inn, Poplar Inn and the many other local neighborhood pubs, taverns, and bars where you are and how we remember them. Cheers!

The Tee Shirt

Drink Local - Support Neighborhood Taverns

The more I thought about this local neighborhood tavern and its importance to my growing up and the many other such places around the world, I wanted to design a tee shirt for myself and others — if they feel the same and would like to display their colors. I've created a simple, minimalist design — DRINK LOCAL SUPPORT NEIGHBORHOOD TAVERNS — and made it available on tee shirts, hoodies, and sweatshirts via Amazon or check all the Quaff Works line of beery apparel.