Inside Melanie’s at Griffith’s Tavern, “Dancing in the Moonlight” by King Harvest plays softly as the bar’s new owners Allison Crowley and Hannah Spangler prepare for opening.
Last month, Spangler and Crowley took over Griffith’s Tavern in Hampden from its previous owner, Rick Koehler, who had run it for 45 years. After obtaining their liquor license last week, the new owners officially opened the bar on Saturday. The tavern is located at 3631 Hickory Ave.
Spangler co-owned the Cans Filling Station beer bar at Cross Street Market, where Crowley also worked, until that bar closed at the end of January.
When the opportunity arose for the two business partners to purchase the tavern – and its adjoining house – Crowley said it felt like coming home.
“This kind of place – a belly up, narrow, wood-paneled bar – is just very familiar to me,” she said.
They wanted to keep Griffith’s name and the history that comes with it, but also add their personal touch. Thus, Melanie’s at Griffith’s Tavern was born.
The name is a nod to actress Melanie Griffith, who starred in Baltimore filmmaker John Waters’ movie “Cecil B. Demented” – a local connection that Crowley learned while they were toying with different names.
Crowley and Spangler, who are both queer, want the tavern to be a space where LGBTQ+ customers feel safe and comfortable, while continuing to serve longtime regulars who have relied on the tavern for drinks and good conversation for decades.
“It’s not not a gay bar,” Spangler said, who added that anyone is welcome as long as they are respectful.
“It should be a safe place for everyone … If you can come here and have a drink and not say anything hateful, you can come here,” Crowley said.
Beyond putting a new coat of paint on the bar counter, replacing the floors, and swapping out a digital slots machine for a Ms. Pac-Man arcade game, the new owners said they don’t plan on changing a whole lot.
“We want to keep this very much a neighborhood dive bar, regardless of whatever the crowd is,” Spangler said.
They’re also keeping their drinks “very reasonably priced,” Spangler said.
“You can have a couple of drinks, bring your friends, buy the tab and not break the bank,” she said.
They hope to have specials for different times of the year, such as Pride Month in June or a tribute to David Bowie in January, as well as opportunities to give back to the community, like book donation drives and pet adoption events with local animal shelters.
Marcie Prince, who has lived in Hampden for 20 years and has been coming to the tavern for 15 years, says she remembers neighbors gathering at Griffith’s to watch football games and share potluck meals.
“I just love a good dive bar,” she said. “This is my favorite in the neighborhood.”
Prince said she was “jazzed” when she learned that Spangler and Crowley were buying the bar. She has continued to be a regular customer since the tavern opened on Saturday.
“I knew they were going to keep the integrity of the place and just elevate it a little bit,” she said. “But it’s still a place where everybody can feel comfortable.”