A priest walks into a bar. . . . No, it’s not the start of a joke, but closely mirrors a dispute between some Catholics and a Fells Point watering hole.
Recently, a group of religious devotees claimed that bar and restaurant Ale Mary’s was blasphemous because of its name and church-themed décor. The bar owners, in turn, said there was nothing irreverent about it, and that most of the objects were gifts.
“These guys believe that we’re stealing these items,” says Tom Rivers, who owns the bar with his wife and its namesake, Mary, pictured. “But I’m merely decorating the place with items customers have given me.”
The controversy started when temp worker Genevieve Frost posted a negative review on Urbanspoon, saying the bar uses sacred vessels in a “most profane manner.” She then helped to start a Facebook group (nearly 1,100 members strong) called “500,000 Against Ale Mary’s Abuse of the Sacred and the Sublime.”
“The owners and patrons of this bar, many of them professing Catholics, are not concerned about the deeply disrespectful ambiance of this place,” organizers wrote.
Items in question include a monstrance with a Natty Boh logo, holy-water fonts for mints, chalices, and crucifixes. Rivers said that before this group, he’s only had one complaint in the seven years he’s been open.
“We opened the place to have good food and meet new friends,” Rivers says. “I bought the hymn board, where we write the drafts, and picked up a chalice on eBay. Everything else was given to us by customers.”
In April, opponents planned a protest. “Bring rain gear and your rosary,” they posted on Facebook. “Meet at 2 p.m. in front of the bar and [proceed] around the block.”
But the event seemed to backfire, as the four protesters paled in comparison to the multitude of bar supporters who showed up.
“We had our second-best day of being open,” Rivers said. “Total strangers had my back, and I was a little choked up. Watching the other protest was like a postcard for fail.”
While Frost declined to comment, she still posts on the Facebook page, asking Rivers to give the articles back to the church.
“I was an altar boy and my father was in the Knights of Columbus,” Rivers says. “You would think that, sometime soon, a good Catholic would know when to close the page.”