If you were driving or walking by 543 N. Market St. in Frederick a little before one in the afternoon on Monday, you probably saw something red attached to the handle of its door. The nondescript building was never one for flashy, bright colors — especially on the exterior — so the mere sight of it may have been enough to grab your attention.
It was a rose, of course — a symbol tied to love, a symbol tied to loss, a symbol meant to define something that won’t easily be forgotten. There it sat, ever poetic, marking the end of an era, the end of something that meant so much to so many.
It marked the end of Guido’s Speakeasy as we know it.
“It kind of broke my heart,” Ben Jardeleza, guitarist for local band Crooked Hills, told me Monday. “I’ve been going there, worked there and playing shows there for 17 years. I never thought I’d ever have to say goodbye.”
Yet now, along with the rest of us, he has to do just that. The news came down suddenly over the weekend in typical Guido’s fashion: No fancy announcement, no elongated goodbye, no official sendoff. Bartenders were notified abruptly that things were coming to an end and it didn’t take long for the word to spread.
Videos, photos and farewells were all posted to a slew of social media platforms Saturday night. The tributes only increased Sunday, and by Monday, all that was left was a rose on a door and three garbage bins on the corner of the street.
It’s been increasingly hard to keep the doors open — there were a few times where it was forced to close for extended periods of time. Things were falling apart. Repair costs began to mount.
In truth, the reasons don’t matter at this point because they’re all moot. Instead, what may go largely unnoticed is how imperative the place was to the cultural fabric of Frederick.
As we all know, you aren’t a true city unless you have a true dive bar right in the heart of it, and if you have one that hosts music, you’ve hit the jackpot. Guido’s offered that and more. Great chicken wings. Even better bleu cheese. Cheap beer. Questionable bathrooms. And a gang of relatable bartenders led by the sweetest, kindest, most pleasant drink-maker in town, Erinn Percival.
None of that, however, was upstaged by the back room, where Guido’s arguably left its most lasting mark. It embodied what it was to be DIY in Frederick. Over the years, so many artists brought so many things — strings of lights, random microphones, the remains of a drum kit — that were magically left there for other bands to use. It was dirty. It had a ceiling-to-floor pillar right in the middle of the action. And if you had a problem with loud music, not a soul would apologize while the volume on the PA system turned up just a little only to spite whomever complained.
It was also my favorite place to play in Frederick. That’s not a knock on anywhere else in town; it’s just that other venues can bring so much pretension to the proceedings. Part of that deals with the strings the city attaches to places that want to host live music, but another part of that is attitude, ego and all the other nasty things that go along with any music scene this side of Antarctica.
Guido’s, though? Guido’s didn’t care. Everyone felt welcome, no matter the age, no matter the race, no matter the gender, no matter your background, no matter your predilections, no matter your musical experience. You went in. You grabbed a beer. You walked to the back. You rocked out so hard, your ears bled. You gave Erinn a hug. And you went home with a smile on your face, feeling like you spent time with the best friends a stranger could ever have.
Music in Frederick owes a lot to Guido’s — so much so that I think it’s going to take time before anyone can realize how truly imperative it’s been to the scene here. For many bands, that wasn’t just the place that housed your first show; it was also the place that housed your only show. And yet it meant so much. So much to the people performing. So much to the people listening. If there was only one room in Frederick that would give you a shot, that room was at 543 N. Market St., across from Cafe 611, next to a firehouse.
“I’m glad I’m not the only nerd who wanted to come see this one last time,” a tattooed man with a beard said to me as I stood there, looking at the rose. He got away before I could ask him his name, which made all the sense in the world because that’s just how Guido’s was: A bunch of us nerds who didn’t know each other, coming together for sing-alongs, chicken wings and memories.
And now, all that’s left is a rose.