Nelson Carey, Grand Cru owner and friend to many in Charm Cituy
I’ve been having a hard time writing this post. It’s not a eulogy. It’s not an obituary. Fred Rasmussen has written a quite lovely one. Have you read it? Here you go. Nelson Carey, Grand Cru wine bar owner, dies at 50.
This is just a thank you.
Many considered Nelson a friend, mentor and touchstone and for me he was a little bit of all of those things. I’ve worked at Friends School for about 13 years, so over the years, I’ve visited Grand Cru it feels like hundreds of times after school. I always thought that Nelson was super smart having his bar open before 5:00pm… as a person working in education, I can tell you that many friends of mine who are teachers could use a cocktail around 3:30pm.
Often, I would visit Grand Cru with my late great mentor and friend, Gayle Latshaw. I guess you could call us regulars. And when Gayle died last year, Nelson was just so sweet. He’d grown fond of Gayle, as he had with so many of his frequent guests. We’d walk into Grand Cru — a sort of home away from home for many in North Baltimore — and he’d greet us warmly, and as one person commented, somewhat formally. “Well, hello Amy…what’s happening in the world of food in Baltimore? Tell me the news of the day…” Stuff like that. Gayle and I shared so many great times there – along with fabulous wine, beers, pretzels, pizzas (beautifully composed tartes flambées) and more. Those soft pretzels are my very, very favorite snack in all of Baltimore.
Sometimes Nelson and I would do a bit of gossiping, sometimes talk about what was on his menu, what wines he was excited about it, his travels, my food adventures and cooking projects, but whatever it was, there was a pour. And sometimes, a sit down. He moved around the bar and market a lot, though, so I always felt happy when he had the time to sit and catch up. The last time I saw him at Cru, it was a gossip session. We laughed and laughed. He poured. I hated to leave…
I have five older brothers and lost one, John, four years ago rather suddenly at 51. It was so jarring. And sad. Still so sad. So, I know what it’s like to lose someone so dear, so fast. I feel for Nelson’s family and his Grand Cru family, too – such a wonderful group of people. Over the years, I’ve gotten to know Charlie and Chris, Amy and now the youngster Jack is a fave. (Ask him to make you a dirty martini – it’s perfect.) But there are so many, many others who take good care of me when I’m there. It’s one of the best bars in town. Super laid back, not stuffy or pretentious, but with an ever-changing wine, beer and cocktail list and some really great food. Surprisingly great, but smartly simple food from back behind that bar. It is a bar of regulars, but very friendly regulars (you always feel welcome) – and they loved Nelson. And now, the market is really BACK. Nelson and Grand Cru, along with Greg’s Bagels and other solid anchors are a big reason why. After seeing the sad decline of the market in the 1990s, it’s pretty amazing to see it thriving again.
Friends have sent me memories of Nelson. Here are just a few, the first one is from me.
“Amy, there are gay bars, sports bars, biker bars…what I have here is a teacher bar.” – Nelson Carey
“Circa 2006, I was doing the first of several catering gigs out of the Neopol kitchen. Nervous as hell, first food job. Had to wear a bow tie…my Dad wasn’t around, time was ticking down and Google was no help. Nelson to the rescue! Like a true gentleman, he calmly walked me to the bathroom mirror, and stood behind me and taught me, step by step how to tie a perfect classic bow. A teacher bar, indeed. I still remember, till this day.” – Jinji Fraser, Jinji’s Chocolates, Belvedere Square
“As a new mother of twins, a woman on the brink, I spent many a night (that were few and far between) at Grand Cru. As life has mellowed out and changed, many an afternoon before getting the kids, sneaking in a beer or a glass of wine and a goat cheese flatbread before carpool. I was always welcomed. Nelson was always sweet, suggestive of a crisp cocktail or wine to take home. I loved watching him and his skinny jeans breeze though the market. He always looked happy and proud to be a part of the community he helped to create. Not many people can say that. His presence will be so missed.” – Sarah Sherman, Homeland
“This is a heartbreaking loss for the Baltimore wine community. The selection at Grand Cru reflected Nelson’s brilliant palate and willingness to step outside the box of easy, boring wines.” – Tim Riley, Beverage Director, Bagby Restaurant Group
Nelson is survived by his wife Christy and daughter, Paige.
As the Quakers say, please hold them in the light. And, as I always say, hug your people.
I will surely miss you, my friend. Thank you.