November, 1775: The very first U.S. Marines arrived at the Tun Tavern in Philadelphia, Penn., lured in by food, beer and a young country in need.
“One of the greatest privileges I’ve had in the last two years was having people call this place the Tun Tavern of our time,” said an emotional Alex van Breukelen, a 13-year veteran of the Marine Corps himself with plans to re-enlist. His bar, the Americana in Canton at Hudson St. and S. Kenwood Ave., will close by the end of July.
Over the two years it has been open, the Americana has become a beacon to the veteran and active-duty military community in Baltimore.
A major force in establishing the C.A.R.E. neighborhood east of Johns Hopkins and north of Butchers Hill, van Breukelen has always been community-focused, whether among his neighbors or his fellow warriors.
He described hiring one of his early bartenders.
“He came in, very rough around the edges, and asked for work,” van Breukelen said.
Van Breukelen’s initial reply was no, but he asked the man how he had heard about the Americana.
The job-seeker said that other Marines had told him about the place.
“I said, ‘Oh, you’re a Marine? All right, you’re hired,’” said van Breukelen, adding that the soldier-turned-bartender is now opening his own business in the real estate field.
“It’s because of the people he met in here,” said van Breukelen.
It’s one of many of van Breukelen’s anecdotes about veterans taking the first difficult steps back into civilian life after deployment.
The Americana has been involved with the Wounded Warrior Project, the Catch a Lift Foundation and many other veterans’ causes and organizations.
“There are a lot of Baltimore-based nonprofits we’ve worked hand-and-fist with,” said van Breukelen.
Furthermore, the bar has hosted the tough conversations necessary for those returning from combat.
“Somebody told me that a bar is no place for politics, religion or money,” said van Breukelen. “Not here. If you don’t have those conversations you won’t understand how the world works.”
Perhaps most importantly, the Americana—and van Breukelen himself—have been a major part to a establishing a citywide veterans’ network that points returning veterans toward support structure resources available in the city. Van Breukelen says despite the bar’s closure, the support network, and his own role within it, will only grow.
“That’s not going away,” he said. “That’s only in its infancy.”
In fact, the Americana is closing partially because van Breukelen is re-enlisting, and he says that as a reserve member of the Marines, he will have more time to devote to veterans’ causes.
About running a bar, van Breukelen said that he “won’t miss a thing.”
“I’m exhausted right now, absolutely exhausted,” he said last Friday, having worked 16 hour days for the previous four days.
He hopes that getting out of the bar business will allow him more time with his wife and three-year-old son.
Van Breukelen won’t miss running a bar, but he will sorely miss the running the Americana, he said.
“What I’m going to miss is being able to serve the warrior coming home as a double-amputee, who came from Walter Reed because he heard about us. I’ll miss that,” he said.
The Americana will go out with a bang. Full Tilt Brewing will hold a party for staff and patrons on July 13 at 8 p.m. There will also be a party for the Giants fans who also call the bar home. On July 11, if all goes as planned, the Americana will hold a Marine Corps re-establishment party, in honor of the Corps July 11, 1798 re-establishment, after being disbanded in 1791. Van Breukelen said that on that night, he may officially become a U.S. Marine again, if his paperwork is in order. More information is available at the bar’s Facebook page: facebook.com/AmericanaBmore.
by Erik Zygmont