“Red Emma’s” is not your average bookstore/coffeehouse
The opening of new location in Station North raises the question: Who IS “Red Emma”?
“Red Emma” was a nick name applied by the New York city newspapers to a woman, Emma Goldman, who was born in 1869 in Lithuania and immigrated with a sister to the USA when she was 16 seeking greater freedom than she could find in tsarist Russia. Emma wrote: “I want freedom, the right to self-expression, everybody’s right to beautiful, radiant things.” Living outside of Chicago, she found that life in the USA for a young immigrant wasn’t the nirvana she had hoped for and this led her down the path of being a radical and anarchist. In 1892, she helped her lover and fellow Russian immigrant, Alexander Berkman, to get a gun which he used to attempt to (unsuccessfully) assassinate Henry Clay Frick in retribution for Frick’s violent squashing of Carnegie steel plant workers protests to get higher wages. Her involvement in the assassination attempt plus her advocacy for the anarchist movement, women’s rights, free love, free speech and homosexuality and against the draft, capitalism and organized religion resulted in Emma Goldman and Berkman led to their imprisonment and later both were deported from the US to Russia in 1919; there she became disillusioned with Lenin’s post revolution Russia and left wondering from country to country finally passing away in Canada in 1940 at the age of 70 as result of a stroke.
Wikipedia’s bio of Emma Goldman notes: “During her life, Goldman was lionized as a free-thinking “rebel woman” by admirers, and denounced by critics as an advocate of politically motivated murder and violent revolution. Her writing and lectures spanned a wide variety of issues, including prisons, atheism, freedom of speech, militarism, capitalism, marriage, free love and homosexuality”
The significance of naming the bookstore/coffee house after “Red Emma” is evident in the webpages which explains that Emma Goldman’s “fights against war and repression, for the rights of labor and for the rights of women to control their own lives and bodies—for which she was jailed, vilified, and ultimately deported—continue to inspire us even today and pays tribute to her spirit of informed, creative, and multifaceted revolt.“
Red Emma’s webpages asserts: “We’re a radical bookstore, vegetarian restaurant, coffee roaster, and a space for public events. We are a worker cooperative and family of projects dedicated to autonomy, sustainability, participatory democracy, and solidarity”.
The “Red Emma’s” bookstore/coffeehouse makes a point of proclaiming four commitments that they try to live up to on a daily basis:
- Sustainability: as far as is possible, we try to minimize waste, and maximize recycling and reuse.
- Animal friendly: we are a 100% vegetarian cafe, and focus extensively on our vegan menu.
- Safe space: there’s no room for racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or ableist behavior in our space.
- Support for the independent publishing ecosystem: as much as possible, we support noncorporate presses and distributors that share our values.
The ongoing spirit of Emma Goldman can be seen in posters on the walls of Red Emma’s which proport “Free the Antartic 30!“ (a reference to a group of “Green Peace” protestors seized by the Russia for objecting to Russian oil drilling in the Antartic)
The new “Red Emma’s” sits on a corner of North and Maryland Avenues and along with other places like “Liam Flynn’s Ale House” is part of the Station North neighborhood efforts to bring the old “North Avenue Market” back to life (which has been largely a dead space since the riots in Baltimore which followed the assassination of Martin Luther King back in 1968).
There are at least a couple dozen tables stretched out along large, wall sized glass windows that offers views of passer-bys. At the rear, there are books and magazines – many of which you might not find prominently displayed at other local book stores. And there’s a counter where you can order coffee, new age soft drinks, food and desserts. Red Emma’s is a vegetarian restaurant (you won’t find anything to eat that isn’t vegetarian and you’ll find a good number of vegan options). Surprisingly in light of the all the radical talk, we found mostly a group of 20-30 year old customers who reminded us more of the folks that you used to find in Louie’s Bookstore or hunched over notebook computers in the now gone City Cafe coffee shop.
The menu is quite limited including 5 veggie/vegan sandwiches ($4-$7), nachos ($7 -Tortilla chips with your choice of dairy or vegan cheese, salsa,and a scoop of black bean salad), Hummus plate ($5) , black bean salad ($3), Soups ($3 /bowl including Miso and “Soup of the day”), and a variety of “loaded” bagels (Mostly $5). There’s no alcohol but there’s some touted free trade coffee, teas, “Maine Root Sodas” and Oogave soda (both $1.75 and in various naturally sweetened flavors).
Marty and John both opted to get a bowl of the Gazpacho soup ($3 and the soup of the day) plus Banh Mi Chay sandwich (1/2 – $4, full size – $7) while Tom ordered a “Powerhouse” Veggie sandwich ($5). Both Marty and Tom got an Oogave Mandarin Key Lime soda to drink while John tried the Strawberry Rhubarb flavor of Oogave.
Given the radical, collective, worker-owner nature of “Red Emma’s”, you get your food when a person from the kitchen staff brings it to a designated table near where you ordered and yells out your name. If you’re quick and/or sitting near that designated table, the kitchen crew will hand off your food to you otherwise they just set it on the table and you come over and bring it back to your table.
John and Marty found that their gazpacho came in shallow bowls that made walking from the designated pickup table back to our table of choice difficult to do without spillage (Red Emma’s could use some deeper soup bowls!). Marty thought that the gazpacho was lacking flavor and too mild. John noted that this gazpacho had a very thin watery broth with diced veggies in it – pretty different from most other versions of gazpacho that he’s had; the flavor grew on him though and he ended up liking it. (By contrasts, Marty remained disappointed and probably wouldn’t order it again)
The Banh Mi Chay sandwiches are Red Emma’s version of a classic Vietnamese sandwich. Lemongrass tofu, red cabbage, carrots, cilantro, soy mayo & hot sauce on a baguette. John got the full size ($7) sandwich. Both Marty and John were very happy with their sandwiches. The baguette were fresh and chewy bread and the vegan sandwich filling was wonderfully tasty and satisfying and got a “Thumbs Up!” from both of us.
By contrast, Tom was pretty disappointed with an anemic looking, so-called “Powerhouse” sandwich! (He also looked pretty envious of the chunky baguette that the other sandwiches came with). Fortunately, Tom as well as John and Marty found our naturally sweetened (and with no food coloring!) Oogave soda and served in a large old-fashioned mason jars to be darn good and refreshing. Oogave sodas get our “Thumbs Up!”
Tom’s disappointment with his “Powerhouse” sandwich was wiped away with a piece of “Triple Lemon” vegan cake that the three of us shared. This cake was plenty lemony and awesomely “Mmmm! Mmmm! Good!” and earned a “Thumbs Up!” from all three of us.
A sign tacked to the wall between Red Emma’s men and women’s rest rooms gave us another perspective on their radicalism:
As we left, we noticed that Red Emma’s was distributing Baltimore Gay Life among other revolutionary materials! <Wink>
Red Emma’s is a cool place. The staff is friendly and helpful. The book/magazines are interesting to browse through. The space is airy and pleasant with huge windows framing the view of North Ave.. There’s free WiFi for you to use your tablet or smart phone with. We gave unqualified “Thumbs Up!” to our “Banh Mi Chay” vegan sandwich and triple lemon cake. And a short two blocks from “The Charles” theater, it’s a great new option for a before or after a movie place to eat!
FACTS: Red Emma’s Bookstore & Coffeehouse – Station North; 30 W. North Ave; https://redemmas.org/ ; Open for eating or coffee or book browsing Tuesday – Saturday (closed Monday); open til 11 on Fri/Sat otherwise just to 10 pm.; vegan/vegetarian exclusive menu; no alcohol but free trade coffee and naturally sweetened soft drinks.