Friday, January 6, 2017

Farewell Liam Flynn!

Walking along North Avenue on Tuesday nights one could hear the unlikely sound of fiddles and Old Time Appalachian bluegrass country music  wafting out of an Irish pub from a packed jam session. A couple of wooden picnic benches out front the place occupied just a tiny section of the vast former North Avenue Market. Right in an area where a few years earlier hardly anybody dared to tread and where a motel that looks like it is preserved straight from a sixties roadie movie and selling rooms by the hour is still doing business a jam session befitting the old country store in Floyd Virginia seemed oddly out of place. Just as Flynn's self-installed blond wood plywood ceiling panels looked out of place in a bar with an Irish theme.
The last hurray: ending with fun (FB post by Kristin Forbes)

But Liam behind the bar with his accent explaining his 20 tap beers was the real deal and so was his shepherd's pie, one of the few smaller menu items that his kitchen allowed that was years in the making and somehow never got beyond small food. The bar opened in 2011 after a long time of tinkering with improving the space in the old market in a unique style that defied pretty much all the rules on how to lay out a restaurant.

Irish in the A&E district.
The quirkiness of Flynn's pub was a good fit for the transforming stretch of North Avenue and it worked as Flynn said it should, as a catalyst of revitalization.

Now, after MICA has opened its social design branch there, the Load of Fun has been replaced by the much glossier Motor House, Joe Square Pizza has been relocated and upgraded to being a "real restaurant"and even the Parkway Theater is in the process of being fixed up, Flynn somehow couldn't make ends meet as a tenant of Mike Shecter and Carolyn Frenkils Center City Development. The fate of being evicted in the middle of summer last year was averted with crowd sourced funds, but it did catch up with Flynn again this week when he ended his 5 year run with a sudden goodbye note on Facebook.
Knowledgeable about beer: Liam Flynn

Former SUN architectural writer Ed Gunts reported in the Baltimore Fishbowl that Liam Flynn, a Station North pioneer and one of the early tenants in the old North Avenue Market closed this week and so did the SUN, but neither could shed much light on the question what exactly did the popular bar in. Chances are that even between art-friendly landlords and revitalization-oriented tenants things are not always going smoothly. In fact, a certain chumminess that is common between seemingly like-minded pioneering business partners can easily be misleading. Certainly the parting was not harmonious and didn't even allow the tenant to get all his stuff out before the doors were locked up.  Center City's ownership of the gigantic old North Avenue market harbors a lot of risks for landlord and tenant. Grand renovation plans for the market drawn up some time ago never seem to come off the ground. Thus, the big structure putters along with its famous anchors Red Emma and the Windup Space, and a print shop in between, all more social entrepreneurs than big money-makers, one has to assume.
Odd layout and design but made by owner

It isn't clear if Liam Flynn's closing is like the canary in the coal mine, and even it it were, it isn't obvious whether the demise is a sign of gentrification or of a North Avenue that is still a rough spot for business.

For those who miss the bluegrass jams, they can still get those at the Five and Dime Ale House in Hampden. As for Liam himself, folks would have to go to Brooklyn, Baltimore's next frontier, to Michael Forbish's O Flynn’s Crab & Cask House where he runs the place. An Irish pub, of course.

North Avenue is changing and, as Obama said as one of his parting wisdoms: "History does not move in straight lines; sometimes it goes sideways". Flynn's absence will be quite obvious on North Avenue.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
SUN article