At the Ravens Roost tailgate lot at Ostend and Wicomico streets, in the shadow of M&T Bank Stadium, lies the epicenter of Baltimore’s kosher tailgating territory.
If spying the fully Ravens-painted and completely koshered 1974 Dodge Sportsman RV isn’t enough to help a newcomer find the right spot Sunday as the team opens its season against the Bengals, “we have an American, Israeli and Ravens flag, in that order” that fly high from a pole too long to completely pack into the RV, said Yudy Brody, 35, a tailgate ringleader and owner of Queen “B” Pest Services.
Brody and longtime friends Gershon Topas and Max Gunzberg searched online for a tailgating vehicle when things got serious and they no longer wanted “to use our personal cars and trash them all the time,” said Topas, 31, who describes himself and his friends as huge, avid, crazy Ravens fans.
The friends have tailgated together for years, and the party actually spans across three parking spots to make room for all their activities.
“We were the first ones to get a spot there, in 2006,” recalled Mark Simone, who, along with friends Michael Lentz, Blake Green, Ian Sandler and Joe Rakiec, originally purchased an annual permit of $360 then added another so the group could spread out more comfortably, making room for the extras.
“They set up camping tents, chairs, a TV, grills, beer pong tables, and there are two generators between the three [spots] and also speaker mounts and music,” said longtime attendee and fan Ben Howarth, 28, of Pikesville who, like others, will kick in a “flat rate for the space, food and beer.”
Ravens Roost lots are run by the Council of Baltimore Ravens Roosts (formerly known as the Council of Colts Corrals), and is “Baltimore’s oldest and best-known football fan club supporting professional football in Baltimore since 1957,” according to the organization’s website. Proceeds collected from Ravens Roost tailgate lots are donated to local charities, and space is precious.
“The goal is to leave the house five hours before kickoff, to be set up by 8:30 a.m.,” said Simone, who explained that getting the same spot each week necessitates arriving early. He and his group divide duties for efficiency.
“As the entertainment manager,” he said, “I’m in charge of making the music playlist and making sure we have a megaphone.”
Simone added that Green is the food manager and coordinates with others about what to bring. There are kosher and nonkosher grills (the use of which is strictly adhered to and respected). In short, he makes sure it’s coordinated and that all the food shows up.
Often it’s the typical hot dogs and hamburgers, but sometimes they eat a heavy breakfast with all the fixings and maybe deep-fried wings — it can run the gamut, he said. For drinks they stick to basic beer and ask people to pitch in for food and drink, though it’s not required.
“Equipment manager [Lentz] packs everything into his car: tents, tables, the most important thing — the beer pong table, chairs, stereo. His is the most important job,” Simone said. “If Mike didn’t go, the whole tailgate would be missed.”
For the other group — Brody, Topas and Gunzberg — prep is taken just as seriously and early, but roles are a bit less defined.
“I take care of the food, Max takes care of the beer, Yudy makes sure the [RV] is gassed up. But we all pitch in wherever is needed,” said Topas, 31, who is a personal chef by trade, including for some of the Ravens players, in addition to his full-time position at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School, where he is in charge of all internal catering and meals and cooking classes with 11th-grade students.
Topas likes to keep the menu simple most of the time, but on Thanksgiving he deep fries a kosher Turkey, and some other weeks he might do deep-fried wings. He’ll cater to vegetarians as well, and Topas and fellow Ravens fan Lee Graham also share their homemade special hot sauces that include serious heat like scorpion Trinidad peppers and ghost peppers.
“I’m Modern Orthodox, and there is Conservative, traditional, Reform,” said Topas. “We mingle together in the middle. It’s fantastic, it’s an open community.”
Regular tailgate attendee Chaim Finkelstein, 24, of Pikesville, said his friend “Yudy is more about the tailgating, and I’m more about the game.”
“I am the more serious fan,” he said emphatically. “I’m a diehard Ravens fan, I bleed purple.”
Finkelstein, who knows several players from his job as a financial representative and his father’s Camp Shoresh, where some of the players visit and participate in activities with the campers, attends most of the games with his parents and friends. But many of the tailgaters don’t attend games and instead walk into the Federal Hill neighborhood to watch at a bar, or even go home after the tailgate. It’s all about the party.
“The beauty of our tailgate is that there are people from all walks of life: non-Jews, Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, and nobody knows the difference,” said Brody. “The only denomination is, what jersey are you wearing? And if you’re not wearing the right jersey, someone gets on the bullhorn and talks trash to them.”