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The Robin’s Nest
The Quintessential Sanctuary Bar

The Robins Nest is at Patterson Park and North, a couple blocks west of Gay Street. It’s a real bad neighborhood. Right down the street was the old Brewery—a city or state building now, but used to be a German brewery. Back in the day there was a lot Germans around there. [The Baltimore Municipal Cemetery, up on the hill is largely a German Catholic graveyard.] At one time—I was told, there were a hundred breweries in Baltimore.

The Robins Nest is on a corner, a black bar, a typical corner, rowhome bar that you see all through Baltimore. On the inside there is a bar along one wall, shitty and run down, not a lot of money put into it.

The first time I went in there was after work. I was working with Loulou Bell—Lou, a black dude that took me in there. You have to get buzzed in there. In there was middle-aged and older black dudes, working men, getting away from the hoodrats and hos. He was established in there and later I went in in my own. A couple times when there were guys I hadn’t met the first time they thought I was crazy or a cop, weren’t used to seeing a paleface.

I stopped in there quite a few times. Some place like that, you have to have your war face on, because you will be an instant target. The black guys will be targets too. That’s why they think you’re crazy. Everybody hangs on corners like that in those neighborhoods—typical hood rats, anywhere from four to a dozen. Basically, drugs were being sold—a meeting place. Other than buy carry out, they didn’t come in the place. They’re drinking on the street. It is not like here, or any normal white bar, where young and old mix, where old guys clue young guys in on work, the trades, where they all mix in discussions—even of some stupid sport. In the black neighborhoods you won’t see old guys taking an interest in young guys. It’s like a whole new race is born with every generation, each new crop of dindus enemy to the old. If an older black guy is taking a young man to the bar to teach him how to shoot pool, they come here, with us, you can see that. [Nods to mixed age group of black men shooting pool in the back of the bar.]

With a sanctuary bar, like that [the Robins Nest], when you come in you can see what you’re walking into. But when you’re leaving you don’t know what you’re walking into. The guys inside the place get reports on what they see on the way in, so you want to listen up. They blend. They belong in this neighborhood. You’re in their element. You’re in a predicament, that no matter how tough you are, if it really goes down you're fucked. When you go into somebody’s neighborhood, you can’t be afraid—soft—but you can’t throw out any challenges. You’ve got to play that middle ground.

Never had a close call coming out, other than a couple people panhandling. I’d say something like, “I’m struggling too, times are rough. If I had money, I wouldn’t be drinking here.”

You can’t look well-heeled, dress in your best, nice watch, money flowing out your wallet—that’s like being a piece of meat in front of all the dogs in a place like that.

When Your Job Sucks

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