This past Monday, Annabel Lee Tavern in Canton celebrated its second anniversary. It seems like just yesterday I walked into the week-old bar on a brisk December night. And owner Kurt X. Bragunier couldn't agree more, saying that the past two years have absolutely flown by. The 44-year-old owner was the general manager at Brewer's Art for seven years before fulfilling his life-long dream of owning his own bar.
Always a fan of Edgar Allan Poe, Bragunier dedicated his bar to the prolific gothic writer. Poe's dark romanticism is echoed throughout the space, from the lines of poetry scrawled on the walls to the Poe-themed cocktail menu. The bar/restaurant is known not only for its incredible food, but also its inventive drinks and local beer selection. I got a chance to chat with Bragunier in order to commemorate the bar's second anniversary.
How did you get the inspiration for Annabel Lee?
It was my life’s dream to own my own bar and I am a big Edgar Allan Poe fan. "Annabel Lee" is my favorite poem. I feel like Baltimore has got "The Raven" down, but his other work is so amazing and "Annabel Lee" is particularly beautiful. To me, it's both romantic and really dark, so it speaks to me and captures Poe. He wrote that right before he died, so it's sort of the poem he went out on. Also, the popular consensus is that "Annabel Lee" is about Virginia Clemm, from Baltimore. She was the love of his life.
What have the first two years been like?
Very, very fast. It feels like just one year. I couldn’t have imagined this place turning out any better. We’re geared towards comfort, so I want it to feel like your grandmother’s living room. But, at the same time, it has a little bit of a creepy vibe in here. People have told me that it almost has a Shining-feel in here. It’s both comforting and creepy. Food critic Richard Gorelick said it feels like a really nice coffin. And I took that as a compliment.
Has it been challenging maintaining Annabel Lee in the recession?
Two things have happened since I opened. The recession really hit, which was bad. But also the City proclaimed it the year of Poe, which was amazing. This renaissance of Poe hit, and we really benefitted from that. I think what’s also helped us is our prices. You can get a chicken salad sandwich and a Natty Boh for $10. I have customers that eat here three times a week. I’m not chichi, I'm not pretentious, and our prices reflect that.
How do out-of-towners perceive Baltimore because of your establishment?
Because of all the Poe events, we've gotten people from all over the country. Also, we were on Ace of Cakes for our one-year anniversary, so that's gotten people from all over, too. People have said that this is the best part of their trip. They just fall in love with the place. We’re really warm and friendly and people respond to that. We don’t try to be anything but what we are. We're not trying to be D.C., we're not cosmopolitan. We’re a Baltimore place and proud of it.
What is it about Poe that fascinates you?
Well I’m a tortured artist, so I can relate to torturned artists. I'm also a romantic and all the artwork in the place is mine. He wrote really beautiful love poems, but he also wrote dark, twisted stories. And I can relate to both sides of that.
What can we expect next at Annabel Lee?
In the next week or so, I'm changing over to a winter food and cocktail menu. One drink we'll feature is called The Gold Bug, named after a Poe short-story. I mix brown sugar, butter, and cinnamon with hot cider, Captain Morgan's, and Myer's rum. It's delicious. But, really, after two years I feel like I'm still getting started.
[Photo: courtesy of La Kaye Mbah via urbanitebaltimore.com]