Category Archives: Best Bets

Hipster Parking Lot: Parking Info for Station North and Downtown Clubs

It’s kind of ironic that we’re writing a post about parking now that we’ve resolved to give up our car, but there are two changes in parking at places we go regularly that are worth noting for the rest of you who still have cars.

The first change we noticed was in Station North, at the lot on the corner of 20th and Howard Street. This lot is kind of a minor urban miracle in that it functions as a free community lot where people can park day or night without fear of being towed. A lot of people are quick to denigrate the presence of parking lots, but when they’re free and open to all they’re very much a valuable community resource.

Now, we’ve been parking in this lot for years, and we’ve always kind of wondered who owns it and why they allow free parking, but we never thought it wise to look the free-parking gift horse in the mouth since we’ve never been ticketed, towed, or broken into there.

In this diagram, south is up.

The only difference now is that when we went to Joe Squared last week there was a large poster board with the above graphic lashed to the fence next to the patio. We can only take this to mean that parking in this lot is pretty legit for patrons of all Station North businesses. Who says there’s no such thing as free parking? Now all we gotta do is pass Go and get our $200.

The other parking change is much more substantial and will be of interest to anyone attending shows at Sonar or other clubs near the foot of the JFX.

We’ve always just parked on the street when going to Sonar, Sidebar, etc, since there’s generally not any shortage of street parking near City Hall at night. Going to the Shellac show though, the weather was rainy and since our driver’s side window has been reduced to a pile of Baltimore Diamonds we were looking for sheltered parking.

As it turned out, we were in luck. We’d noticed on Sonar’s website that this show’s listing said parking would be available in the garage above the club for $2. We had always know that there was a garage on top, but had no idea that it was available for show-goers. Not only that, but when we pulled in, there was no one there to take our money. The parking was free.

When we asked the club staff about it at the door, they advised us that nighttime parking in the Farmers’ Market lot under the JFX now costs seven dollars ($7!). They also said that from now on, Sonar patrons can park above the club either for free, or for some rate which will be less than $7.00 depending on the show.

If you zoom in on the embedded map, Sonar itself looks like a parking lot. There are 2 levels of parking on the building, a covered garage, and the exposed rooftop. you can access both levels from Gay Street, passing the church and making a hard left right behind the billboards.

Have any downtown parking tips of your own? Feel free to share them in the comments.

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Best Bets: Best Beers for Non-Beer Snobs

Late Spring and Early Summer are officially Beer Season in Baltimore. Beer is great all the year round, of course, but warm weather brings with it the opportunity for backyard parties, grilling, porchin’ it, and other chances to drink outdoors for extended periods. And for that, you’ve got to put down the highballs and reach for a beer.

There are those among us who are always seeking out the latest and greatest in the world of beer. Even some of you reading this probably count yourselves among the ranks of ‘beer snobs’ ‘beer nerds’ or, if you prefer, ‘enthusiasts.’ There’s nothing wrong with trying to track down the hoppiest IPA, the most carefully crafted barleywine, or the cloudiest Belgian wheat. For the rest of us though, most of the time, we just want a beer.

The beer's two bucks. The opinions are free.

So where does that leave us? We haven’t got the time or the patience to seek out the rarest imports and smallest microbrews and brag about it boorishly online, but neither will we settle for AB and MillerCoors products, which are all terrible. We just want something that we can get most places, drink several of, and, you know… not have to think about too much. It’s with these criteria in mind that we’re happy to present The Best Beers for Non-Beer Snobs.

Shiner Bock. According to Wikipedia: The Bavarians of Munich pronounced “Einbeck” as “ein Bock” (“a billy goat”), and thus the beer became known as “bock”. To this day, as a visual pun, a goat often appears on bock labels. The one produced at the Spoetzl Brewery in Shiner, Texas wears its goat proudly, and it’s one of the most balanced beers out there. It’s a great choice as a takealong to a party or a drink-it-while-watching-a-game beer.

Sam Adams Boston Lager. A lot of beer snobs turn up their noses at the offerings from Sam Adams. That’s why they’re called snobs, we guess. Sam Adams is the Radiohead of the beer world. The people who loved it originally now pretend they never did. You just assume it’s a big major thing, but it’s still relatively small. It still doesn’t quite suit the tastes of the mainstream, exactly. We love Sam Adams. Radiohead on the other hand…

Löwenbräu. Löwenbräu may technically Be owned by A-B InBev, but it’s still producing the same beer it ever has. With a history dating back to 1383, it makes brands like Bass and Guinness look like up-and-comers by comparison. It even predates the famous Reinheitsgebot, the 1583 German law that dictated purity in beer. If it’s good enough for Oktoberfest, it’s good enough for the Chop.

Sierra Nevada Is Sierra the best bad beer or the worst good beer? This is a typical beer snob question, as it’s usually what they’ll reach for when they’re ‘slumming it.’ For us though, it’s just a good call. Most bars have it on draft and most stores have it in the cooler. It’s strong but not too strong, and tastes good enough for us.

Heavy Seas Gold Ale. We secretly yearn for a time when Baltimore will be known not as Boh country, but as Heavy Seas country. We realize that’s a pretty big hill to climb, but this might be just the beer, and just the brewery to do it. Just about everything heavy seas puts out is de-goddamn-licious, but Gold Ale has been our favorite since the early Clipper City days. We’d drink it even if it wasn’t super local, but we’re sure happy it is.

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Best Bets: Baltimore’s Best Liquor Stores

Sometimes you just want a six pack of Heineken. That’s a problem easily solved. Other times, all you need is a bottle of Beam. You can find that just about anywhere. Occasionally though, you need to go above and beyond. If you’re planning for a large party, stocking your bar from scratch, or starting your wine collection you’ll need a liquor store that goes above and beyond.

The shops mentioned here aren’t so much liquor stores as they are liquor wonderlands. They’re like candy stores for grownups. They’re the places you keep coming back to, because they’ve got more different bottles in there than you could ever possibly drink, try though you might. They are, simply put, the best.

A visual approximation of the Chop buying a bottle at one of our favorite liquor stores.

Beltway Fine Wine. You’ve probably driven by Beltway at a pretty high speed and not thought much of it. It’s easy to miss, being jammed underneath an Ethan Allen furniture store. What you don’t realize from the road though is that it’s got the same square footage as the giant furniture store above it. It’s huge. There may be some strange obscure liquor somewhere in the world that Beltway doesn’t have, but we kind of doubt it. 8727 Loch Raven Blvd, Towson.

The Wine Source. As liquor stores go, the Wine Source is the Chop’s home base. Simply the best inside Baltimore City, as the rest of the stores on this list are all out in the suburbs. If the Wine Source had a walk-in beer cooler and a better parking situation, it would achieve liquor store perfection. 3601 Elm Avenue, Baltimore.

Dawson’s Liquors. We’ve never actually been to Dawson’s, because it’s in Severna Park and we only pass through that way about once every 10 years or so, but we were tipped off to it by our man over at I Hate JJ Redick who’s always on point, so we’re going to take his word for it. We hate to judge a store by its website, but theirs is pretty damn good, and crappy stores don’t usually invest in outstanding websites. 589 B & A Blvd, Severna Park.

Midway Liquors. If you’re traveling that far out Route 40 East, you must make a point of stopping in at Midway. Even if you have to pull a u-turn to do it. We’ve only been in there once, but we walked out with three good bottles of Scotch for $100. Those bottles would have cost $150 most other places, and that’s the beauty of Midway. You could say the same about anything in the store. 12320 Pulaski Highway, Joppa.

Honeygo Wine and Spirits. with their ‘Wall of Beer’ Honeygo is known as a go to spot for fans of microbrews and imports, and is even favored by one of Baltimore’s foremost beer experts. Of course, as any great liquor store does, they excel in their selection of wine and spirits as well. 5004 Honeygo Center Dr, Perry Hall.

Shawan Liquors. Shawan Liquors is in Hunt Valley. Like everything else in Hunt Valley, it’s pretty much by rich people, for rich people. So if you’ve got a taste for a well aged Islay or a Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape, Shawan is the place for you. If you want a 30 pack of High Life, well, they might have that gathering dust in the basement too. 11337 York Road, Hunt Valley.

Ronnie’s Fine wine and Spirits. Last but not least is the pride of Harford County, Ronnie’s in Bel Air. They’ve got a wonderful walk in beer cooler, as well as a ton of microbrews, a good selection of kegs, and a 3-for-$12 wine bin. They’re also known for their occasional blowout sales which draw large crowds looking to stock up. Putting every bottle in the store on sale once in a while is a policy we’d like to see more stores adopt! 1514 Rock Spring Road, Forest Hill.

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Best Bets: Using Books as Home Decor

When we moved into the Chophouse about a year and a half ago, we were basically starting from scratch. We had moved around so much previously that we had accumulated very little furniture, and what we did have was in desperate need of replacement. Since then, we’ve been slowly figuring out how to fill up all this space.

Roommate moved in and brought his furniture, then moved out and took it away again, so we’re in the strange position now of having a completely bare living room, while at the same time being ready to put the finishing touches on most other rooms. In just about all of our rooms, those finishing touches are going to include books.

Books should fit into a living space organically, without dominating the room.

Incorporating books into design is nothing new, and there are any number of ways to go about it. Sites like Book Decor and Books By The Foot will even sell you books in bulk to suit any design aesthetic you like, from goatskin covers to shelves arranged by size or color, or even books wrapped in custom covers. Just don’t try to actually read them though, since they’re selected solely for appearance and may not even be in English.

We see this as a tacky, slothful solution, and prefer a more organic approach. Books should say something about their owner, and need to pull their weight in any design scheme by actually being functional. If it’s not something we’d want to pick up and idly look over on any lazy Sunday afternoon, then it’s just not worth having around.

Aside from the library of novels in our home office, we’re envisioning a few choice vegetarian cookbooks living in the kitchen. It’s nice to have some fresh ideas for dinner close at hand, and trying to double check something on a smartphone while three burners are going and your hands are sticky is never a good idea.

The wine rack in our dining room has shelf space on it as well, perfect for a couple of cocktail compendiums and a book or two on wine. After all, no home is really complete without a copy of Imbibe! or The Modern Drunkard, is it?

We’ve got some stubborn empty space atop the wardrobe, and we’re thinking the bedroom would be the ideal spot to house a collection of the Harvard Classics or a vintage encyclopaedia set, easy enough to acquire on eBay. We’ve also got two nightstands and have been thinking of a floating shelf or two, which would be perfect for stacking a couple first edition hardbacks.

Of course, we’re still pretty far away from putting finishing touches on the living room, but there’s no end to the possibilities. Here’s a few we think we could live with throughout the house:

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Best Bets: Decorating With Flowers

Years ago the Chop spent a couple of months out in Seattle, and perhaps the biggest point of culture shock in the Emerald City was the near-universal habit of buying fresh flowers regularly. Maybe it’s a direct result of the mostly dreary weather there, but Seattleites go around buying flowers like Parisians buy baguettes.

As a city, Baltimore is not particularly floral. We tend to buy most of our flowers in connection with funerals or anniversaries, and even with a recent increase in the presence and awareness of urban gardening on public and private lots, the vast majority of that soil has been given over to vegetables. Flowerbeds in public parks and flower-potting in streetscapes remains minimal.

Daffodils look great in Cylburn Arboretum... or in your living room.

We grew up in a house where fresh flowers were seldom present. When they did appear indoors, they were always meant to sit in the same heavy crystal vase on the dining room table. Over time, they began to achieve the same effect as a Christmas tree; they were around to mark an occasion and they had a great effect when first placed there, but with each year that went by and each day they sat in the same spot they were just too easy to get used to, and were eventually overlooked almost entirely.

Now that we’ve got a house of our own with plenty of space to decorate we’re discovering that flowers are the best way to keep the home looking fresh as time passes. If the warm weather we’re enjoying recently has you thinking floral, here are a few tips to get the best of your buds.

  • Buy different flowers each time. Daisies are nice, but if all you ever buy are daisies, you might as well just buy a picture of some daisies and be done with it. You’re better off just going for whatever is in season, or whatever has been marked down for a quicker sale. This way you get variety without having to think too much about it.
  • Have a few different vases handy. It’s best to have about 1 vase for every room in your house where you might put flowers. If you have a studio with a kitchenette, 2 is enough. If you’ve got six rooms plus a good size bathroom and a screened porch, get as many as 8 vases. They don’t need to be expensive, and a few of them should be plain and understated for moving from room to room. (Thrift stores are a great source for plain vases.) Make sure the sizes and shapes are different to accommodate different flower varieties.
  • Flowers in each room, not every room. It’s just too much work to keep flowers trimmed and watered in every room at the same time. Keeping them in one room at a time minimizes work while maximizing appeal. Dress out the table for dinner guests, or put them in the bedroom on date night. Try to keep them in the room in which you’ll derive the most enjoyment from them in any given week.
  • Make buying flowers a habit. Perhaps no one loves flowers more than the Dutch, and in the Netherlands flowers have a regular spot on the shopping list next to bread and milk. We in Baltimore would do well to be on a first name basis with our neighborhood florists, or make the flower cart a regular stop on our weekly trips to the grocery store or farmers’ market.
  • Don’t be afraid to grow your own. It takes good timing, a little knowledge, a lot of work, and a bit of luck to grow flowers from seeds. If you’re not possessed of all of the above though, you can still grow flowers successfully, barring a garden-digging dog or any neighbor kids running roughshod over your yard. Nurseries and home improvement stores have thousands of types to choose from, and will be happy to help you find the best type for you. Most places even sell flowers in biodegradable, plantable pots keeping the work required at a minimum.

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Best Bets: Stay Away From E-Readers

We’re not gonna lie… we’ve really been digging this living alone business lately. With roommate gone from the house for evermore, the daylight savings time in full effect, and the weather turning warmer by the day, this is a perfect day for lounging around the house reading all day.

For us, that means good old fashioned paper books and magazines. For someone who travels as much as we do, and is forced to pack several pounds of paperbacks on each trip, you’d think we would have been among the first to adopt a digital e-reader. We’re still holding out though, and will continue to hold out until the publishing industry gets its shit together.

A visual approximation of the Chop's home library.

In an increasingly technological age, vinyl record sales continue to increase even as CD’s prepare to settle into the nation’s landfills once and for all. A major contributing factor in the resurgence of the LP is the inclusion of digital download codes with virtually all new records sold. Just a couple short years ago, whatever prescient indie label thought to include download codes in LP’s was a brilliant leader. Now it’s an industry standard, and the absence of a free download code can make or break record sales.

We don’t see any reason (short of bald-faced greed) why the publishing industry can’t do the same thing. It’s shameful that all downloads are still in proprietary formats, although this is a separate issue entirely. We’d go out and buy a Kindle tomorrow if every download came with a free hard copy. Hell, we’d probably buy a Kindle, a Nook, and whatever else you like. We’ve always liked keeping books, though. So much so that we’ve over-filled our giant Expedit shelf, and are quickly running out of space on the two smaller Expedit versions in our office.

We’re not going to quit collecting real books any time soon. Nor are we going to buy a magazine’s mobile app when we already get it in the mail. But we look forward to that day in the future when every book in the store comes with a little scratch-off section in the back cover to conceal and preserve a download code. We’ll be staying away from e-readers until then, and would suggest everyone else do likewise.

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Best Bets: Holiday Moviegoing Edition

This.

Here.

Tonight.

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