Undisclosed Location

Getting Your Game on at the Secretive, Exclusive but Nice Historic Haven

By Kate Poindexter | Photography by Turner Photography Studio | Posted on 08.06.13 – Diversions, People & Places

What’s the dress code where you work? Business? Casual? For Steve Martin and Tom Handwerker, owners of the Historic Haven, it changes. One day it may be Renaissance casual, the next Civil War formal, the following day the military garb of the Starfleet Academy.

At the Historic Haven, an exclusive, invitation-only club, period costumes are not required, but they are welcomed, even encouraged. This is especially true if you’re a Haven member hosting a themed event, conducting a Colonial cooking class or demonstrating leather- and metal-working techniques.

Historic Haven members also enjoy video, board and card games, ranging from cult classics like Dungeons and Dragons and Axis and Allies to more-traditional fare like Risk and Monopoly. They also conduct script-writing and filmmaking workshops and engage in demonstrations of martial arts and crafting.  Membership categories include Standard, Martial, Wargammer, Crafting and Games Master. Annual fees range from $15 to $150.

Martin and Handwerker are former coffee house proprietors who sold their business and rented space tucked in a corner of Downtown Frederick where they and their closest friends/club members meet and play. They opened their doors in January, 2008. The exact location: Undisclosed. Member list: Not for publication. Rules of the club: Not gonna tell ya. But, Historic Haven does have a motto: Excellence Through Community. There is also an abiding principle: Play Nice.

Here are some stats about Historic Haven that Martin and Handwerker will disclose:
• Currently  90 to 100 members;
• One third of members are re-enactors of some stripe;
• Members are mostly between 20 to 60 years old;
• The gender breakdown is 70/30, males to females;
• A little less than 10 percent are college students;
• 80 percent are from Frederick County; and
• Others hail from an 80- to 100-mile radius, from Alexandria, Va., to Gettysburg, Pa., and Baltimore to Hagerstown.

New members find the Historic Haven largely by word of mouth. “We’ve never directly promoted the Haven,” says Martin. Current members often bring friends into the fold. They show up, interact with others at the club for a day and then come back on their own. At Martin and Handwerker’s discretion, they are placed on a 30-day probationary period. Then they are in. “We are not exclusionary; we are exclusive. We usually go out and find our members,” Handwerker says.

It’s a loose, but workable membership model that boasts tremendous success. “In five years, we’ve had to get rid of a little more than a dozen people,” says Martin. What is the violation that gets you booted? “Not playing nice,” the two reply in unison.

Where Are We?

“This is a place to play,” says Handwerker. But, where exactly is this place? To find Historic Haven go to the web site (www.historichaven.com) and follow the clues to their front door. No address will be given, just this cryptic message: “What is the Secret? Along the stream of the Charles, besides the vault of knowledge and under the peddlers of history lies The Haven.”  That’s it. Good luck. If you find your way to the front door, step inside and you will see lots of shelves with lots of books and lots of games, intricately carved furniture, and state-of-the-art electronics. Big screen TVs hang next to battle axes and swords on stone walls. A replica of a 14th-century Hungarian war table, complete with wooden chairs, designed and crafted by Handwerker, runs almost the entire length of an interior room. Another room is marked by a placard proclaiming “Brian’s Cave.” Brian, it turns out, is a member who wanted a small room in which to play.

“What is the Secret? Along the stream of the Charles, besides the Vault of Knowledge and under the Peddlers of History lies the Haven.”

When they first saw the rental space, the businessmen-turned-club owners said they thought it had a lot of potential. “We actually were not thinking [in terms of] a business model,” says Handwerker. “We were thinking about interesting clubs, and that this would be a place [where] we would like to hang out.”

While many of the games that members play here feature monsters running amok, the Historic Haven is a sanctuary for those who want to get together with like-minded individuals in a welcoming environment. Martin and Handwerker describe their members as friendly, creative and cerebral. “We like our members to be proactive, adding to the community,” said Martin. In the vernacular of the gaming world, they avoid the munchkins.

“A munchkin is a person who tries to further himself at the detriment of the community,” explains Handwerker. The term comes from the card game, Munchkin, which was developed in College Park.

The Historic Haven community spills over into the Frederick community quite often. Members routinely participate in re-enactments and other events sponsored by the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Frederick’s 74 –hour Film Festival, In the Street and Schifferstadt Architectural Museum.

In Plain Sight

While this is a self-described underground organization, its doors are often standing wide open. Literally. The best description of the club can be found on its website, where it is billed as “A modern and historic craft and gaming lounge. A secret club hidden in the heart of [D]owntown Frederick.” Potential members are invited to seek out current members by asking around the local gaming community or fill out an online interview form.

Historic Haven does not sell anything, other than memberships. It is not a restaurant, although some members have hosted cooking demos. It is not a bar, but on occasion members have shared a glass of mead or two among friends. It’s a gathering place to relax, learn a skill, watch a movie, read, write or play. “I can go to Brainstorm [Comics] and get a game, but I don’t have anywhere to play it,” said Handwerker.  Now, he does.

They may have hosted spirited competitions, exacting demonstrations, feasts, parties and even a wedding. Martin and Handwerker are soft-spoken, welcoming individuals. By any century’s standards, they are perfect gentlemen. Gentlemen who just want to play … nice.