The Mt. Royal Tavern loses a stalwart soul

Eric Meyers is behind the bar with the author on the left and his friend Carl Dominick on the right.

For generations of Bolton Hill residents and MICA students the Mt. Royal Tavern has served as an introduction and rite of initiation into the neighborhood community.  A quirky and peculiar object of curiosity and fascination woven into the fabric of a diverse neighborhood, the eccentric tavern cuts a swath across a wide demographic — from senior citizen day-drinkers watching The Price is Right on weekday morning TV to coming-of-drinking-age MICA students being bellowed out of the bar at closing time by bartender Eric Meyers.

A fixture at the tavern for more than 25 years, Meyers suddenly passed from this world from complications of a heart condition on May 11.  He was 57.  He cast an indelible presence on the bar and on those with whom he interacted there.   In the days and weeks following Eric’s death the most common adjectives used to describe him referenced his intelligence and curmudgeonly demeanor, both of which were cloaked in good humor.  

His girlfriends were effusive and unanimous in their praise of his wisdom, sense of humor and impact on their lives. Tavern regulars also noted his vast knowledge of world history and current events as well as literature and music. Eric earned a master’s degree in ethnomusicology from the University of Maryland Baltimore County, and was a skilled musician adept at any stringed instrument.   

Photographer Jim Burger, a regular at the tavern long enough to be considered a neighborhood historian, was quoted in Meyer’s Baltimore Sun obituary penned by Fred Rasmussen:

When the history of the Mount Royal Tavern is written there will certainly be a chapter on its curmudgeonly bartenders….  They were the main event [and] Eric would rate near the top, always with his trademark scowl. And like so many of his compatriots, it was simply part of the act. Underneath it all he was just a big softie.

Any time I consider moving to another neighborhood in the city I weigh the benefits of being within such close proximity to the Mt. Royal Tavern and decide that I can’t imagine not having such ready access to one of the most interesting places I’ve known. I met Eric and the other bartenders and regulars at the MRT shortly after moving to Bolton Hill in January of 2000. At first, I was just as intimidated as others by his gruff exterior. He did not suffer fools gladly and I did not want to screw up or breach bar etiquette when he was working. He would frequently call people out for inappropriate behavior, or just getting things wrong.

I made a conscientious effort to make sure I was on Eric’s good side, whether that meant moving my empty glass to the edge of the bar so he would know when I needed another drink, engaging in talk about music, giving him my old shirts, ties and hats to wear behind the bar or just keeping my mouth shut. I was flattered to hear from Eric’s partner in mischievousness, bartender Chloe Vaughan,  that Eric said I was an “ideal customer.”

While it may sound like a paradox, bars are often places of healing, serving as houses of worship — and in the case of the Mt. Royal Tavern, an educational institution.

Like nearly everything, the bar has remained closed in the month since Eric has passed. It’s unfortunate that the community has not been able give Eric a proper send off at the bar, but there will undoubtedly be some kind of ceremony for him when it re-opens.

In the meantime, there have been impromptu gatherings in the alley behind the bar and Sally’s Garden, the vest pocket park adjacent to the alley’s entrance. Like the other Mt. Royal Tavern bartenders who have also passed, Eric’s presence will loom large in the tavern’s lasting legacy.   

–Charlie Vascellaro.  A 20-year resident of Bolton Hill, he is a baseball and travel writer.