Joe Squared (#48)

27 10 2010

When I saw that Joe Squared (voted “Baltimore’s Best Pizza”) was on The List, I figured that it would be another “Is it a bar or is it a restaurant?” discussion.  But that was before I saw on their website that they have a Tuesday night Funk-Soul-Break Dance Party.  Yes, they have free live music every single night of the week.  But they have break dancing on Tuesdays.  I am sold.

We got there around 9:15 so we could eat some of the famous pizza before the DJ went on at 10.  The bar was pretty full, so we sat at a table with a good view of the dance floor, and ate some delicious pizza.  The DJ started playing right at 10, so we waited for the dance party to begin.  And we waited.  And then we waited some more.  This was our view:

But as the lights gradually grew dimmer, I saw people lurking around the edges of the dance floor, nodding their heads to the beat, slowly starting to get into it.  Then I noticed the giant orange Gatorade cooler in the corner, set up to provide water to thirsty dancers (you can see it on the left side of the picture above).   People didn’t come here to mess around.  They came here to dance.  And dance they did.

Right around 10:45, the dance party pretty much exploded.  A very eclectic crowd made for some interesting dance partners.  An older couple did a little two-step.  One woman commanded a large area of the dance floor because her modern dance moves included a lot of wide arm movements and high kicks.  And oh yes, there was break dancing.  It took me back to my elementary school days, watching my classmates dance at recess on flattened cardboard boxes.  There was popping.  There was locking.  It was fantastic.

But of course our adventure didn’t end there.  It didn’t take long for me to start chatting up a regular, who, as it turns out, is a member of a “hackerspace” located across the street, called Baltimore Node.  I couldn’t even begin to describe what that means, but please click on the link if you are curious.

My new friend took us over for a tour of the place, including the adjacent art gallery, Load of Fun, AND the roof.  Behind the building is an alley covered in graffiti, the only place in Baltimore where graffiti artists can legally do their thing.  It was amazing in the dark, but I will definitely go back to check it out in the daytime.  This is the view from the fire escape above:

And here is the view of the lovely motel next door, rumored (by our friendly tour guide) to be the scene of a murder in an episode of The Wire:

As we walked back to our car at 1:30am, our tour guide headed back over to Joe Squared, where the dance party was still going strong.

Tuesday nights in my world are usually a little slow.  Half of the local bars are closed on Tuesday.  Most people are at home recovering from the weekend’s debauchery that spilled into Monday Night Football.  I sensed more excitement from my friends about an impending episode of Glee than about going out and hitting the town.  But if the rhythm ever does get you on a Tuesday, you should really go to Joe Squared and shake your ass.


Randomness Abounds

25 10 2010

I didn’t visit any of The List bars this weekend, but here’s a few pictures of what I did instead.

I started Friday with wayyy too many shots at Johnny Rad’s, the new skater-themed bar and pizza place on Eastern Avenue.

I like this place- the staff is really nice and the crowd is pretty chill.  Plus, they have chalkboards on every surface in the bathroom AND a clever sign out front:

Saturday included an 80s-themed Halloween party, complete with a guy dressed as a pants-less Tom Cruise from Risky Business.  I decided to post this nice picture of jelly bracelets instead.  You’re welcome.

And then Sunday Funday happened.  I will spare you all of the blurry details that I can remember, but the highlight had to be singing karaoke at Walt’s Inn.  There we were, with all the other stumbling idiots leftover from a football Sunday, wearing jerseys, taking jello shots and singing Billy Joel, and in walks…  well, this chick:

…along with a large crew of other people who just didn’t quite blend.  I found out later that they are all on tour with Andrew W.K., the party rocker best known for his one “hit” wonder, “Party Hard.”  The woman in the picture is actually his wife, Cherie Lily, who performs in her own musical genre known as Houserobics.

You can’t make this stuff up, people.  It’s Baltimore.

Brannan’s Pub (#49)

22 10 2010

If there’s ever an advertisement for getting out of your neighborhood comfort zone, it would be Brannan’s Pub on a Thursday night.  I have never felt more welcome in a new bar in a new neighborhood than I felt there last night.  Within 45 seconds of walking through the door, a regular had given up his bar stool so that my friend and I could sit down.  That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the night.  From the doorwoman (also a part owner), to the bartenders, to the regulars, the very diverse crowd at Brannan’s was so friendly and open, it was almost unreal.

The drinks were cheap ($2.00 drafts in a frozen plastic mug), which is good, since they don’t take credit cards.  By the way, those frozen mugs are kept cold in a fridge which bears a bumper sticker that says “If it smells like fish, eat it.”  I already love this place.  It is obvious from the decor that this is a Ravens bar (see shrine picture below), and the bartender confirmed that the place is packed on Sundays.  They also have a DJ on Friday nights, but what’s going to bring ME back to Brannan’s is the “Best Karaoke in Baltimore.”

About that karaoke…  I have never seen anything like it.  No offense to our beloved Walt’s Inn, which has its own charm (and will be coming up soon on The List), but this place put it to shame.  The crowd skewed significantly older and the song choices were more R&B and Motown, with some Sinatra and country thrown into the mix.  In other words, there were no drunken 24-year-olds screaming “Don’t Stop Believing” at the top of their lungs, and that was a good thing.  I was too shy to test my pipes in front of this crowd, but I was told by many regulars that no one would ever disrespect someone who had the nerve to get up there, even if they sounded bad.  I would have to believe it, given how genuinely nice everyone was.

A few highlights of the evening included:

  • Meeting a guy around 24 years old, who was there with his mother.  While she was wowing the room with her take on “Mrs. Jones,” I asked him whether he often hangs out with his Mom.  He replied with an emphatic, “Hell yeah, she’s awesome.”  I had to agree.  And then I tried to remember the last time I saw a mother and son at a bar together.
  • Having my compliment to one gentleman on his rendition of a Sinatra song earn me a personal serenade of an Engelbert Humperdinck song on his next turn at the microphone.
  • But the best line of the night came from an older guy, who responded to me asking him whether he was going to sing, with this gem:  “No, but if I did, your panties would drop.  Right off.”

The karaoke eventually had to end, but the singing didn’t stop.  A group of about 8 people lingered, singing a cappella Motown songs in 4-part harmony.  All the new friends we had made enthusiastically encouraged us to come back, and to be prepared to sing on our next visit.  It’s a bit of a hike from my neighborhood (Brannan’s is in Hamilton, on Harford Road), but I’ll definitely be back- maybe after some karaoke practice at Walt’s.

Sundays in Ravens country

18 10 2010

Sometimes it’s hard for me to get used to the rabid Ravens fans in this town.  Yes, I said rabid- try to dispute it.  It’s true that I grew up here, but I have never quite claimed the Ravens as my own.  What used to be a baseball town has mostly given up on its Os (although I remain optimistic that the fans might come back).  Now it’s all Ravens, all the time.

But I just like to watch football on Sundays, and a bar stool in a comfortable environment can be hard to come by during a Ravens game.  I spent at least 45 minutes checking out various corner bars in Canton on Sunday, trying to find a place to sit, eat food and drink beer.  Most of the bars were so full that people were watching the game from the sidewalk, through the windows!  No thanks.

I ended up at Portside (in Canton Square), and the people-watching turned out to be far more entertaining than the game.  I wish I had thought to take pictures of the girls in mini-tube dresses (at 2pm), the dudes with popped-collars and pleated khakis, and the guy wearing eye make-up.

Is it MD basketball season yet?

Waterstone (#50)

17 10 2010

Relatively new spot Waterstone is #50 on The List.  Most of my friends haven’t even heard of it, so here’s a little background on the place.  Waterstone opened in late 2009,  in a space once inhabited by a lesbian bar called Coconuts (love that, by the way).  Coconuts apparently went downhill and closed after a fatal shooting outside the bar in March 2009.  There was a post on the Baltimore Sun nightlife blog before Waterstone opened that suggested it was going to be a high-end lesbian bar and restaurant.

I would never have guessed any of that based on my visit there on Friday night.  Well, except for the high-end part.  I went with two of my friends who were already fans of the place.  It is very attractive inside, and it is obvious that the owner has taken great care in creating a upscale, but comfortable restaurant.  A far cry from the dance party days of Coconuts, the only music playing was soft adult contemporary in the background.

The service was excellent and the food was delicious (our only complaint was that there was too much of a bread-to-lamb ratio on the lamb sliders).  I really didn’t see any evidence that Waterstone is a “lesbian bar,” whatever that means.  The owner had quite a presence, greeting each customer and chatting with everyone.  She sat with us for a while, and could not have been nicer.  Overall, it was a pleasant experience, and I will definitely go back again.

But…  why is this place on the list of Top 50 BARS in Baltimore?  We were there on a Friday night, from 8-10pm, and there were never more than 4 people sitting at the bar.  Don’t get me wrong, I liked the food, I liked the owner, and I definitely hope this place succeeds.  But…  I wouldn’t go to Waterstone for the bar alone.

And of course, after dinner, we headed back to our local corner bar, which was filled with raucous baseball fans and beer pong.  Ahhhh, home.

Pull up a bar stool…

14 10 2010

As I explain in the “About” section of this blog, I am going to attempt to visit and write about the “50 Best Bars in Baltimore” according to the Baltimore Sun (which I will refer to as The List from now on).  It’s a natural fit for me, because I love lists, bars, Baltimore and writing.  But I have never written a blog before, so bear with me as I work out the kinks.

The List is still being revealed (and heavily debated) on The Sun’s website, but before I start, I think I had better make some ground rules for myself.

1. I am going to really try to visit the bars in order, starting with #50 (Waterstone).  This is probably going to be tough, since several of the bars are already in my current rotation.  But I’ll try to keep my alcoholism other activities out of this, if possible.

2. I will try to request and sample the drink or food that each of these bars is known for.  Unless it’s something gross that I can’t possibly consume, even in the name of journalistic integrity.

Those are the only rules I am willing to commit to at this point.  I don’t want to clutter this up with a lot of categories and numbers and stars and ratings.  That’s very un-Baltimore, anyway.  I’m just going to try to get a feel for each place, talk to the bartenders and the regulars.

And once The List is fully revealed, I’ll post it and accept all the comments/suggestions regarding which bars were terribly wronged by their omission.  Just remember that I didn’t write it.

Happy drinking!