Harp and Fiddle

The thing I miss the most about Bethesda, MD, is the somewhat downtrodden have/have-not divide of the 80’s and early 90’s. Before it became a glittering jewel in the Galactic Empire’s crown.

People make fun of me when I rant about gentrification but, seriously, retards, look around you. Most days, I feel like I woke up from a hundred year sleep. Look at your space buildings! And you’ve exterminated the Spanish and the lower income people! Well, Bethesda did that long ago. Silver Spring’s the suburb with active extermination camps. But, still, what the fuck happened to Hot Shoppes?

The Harp & Fiddle is the poster child for gentrification. Once, long before you were born and your space federation was founded, it was Flanagan’s. A seedy, weird basement bar. You’d walk into a faux storefront and immediately be faced by a set of stairs descending into something that often sounded like an illegal fight club being held in the sewers. Once down, there was this sense that you had stepped into an oversized wolf’s den. You could stake out a table, or belly up at the bar, and drink without any sense of time or place. Once committed, there was no day, no night, no suburban Maryland. Flanagan’s was a windowless ship islanded in the vast emptiness of space.

To take a piss, you were required to navigate a flight of crooked stairs that almost looked like they were hewn from living rock, leading you into a grotto of graffiti and toilets that rarely flushed where genial drunks blabbered on if you even looked sideways at them. They’d always give off the feeling that they’d been stuck in the bar for days or weeks… What’s happening up there? Have the wars stopped…?

There was a kitchen, but I never had a waiter who suggested I eat there. The fools did. The gawking yuppies, and the hopeless, homeless barflies. The thing about Flanagan’s is that you befriended your waiters. They warned you away from the food. They were good to you. Probably because they were your drug dealers, which is what the kitchen was really about. When you ordered a burger they stared blankly at you and asked if maybe that was code for coke, or smack, or crack… What do you want again? A burr… Burr…? Burr-jur? Look, just say what you want.

Flanagan’s was the Mos Eisley of Bethesda, without the angry deformed people.

Then came the change. Like in The Time Machine when the time traveler moves slowly into the future, mesmerized by the changing storefront across the street from his house, and the development rising up around him. Flanagan’s left the main street and became a regular looking bar with a patio a few blocks away, renamed The Harp and Fiddle. It became a regular faux-Irish bar with all the trappings. Just like every other soul-sucking, depressing faux-Irish bar. (As opposed to the soul-sucking and depressing real Irish bars! But they can’t help it because their country is soul-sucking and depressing. We can help it! Because we’re the pretty people, goddamnit.)

I keep debating about a move to Bethesda because my landlord thinks it’s funny to raise my rent to one million a month and I’m being pointed towards the so-called “low income” housing at places like The Fields. And, by “low income” they mean “quaint paradise.” It’s tough to get a fix on status-by-income when you live in a town where “working poor” means you earn under 70k a year.

Do you know what I could do on 70k a year in Elkins, WV? I’d actually be crowned. We would secede from the union and I’d have a fully-functioning feudal kingdom.

Bethesda has a plus side – a thriving hooker community. Gaffney’s, which has the best bartender in the DC area behind the counter every Wednesday and Friday. And, um…uh…hmmm.

I could be king. That’s all I know. I’m not, though. So I’ll go to Gaffney’s and stare at the Russian waitress and wear a disguise because too many people in this town know me. And I’ll dream of those long-ago days, descending into the pit of Flanagan’s and losing all sense of time and reality while a sexy waitress does lines of coke off my forearm and I laugh that really scary way-too-drunk-on-Erin Go Bragh laugh.

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   2 Comments


  1. DD
      March 5, 2011

    Wow! Hot Shoppes and Flanagan’s both bring back so many memories.

    Wonder if NS remembers nearby Reagan-era establishments like Dart Drug, Crown Books and Roy Rogers….

  2. nacho
      March 5, 2011

    Dart Drug stands out because it went through that whole renaming insanity as the staff battled for control. How was it again? People’s, then Fantle’s, then Dart?

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