In my mind’s eye, I still have a running loop of sepia images of what was once known as Rodger’s Taproom, precursor to Jilly’s Bar & Grill in “downtown Pikesville.” Memories are few, flimsy and fuzzy, but as I recall it was more or less a bikers’ bar, someplace I didn’t feel like was my particular milieu during the one or two times I visited the joint during my college years.
But I certainly spent a lot of time at Jilly’s, which tragically suffered a devastating fire on Oct. 28 that throws the whole future of the beloved restaurant and sports bar up in the air, especially during these challenging pandemic times.
Back when I was single and in my 20s, Jilly’s was the Pikesville version of “Cheers,” except not everyone necessarily knew your name (and there were no loquacious mailmen at the bar, as I recall). It was the favorite Friday night haunt of myself and my old friend Stu, with whom I recently (and happily) reestablished contact.
Almost like a spiritual pilgrimage, we’d drop by Jilly’s every weekend of our lives, just to hang for a while and grab a beer, share a plateful of gravy-smothered French fries, and joke around with the waitresses and anyone else there who could stand our peculiar brand of narrishkeit.
One of our favorite “victims” was a hard-working, amiable woman named Carrie, who waitressed at Jilly’s on weekends and spent most of her days working at a local bank. Kind soul that she was, Carrie used to put up with all of our silly and juvenile shenanigans (yes, she worked for tips) like occasionally proposing matrimony to her (she was already married), asking her to set us up with other waitresses (um, that never happened) or telling her that we fought in Vietnam (no, she never actually bought it).
Jilly’s was always a cozy, friendly place with lots of wonderful local characters and great food. Occasionally, you’d hear people yell expletives at the TV while watching a game, and there might be the occasional scuffle between inebriated patrons. Customers — regulars, first-timers and otherwise — were predisposed to schmoozing with you due to the intimate layout and feel of the place. No one put on airs at Jilly’s.
Flirting, of course, was always an optional endeavor at Jilly’s, and occasionally you’d see couples making out at the bar. Nobody really cared. It was that kind of anything-goes place. I even ran into a rabbi or two on a date there.
For me and Stu (and our buddies Heath and “Garden State Mike,” who occasionally joined us there), Jilly’s was “our home away from home,” just someplace to see a familiar face, tell tall tales and kick back with a beer (or a French fry) at the end of a long work week. You could say or do something inane there — dare I say even dorky? — and it was usually greeted with a smirk and a roll of the eyes, by waitresses and fellow customers alike. Still, the laughs were genuine and abundant.
As The Eagles sang on their tune “The Sad Café,” “Oh, it seemed like a holy place/protected by amazing grace/and we would sing right out loud/the things we could not say.”
Or something like that.
I’m rather ashamed to admit that I haven’t returned to Jilly’s too frequently since those halcyon days of the ‘90s. Both Stu and I got married and established careers and had kids, and barhopping just faded in the rearview mirror like so many other remnants of the single and unfettered life.
Every time I’d go into Jilly’s with my wife for dinner or drinks in recent years, I’d regale (translation: bore) her with long-winded, timeworn anecdotes of my days and nights spent there clowning around with Stu, only to get yet another smirk and roll of the eyes. I couldn’t help it. The memories would simply overload my consciousness anytime I walked into the place.
Of course, when I recently reunited with Stu, we spoke ad nauseum about our glory days at Jilly’s and some of the rather shameful and infantile behavior we exhibited there. We laughed uproariously in a way that only old friends can, and vowed to return someday to do it all over again.
Here’s hoping to someday. Good luck, Jilly’s, and as the late, great Bob Hope used to sing, thanks for the memories. We’re all pulling for you.