Mount Vernon is rife with upscale bars, many of which come and go—and, as in the case of the Owl Bar, even come back again—through the years. So we thought we’d recognize an old stalwart, a liquor establishment that has stuck it out over time. Gerben’s Café fits the bill.
From the street, Gerben’s looks as if it was built when people were shorter and smaller. But inside, the bar seems miraculously airy, a sensation that is heightened by the many mirrors on the walls.
Glass cases display collector’s editions of liquor bottles and yellowing press accounts of a particularly valuable one shaped like an elephant (it commemorated Spiro Agnew). Two posters, one of a drinkers hymn and the other of a drinkers prayer, figure prominently among the bar’s memorabilia, as does a sign admonishing barkeeps that the customer is always wrong. Beers are a buck fifty, except Michelob, which is a buck sixty. For entertainment, patrons can play lotto or video poker machines.
Other bar props indicate that National Premium beer, which went out of production earlier this year (see “Best Defunct Local Beer”), was once a staple: the pride of baltimore, reads the rack that holds the bar’s glasses, while a framed mirror bearing the image of Baltimore’s skyline proclaims Natty Prem one of maryland’s greatest natural resources (where were the do-gooders of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation when G. Heileman Brewing Company needed them to help save the premium alternative to National Bohemian?).
Gerben’s menu, which is chalked onto a blackboard above the bar, includes some old-time favorites such as the braunschwager club (with “rat-trap cheese,” one of the proprietors likes to say), pork-stock bean soup, and spice cake. It’s good, substantial stuff right out of the kitchen, and pretty cheap too. Standard breakfast fare is served as well.
The only catch is that Gerben’s hours are limited, 9 a.m.–8 p.m., Sunday through Friday. We wish there was more time to soak in the nostalgia.