By Caryn Coyle

For eight years, Emma Goldman’s philosophy has inspired the co-owners of the coffeehouse and bookstore, Red Emma’s, on St. Paul Street.  An early 20th century feminist, Goldman believed that, “the free expression of the hopes and aspirations of a people is the greatest and only safety in a sane society.”

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“Emma believed in enlightening people so that they could empower themselves,” added Corey Reidy, one of Red Emma’s 14 co-owners.

The food at Red Emma’s is organic, vegetarian and vegan.  It ranges from bagels and spreads to sandwiches, soups, salads and fresh baked desserts.   Red Emma’s serves unusual sandwiches such as the  bánh mí chay, a Vietnamese sandwich with lemongrass tofu, red cabbage, carrots, cilantro, soy mayo and hot sauce for $7 (a half serving is $4).  The malapesto is fresh mozzarella, tomato and pesto on a bagel of choice for $5.  Vegan monster cupcakes ($5), muffins ($3) and fruit tarts($5) are also served.

I had the tofurky melt panini for $5.50.  The crust was warm and flaky, mixing well with the slightly tart taste of the maple dijon that was spread over the onions, tomato and spinach.  Cheddar cheese had melted on both of the inside slices of the bread with a hearty, folded slice of tofurky which I mistook – at first – for turkey!

Photo Credit: Caryn Coyle

While I enjoyed my panini, I watched an artist, who sat on the other side of my table, painting a shark in a large, plain sheeted art book.  Next to him sat a dark haired young woman with a black mug of coffee who was reading a hard backed book.  Red Emma’s customers come from the Mt. Vernon neighborhood, where it is located, and as far away as the West Coast.  The artist told me he was from Detroit and the young woman mentioned that she was also from out-of-town.

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The coffee I drank was Red Emma’s standard drip, Mocha Java, $1.50.  It was hot, well roasted and very good.  Red Emma’s also sells espresso, macchiato, cappucino, café latte, brevé, hot chocolate, teas, and a large selection of juices and sodas.  Everything is organic, fairly traded and bird friendly!

Photo Credit: Caryn Coyle

Spenser Compton, another co-owner of Red Emma’s, explained that they are the only coffeehouse and bookstore of its kind and they serve hundreds of people each week.  Free Internet access is offered and Red Emma’s also has three computers that are located on a high shelf, just inside the door.  Customers can log on and each of the Red Emma computers were being used for most of the time I was there.   The coffeehouse and bookstore is not large.  Thirteen people crowded the premises, many working on their own laptops.

Joy Division was playing on the sound system.  I was surrounded by customers who ranged in age from what appeared to be college students to elderly and a couple of us in-between.  Just beyond the tables and the lunch counter were books which “carry information that seeks a progressive agenda,” said Reidy.

Compton, who has been a co-owner of Red Emma’s for two years, explained, “We all hold multiple other jobs.”  As a collective, the co-ownership of the coffeehouse and bookstore is done out of passion.  With the best philosophy book section in Baltimore, Red Emma’s hosts book parties, readings, concerts, and meetings of interest to those who are empowered by the philosophy of Emma Goldman.

Red Emma’s
800 St. Paul Street
Baltimore, Md.  21202
(410) 230-0450
Hours: Monday to Saturday, 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.; Sunday, 10 a.m. – 6 p.m.

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Caryn Coyle lives in Baltimore.  Her fiction and non-fiction have been published in more than a dozen literary journals and the anthology City Sages: Baltimore (2010) from City Lit Press.