Sold!: Leadbetter's Tavern

As you make your way down the busy cobblestone streets near the water in Fell’s Point, the only thing that stands between you and your favorite watering hole is a place to park.  You are just about to give up your search on the busy city streets and head toward the welcoming glow of the pay garage.  Along the way, you see your destination.  Leadbetter’s Tavern.  You peek through the line of parked cars and pedestrians to see who the performer will be on the dry erase marquee that hangs on the front door.  Suddenly you notice a space becoming available.  You smile a little to yourself when you are fortunate enough to get one of those nearby spots. 

“Live Music EFN.”  This phrase was printed on the promotional matches that were available at the bar.  Every night of the week since I have been going, live music was scheduled.  The environment for the musician playing at Leadbetter’s is unique when compared to most other venues in the area.  Performers stand right next to the front door.  Patrons must be careful not to bump into them when entering.  Sometimes they do.  There is no demarcation between the performer and the audience.  The only thing between you and 80-90 well lubricated fun loving partygoers is your microphone stand.  On busy nights, you do your best as a performer to keep the party going by reading the room and adjusting your song selection and banter as needed.  When it’s slow, especially on weeknights, the room can be a laboratory where you are free to take some chances with your music.  It is an opportunity to try something unproven, or play a request that you’ve never tried before.  I once invited a bagpipe player to sit in on one of those nights.  Usually, you know half the people in the bar, and many are happy to help you overcome any insecurity you might have in these moments with a shot of liquid courage. 

I have met many other musicians through my performances at this bar.  We would all stop in when nearby to see who was playing.  We would inspire each other; push each other to try something new, share experiences, ideas, and encouragement.  I have met thousands of people at my performances there.  I have made hundreds of friends.  Many come and go.  Some, like my wife, stick around.  I met her there in 2001.

I was sharing some of these memories with a friend at my performance last Saturday night.  I recalled how when I discovered the bar for myself in the late 1990’s how much I wanted to play there.  I had been performing at nearby venues for a few years, but this place was different.  There was a magic about it.  I consider myself fortunate to have had the opportunity to play there hundreds of times over the past fifteen years.

The bar has been a second home for me and many others over the years, so naturally there was a lot of concern when news of the bar’s sale spread.  We all know what a special place this has been and wonder if that legacy will continue.  Truth is, we don’t know what the new ownership intends to do right now.  Change always brings questions, uncertainty, and dare I say, optimism.  Will it be the same old Leadbetter’s?  All of this remains to be seen at this point.  To the new owners, I wish them well.  They are taking the reins of an establishment cherished by thousands.  To Mr. Cooper, the former owner, thanks for all the great memories that you had a part in making possible.  All the best as you move on from here.

1 comment

  • John King

    John King Asheville, NC

    Nice tribute Rob. I share your sentiments. I will always consider Leadbetters one of the best music and social experiences of my life.

    Nice tribute Rob. I share your sentiments. I will always consider Leadbetters one of the best music and social experiences of my life.

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