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September 28, 2010

Congress Hotel, home to legendary Marble Bar, auctioned today

At 2:30 p.m Tuesday, in a drab room of the Circuit Court of Baltimore City, a piece of city history will be auctioned off.

The property is the Congress Hotel, a mostly forgotten 36-unit apartment building on the 300 block of West Franklin street in Mt. Vernon that, for a brief period in the late 70s and early 80s, housed Baltimore's CBGB.

Just eight granite steps below Franklin is the Marble Bar, the kind of watering hole that looms large enough in the local punk consciousness that  even if you weren't there in its heyday, you might claim you were.

 Though the hotel first opened 107 years ago -- over the years, it hosted Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in its basement bar, once known as the Rathskeller -- it only started hosting provocative music acts in 1978, when the Marble Bar opened.

R.E.M, X and the Slickee Boys, the Psychedelic Furs, Talking Heads, all played there. 

In its heyday, the hotel was like something out of a John Barrymore movie: all rococo refinement and Second Empire pizzazz. The bar was named after its 72-foot-long Italian marble bar. 

But in 1978, a Sun reporter who spent the night there described something out of a Graham Greene novel." "Laying down on the bed, you could almost feel the entire hotel sagging," the reporter wrote. "The wall looked the way you feel during a bad storm on the English channel." The bed, the reporter continued, felt "like a collapsed accordion and looked like like a bombed-out rowboat." 

In 1995, the Congress doubled as the decrepit Globe Hotel, where Madeline Stowe and Bruce Willis hide during a critical scene in the Terry Gilliam cult classic, "12 Monkeys."

"This is a really salubrious kind of place," Gilliam told the Sun then. 

In other words: perfect environs for broke musicians.  In a 2000 profile in City Paper, someone insisted they saw a pubescent U2 hanging out at the Marble. 

"Iggy Pop played here a couple times," said Leslee Anderson, who ran the bar in the 70s, to the weekly. "He loved it. I remember I was mopping the floor and Iggy was standing against the bar saying, 'This is a great rock 'n' roll bar--this is going to be a rocking night.'"

More recently, the hotel was known for providing $15-a-night accommodations for transients. In 2001, a developer spent $7.2 million to renovate the property into an apartment complex, redubbed the Congress Apartments.  

Today, all that will go to the highest bidder. The deposit on the property is a jazzy $200,000, according to auctioneers Alex Cooper Inc.

Update: Local blog Accelerated Decrepitude has a priceless collection of old Marble Bar fliers, including this one of Katatonix.

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Posted by Erik Maza at 9:18 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Bar stories


Sad. Sure hope the Congress can make a comeback. It's a great building, and the Marble Bar was an amazing venue back in the day. As a freshman in college, I remember seeing Muddy Waters there, with a girl I was desperately trying to impress. We ended up sitting with his piano player for most of the show. That impressed her; me, not so much. But the show was amazing, and the bar seedy in all the best ways...

Dude, you have to change that picture of yourself. You aren't in Miami anymore.

I agree with Pat O. You like like a d-bag.

I 3rd the D-bag movement - but at least this is almost bar coverage instead on endless show reviews met to the sound of crickets.

Dear Drew and Pat O. and all of the other haters,
I find myself taking time out of my valuable day to ask you why you would chastise a total stranger about something so irrelevant as his BIO pic for a blog? Pat's pic on his web page does in fact depict him as an adult, so why not act like one. The behavior of EVERYONE on the Midnight Sun blog is embarrassing and juvenile. Grow up and leave the poor guy alone.
I hate that there are so many classless people representing my city. If you want to continue to haze Mr. Maza perhaps do it in a forum that is personal and email him one on one. But stop making the rest of Baltimore look bad. I for one could care less what he is wearing. I care about the quality and integrity of his posts.

thank @colleen. im commenting not because of the picture comments - bc, i dont care - but i do care about perception of the blog's content. there's been no drop in the number of posts about nightlife and bars, though perhaps more music posts than before. this weeknd was a particular case in that we had the biggest music festival in the area, and i was gonna do my best to cover it: that meant up to the minute reviews, and two print stories, as well as instantaneous coverage via twitter. But! I'd also like to point out that the cover story last week for Live! was about five different Baltimore bars, and every week, there are at least five posts on bars and nightlife. Already, there's been a post about readers' choices for the Ravens bars and this morning's history of the Marble Bar.

Pat O,

Your picture hardly gives you any room to criticize others.

"I care about the quality and integrity of his posts."


Back to topic.

Decent Visual History of Marble Bar

@trouble: just linked to this on the blog post. what a find.

I love hearing about that place. Used to drive by it every day in the mid-90s, when there were trees growing out of windows on the upper floors.

I found a bunch of photos of the Marble Bar on Flickr - here - though very few of the actual space.

now this is a well written story

Thanks for posting that link, Trouble. Bad A$$. Only skimmed, but really cool fliers and couple of cool stories.

Looks like it was a pretty awesome place back in the day. I hope whomever buys it at auction today pays good tribute to it's history and turns it into something really cool.

Queenie, right on girl. Hope to finally meet you one of these days.

Kateebee -- You've never met the Queen? How is that possible?

No doubt, kateebee.

The breadth of their shows was cool: DJ's, hardcore, heavy metal, new wave, and even Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker.

Hey guys, just sayin' hey. Hey!

Let us not forget that Sessa obviously chose the picture that he used so as not to look like the oompa loompa that he is.

Late 70s, saw Long John Baldry, Kathi McDonald and Bobby Whitlock.

4th on the photo. This is Baltimore man. No need for Miami style photos here. Be yourself!

@Sam I know, it's crazy! Yet another reason for a Midnight Sun Sayanora (is that how you spell it?).

Any chance I can get a larger Maza pic for my desktop background?!

@kateebee -- I'm game. I'll talk to Erik and see what we can put together in the next month or so.

Is that how you spell it? What do I know about speeling?

Hazing is part of the process of acceptance into a subculture. My first year in Baltimore were all about my identity being challenged by the blue/true bloods. And that was 6th grade. Made me stronger, cooler, more myself, and happier once I found my tribe in downtown Bmore. Erik wrote a damn good article about a place we all know and love. And he has to bone up and deal with the comments on his photo (as he has with grace). That's just the way it goes.

He should keep the pic since it pisses you all off by plucking at all of your insecurities so, so much.


Liked reading the article!

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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