B&O Espresso has been on the corner of Belmont Avenue and Olive Way for 30-plus years, but the tiny bar installed inside is only five years old. A little-known fact: Officially, it's called the Belmont Lounge at B&O Espresso. Another: The "B" and the "O" stand for the intersection, not the railroad.
A couple of the seats at the marble-topped bar offer an unobstructed view of everyone looking at cake. You can't see the dessert case itself (which also holds pies, éclairs, pots de crème, etc.), just people beholding it as they walk in the door. From their expressions, they might be viewing priceless treasure. Couples gape, arm in arm; groups of women are intent; teenagers shuffle in and attempt disaffection even in the face of cake and fail, just like they have for generations. The B&O is an institution. (Some might argue that the desserts sometimes taste institutional, but most people are spellbound. One woman in the bar just asks the bartender to bring whatever he thinks is best, sugarwise.)
The razing of the B&O has been rumored for the last few years, but plans now in the works would replace the building with a 75-unit complex. The bartender doesn't know when ("They said two years, but they've been saying that for five years"). He's got little yellow cards to hand out directing the concerned to a website devoted to saving the building (www.1650choice.org).
The cocktail menu is stuck in the past—uninspired "Champagne Inspirations," "Winter Warmers" including "Kickin' Cocoa" with Rumple Minze functioning as the kick—but the lounge feels old-fashioned in a good way. The bartender, Robbie, says the lovely back of the bar—stained oak with mirrors, columns, and carved detail—is from Amsterdam, circa 1890. According to the owner, this rumor is wrong: It just came from a local antique shop. Robbie is correct about the wall from a French apothecary in the cafe. ("It's a-MAAAY-zing," he says sincerely.)
He makes a fine martini. "Clink!" he says with quiet joy, toasting with his own invisible glass. He takes good care of people, and when offered this observation, he says he tries: "I like my patrons. Drinkers! They're my favorite!" (It sounds heartfelt, though later he is overheard telling of some recent drinkers who paid a $55 bar tab all in quarters. They were not his favorite.)
Watching over it all is an aged-looking mural of an art nouveau beauty. She's got flowers and stems of wheat in her fair hair, her chin in her hand, and a look on her face like she's thinking about something very specific and very pleasant. Her elbow, due to a trick of perspective, appears to be resting in a piece of cake, and next to it is a mug, possibly full of Kickin' Cocoa.
B&O Espresso, 204 Belmont Ave E, 322-5028.