Arts & Culture

You Are Here

Scenes from the Bel-Loc Diner and UnPub 7 at the Baltimore Convention Center.

Last Meal

East Joppa Road
March 26, 2017

Bel-Loc Diner owner Bill Doxanas will be serving his last omelet and coffee later today. But he isn’t really sad to close the iconic Parkville diner’s doors.

“I’m 66—I started working here in 1964 for my dad,” he says, as he manages the long line that began forming before the sun rose. “I can’t keep up the pace any longer. It’s time to go.”

Over the decades, regulars at the Bel-Loc included Colts and Orioles legends like Johnny Unitas and Luis Aparicio. Former Colt star Tom Matte stopped by Friday to say goodbye. Other next-generation Colts, like Marty Domres and Bruce Laird, remain longtime friends of the Bel-Loc—one of the last of diners of a bygone Baltimore era. The name of the diner, as Baltimoreans no doubt can guess, is a reference to its location near the intersection of the Baltimore beltway (“Bel”)—which was completed a few years before the diner opened—and Loch Raven Boulevard (“Loc”).

“Anyone here that isn’t part of a party of six or seven?” a hostess asks with a smile as she ducks her head into the jam-packed waiting area.

Now, the diner is set to become a Starbucks. Doxanas says he contacted the company—which he believes is a good organization—after concluding he wanted a buyer. He says that the company has plans to build a handsome new coffeehouse on the spot. Once word got out that the Bel-Loc was closing, its iconic coffee mugs, featuring the image of a retro-uniformed waitress kicking up a heel as she handles a serving tray, have been at a premium. Normally available for purchase, the diner only has enough left for serving coffee this morning.

“I wanted to buy a mug,” a visitor, getting up from his counter stool, tells Doxanas.

“Just steal one,” Doxanas says.

For decades, the Bel-Loc was open 24/7, and Doxanas says he’s going to spend more time playing golf in retirement.

“It’s been a great run,” he says. “I went to college thinking I’d never return. But rather than spend a few weeks tending bar in Ocean City before a college lacrosse all-star game after my senior year, I decided to work my last couple of weeks here. And then I never left.”

Doxanas adds that it was the best decision he ever made because of the Bel-Loc’s customers, who he says are the best around. (He would know, too: His family’s diner legacy proceeds the Bel-Loc. His father, Tom Doxanas, also co-founded the Double-T Diner—the “T” in Tom serving as one-half of the “Double-T”—with fellow Greek-American partner Tony Papadis.)

Many of the Bel-Loc customers, not to mention longtime employees, still seem a bit disoriented, wondering where they’ll meet for coffee, eggs, pancakes, pie, and conversation after this weekend.

“We’re like a lot of the waitresses,” one man says, sharing a booth and final breakfast with his wife and sister-and-in-law, both of whom grew up down the street from the Bel-Loc. “We don’t know where we are going to go now.”

Not Board

West Pratt Street
March 19, 2017

On a warm, sunny Sunday, one day before the official start of spring, one of the large upstairs conference areas at the Baltimore Convention Center is filled with hundreds of people playing board games. On cafeteria-style tables filled with Cheåetos, Bergers cookies, and energy drinks, the mostly 30- and 40-somethings hover over throwback board games—some familiar like Risk, Pictionary, and Dungeons & Dragons, but even more that are unique.

One board game is a competition to see who can build the best carnival. Another aims at creating the best bird sanctuary. There’s a story improv game here, too, and one called Hoodoo Sea Salvage—the occult nickname for the Bermuda Triangle—which pits players against one another as they try to pull treasures from the bottom of the sea while avoiding “the freaky and unexplainable terrors that haunt these waters.”

Welcome to Unpub 7—the seventh annual unpublished games festival. The game-playing today isn’t just about fun, however. It’s an old-school twist on the hackathon concept where would-be designers get help perfecting their unpublished games by allowing willing participants to play. Nearly 150 board game designers are on hand, as well as several big-time manufacturers, such as Hasbro. This is the third straight year that the event has been held in Baltimore, and it is expected to draw roughly 2,000 gamers.

“It started in 2010 in a church meeting hall with 12 designers and 30 people in Dover, Delaware,” explains Unpub founder John Moller, between bites of a hamburger and french fries. “The next year, we moved to an FOP Lodge and had maybe 20 designers and 50 attendees. And the community of designers, players, and companies that publish games just grew. People have come from Ireland, Canada, and Australia.”

There’s one governing rule: “No video games allowed.”

It’s not that video games aren’t fun, Moller explains, “They just tend to be isolating.”

“People talk to each other when they play board games,” Moller says. “That’s why people like them. Digital revolution or not, board games never went away. The industry is doing better than ever. Some popular digital games—like the phone app games—later become board games.” 

Several published board games, such as The Game of 49—a kind of auction-bingo combo that’s available at Target—helped get launched through Unpub festivals.

One game getting a test run isn’t a board game, but a lawn game with a Lord of the Rings/Game of Thrones-theme. First, sticks are placed in a circle to create “a realm.” Then players, adopting certain characteristics of the various “clans” they choose, roll bocce-like balls to knock down the castles of opposing clans. 

“My students love it,” says inventor/gym teacher Denny Weston, making his pitch to potential customers and investors. “But it’s for all ages. Kids can play at the park. It’s great for family picnics. It’s something college guys can do outside over beers. I can play with my buddies at a barbecue.

“My grandmother, who is 85, has played. She grew up bowling.” Weston continues. “She loved it.”