Henninger’s Tavern (#45)

5 02 2011

Henninger’s was another one of those bars to which I had trouble convincing people to go.  No one had heard of it, even though the reviews I read suggested that it was a cool spot with pretty good food.  The List describes Henninger’s as “fiercely idiosyncratic,” and I think that’s pretty dead-on.  It’s in Upper Fells Point (whatever that means), and it’s basically a neighborhood bar.  It seemed to be mostly regulars and, by the end of the night, employees/owners/staff.

There is a lot to take in when you walk into Henninger’s- every available wall and surface is covered with kitsch.  But it’s not the same kind of kitsch as Paper Moon Diner, no plastic toys and dolls.  It’s more old-school, vintage, classy kitsch.  If there is such a thing.  My partner in crime on this evening immediately pointed out a picture of Jesus, the Pope, and John F. Kennedy above the bar.  He noticed that even before he noticed the plethora of naked lady pictures all over the walls.  I can’t really do it justice with words, so take a look at these:

Jesus is blocked out by the glare, but you can see the row of naked lady pictures at the top!

Um….  art?

Nurses For Sale and a reading nook?

Oh my!

The women’s bathroom- complete with leopard-print walls.

Henninger’s was cozy and eclectic, and I would definitely stop back in for a drink if I ever happened to be in the neighborhood.  But it was a little slow for a Friday night, and my friend and I decided to venture onward and see if we could make some Bad Decisions…


Midtown Yacht Club (#46)

22 01 2011

So, after a long hiatus, I am finally back on the bar circuit.  I have actually been ready to start up again for a few weeks, but I had trouble convincing people to go with me to a place called “Midtown Yacht Club,” no matter how much I insisted that the name was ironic.  And when I walked into the bar and saw at least three different customers drinking Natty Boh in a can, I knew I would feel at home.  The few people I know who were familiar with the Yacht Club, had already told me about the peanut shells on the floor.  Most establishments that used to do the peanut thing have long since stopped, due to the fear of being sued by a felled customer (Important Life Rule: Lawyers Suck the Fun out of Everything).   But Midtown Yacht Club obviously doesn’t care, and that is fantastic.

Midtown Yacht Club is tucked away on a side street in Mt. Vernon, and the Happy Hour crowd was a diverse mix of chill people who probably all work close by.  If this bar was walking distance from anywhere I worked, it would certainly be in my heavy rotation.  I met a couple of regulars, including a woman who arrived there by segway (oh, how I wanted to ask her to take it for a spin).  I ordered a Loose Cannon draft, before realizing that it was $6.00, and immediately wished I had just ordered a can of Boh.  (Another Important Life Rule: Order what the Regulars Order- They Know Something You Don’t).  I later switched to Woodchuck Cider, which they have on draft (with a cute little apple for the tap handle).

The best way to describe the experience was comfortable.  The bar food was decent, the service was pleasant, the music was never too loud.  We even got a bell ring for our tip, which I love.  Overall, I was pleasantly surprised that the Yacht Club wasn’t filled with collar-popping dudes named Blake in boat shoes, but instead was a little hidden Baltimore treasure.  I read in The List that the name wasn’t always ironic, and I am now very curious as to the history of the place.  Either way, I just read that they have a meat-lovers Sunday brunch, so I will definitely be back.

Next up: Henninger’s in Upper Fells, described by the Baltimore Sun as “fiercely idiosyncratic.”  Can’t wait.

#47- Holy Frijoles

22 01 2011

Wayyy back in the first weekend of November, I visited bar #47, a Mexican restaurant and bar in Hampden called Holy Frijoles.  We went up early to check out “First Fridays” in Hampden, an event for which many of the stores on The Avenue stay open later and provide free food, alcohol and music.  I pretty much detest shopping, but I must admit that adding food, booze and a DJ definitely increases the appeal.  We developed a buzz at Doubledutch, and thoroughly enjoyed the free guacamole and weird tequila-beer drink they were serving at Red Tree.

Finally we headed over to Holy Frijoles.  I have actually been here before, and it was pretty much as I remembered- delicious cucumber margaritas, decent food and mediocre hipper-than-thou service.  And just when I was thinking the night would be devoid of any memorable story whatsoever, I ran into our tour guide from the Joe Squared trip, who promptly accused me of stalking him (possible).  We hung out with him and his friends for a bit, while Holy Frijoles slowly cleared out (a sure sign that it leans the way of restaurant over bar).

It would have been fun to sing karaoke at Cafe Hon next door, but we were pretty much ready to get back to the neighborhood bars that we know and love.  Yes, this blog is about getting outside of my comfort zone and trying new things, but sometimes you really do just want to go where everybody knows your name…  and where home is walking (stumbling) distance.

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.

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.