The world of dive bar nicknames is a rich one, requiring something truly special to stand out. Baltimore’s Mt. Royal Tavern is known by and has well-earned the nickname Dirt Church, maybe one of the best dive bar nicknames this reviewer has ever encountered. The source of the colorful moniker is the Sistine Chapel-replica wallpaper that covers the ceiling, adding a you-have-to-go-there feature to a dive bar that didn’t need any bells and whistles to be compelling. In true Baltimore style, this is a classic no-frills, cash-only dive bar that has existed since Prohibition in much the same state.
Located in the Bolton Hill area of the city, the Mt. Royal Tavern sign is as distinct as its nickname, red neon twisted into the name of the bar mounted atop vintage metal backing. The phrase “Package Goods” runs along the bottom of the sign, adding a little old-school flair to the piece. Ownership has shifted a few times over the years and the global COVID-19 pandemic threatened its existence more than once, but the Baltimore dive bar has endured.
Frequented by locals and Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) students for decades, the vibe is always friendly and usually buzzing. The bar opens at 10 AM and has been known to match a morning beer with an interactive viewing session of Price is Right. The Sistine-style art extends to the cabinets behind the bar and the blue countertop to the bar itself is distinct, adding to the visual appeal of the space. Exposed brick covers one long wall within Mt. Royal Tavern, a rotating set of fresh MICA-sourced art atop the bricks. And as a final example of the community found here, the bar at one time held a “cuss bucket” at a fee of 25 cents per swear (a dollar for swears by staff), with the proceeds donated to charity.