Tag Archives: Bars

Clementine: Clifton Park’s 19th Hole

So the Chop is going golfing again today. We’ve got a late-morning tee time, which we’ve come to figure out is just about the ideal window to tee off because you can still sleep in a little bit, and by the time you’re round is done you’re in prime position to go straight from the course to happy hour.

We’ll be playing at Clifton, which means the most convenient bars are the ones around Hamilton and Lauraville. Here’s the idea: if we play our usual terrible game, we’ll go ahead and do the usual Bohs at Koco’s. If we can get that score down under 100 though, we might just reward ourselves with some of the specialty cocktails up at Clementine.

Yeah Lee, we get pretty thirsty after a round too.

Clementine has always been in an odd position. They’re hands down one of the best bars in the city, yet they’ve never had more than 3 or 4 stools at their bar. We never could reconcile in our mind how a bar that’s so well stocked could have so few stools. They’ve got one of those something-for-everyone-mostly-reasonably-priced wine lists that is perfect for date night, as well as a long list of carefully chosen bottled beers to pair with everything on the menu.

If we do manage to get a seat at the bar though, we’re going to resist the temptation to call for one of several available single malts and small-batch American whiskies and pick a few selections from their outstanding cocktail list.

Fall is the perfect time to go for our favorite, the Stonewall (Pear Cider, Bourbon and Ginger Liqueur). The Georgia Manhattan (Pecan Infused Bourbon, Mathilde Peach Liqueur & Organic Maple Liqueur) and Maça Martini (LeBlon Cacha├ža, Elderflower Liqueur, Pressed Apple Cider & Fresh Lime Juice) are a couple more don’t-try-this-at-home seasonal specialties. Or, if we end up getting rained on after 9 holes it might prove a good excuse to call it a day and call for a hot toddy.

Whatever we ultimately decide on one thing’s certain… good booze is the best incentive to keep those drives straight, chips short, putts true and score down.

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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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House Rules: Buybacks

We’re loathe to admit that New York City has ever done anything better than Baltimore. Sure, they do everything bigger, but that’s not necessarily better.

It almost killed us when we were forced to admit that they’ve outdone us for happy hour, and it hurts us again when we have to discuss the matter of buybacks.

The next round's on the house, Hon.

For those unfamiliar, a ‘buyback’ is a round of drinks received on the house after buying a few rounds in a row. The idea of the buyback is an old tradition which is present in bars nationwide, and even internationally, but nowhere is it more ingrained than in New York. In Manhattan and its surrounding boroughs, a round on the house is almost an entitlement in any bar worth drinking in. Instead of giving bartenders ‘shift drinks’ to comp at discretion, it’s not unusual for management in NYC to have stated policies on buybacks for employees and patrons to follow.

Granted, it is a decidedly old school practice, and like much of old New York is barely fighting to stay alive. This is why we were so pleased to discover by accident a website devoted entirely to finding and documenting the best bars for buybacks on the internet.

BuybackNYC.com never appears to have made it out of beta, and their scant blog hasn’t been updated in some 14 months. Still, their FAQ page is an excellent primer on the culture of buybacks, and the idea of mapping buyback bars is absolutely genius. We’re sorry it didn’t work out better.

Here in Charm City, people are currently still in a months-long frenzy over ‘deals’ sites like Groupon, LivingSocial, Chewpons, CityCents, Mobile Deals, Google and Facebook deals, etc. Personally, we’ve never understood the appeal of most of these, as a lot of them are designed to get you to buy something you wouldn’t otherwise, and to spend more than the value of the ‘deal.’ How many times has a $10 for $20 worth of food coupon turned into a $50 restaurant check? Many, we’d wager. Then there’s a whole host of restrictions and limitations to deal with, not to mention the problem of places closing down before you’ve got a chance to claim your deal.

We’ve always been more partial to specials that are offered directly by bars and restaurants themselves, and we’ve long admired the potential for sites and mobile apps like 600 Block, which like BuybackNYC is still in beta, and seldom if ever updated. At its inception, 600 Block was an invaluable tool for keeping track of the cheapest drinks in town. Unfortunately, a site like that is just too much for one or two people to keep updating daily when the only revenue is Google ads and a few local restaurant sponsorships.

The only solution we can see to the failure of such great ideas is is the publication of a fixed list, with regular specials that recur year in and year out, or to make happy hour calendars a wiki, which can easily be updated and edited by anyone, whether they happen to work in a bar or not. We’d love to see a wiki buybacks site here in Baltimore, to help prevent certain neophytes from walking into bars and behaving like a hipster dufus.

In the meantime though, we’ll continue to find our buybacks and happy hours the old fashioned way; on a barstool.

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House Rules: 2 for 1 Happy Hour and the New Math

In many ways, there’s no better bar special out there than the two for one happy hour. Unless you’re going to feed us some free tasty food, getting twice the drink and half the check is pretty hard to beat.

Perhaps the greatest thing about it though, is the new math. When you buy a drink for a friend, sometimes the 2 for 1 actually pays the dividends of a 3 for 1. Bear with us here: what we’re about to say might not make much sense, or it might blow your mind.

Have your beer, drink it too, and get another one into the bargain. The new happy hour math.

One of the recurring themes in our personal life this year has been the notion of trying to have your cake and eat it too. We’re convinced that with careful study and attention to detail that this is often possible, and that it’s one of the great keys to a life well lived. We’ve spent the better part of this year really concentrating on how to avoid making trade-offs in life, and so far it’s been working out pretty well for us.

A two for one happy hour is obviously one of the easiest ways to have your cake and eat it too. You can literally sip one drink while the other one sits on the bar. Giving it to your friend though, or anyone nearby, is a much better move. When you do this you’re actually buying 3 drinks: yours, your friend’s, and the one your friend will give you on the next round.

Granted, he’s technically purchasing that last one, but he is obligated. During a non-happy hour, the obligation might still be there, but it wouldn’t be quite so strong. There are plenty of situations in which you can accept a drink with polite thanks and not be on the hook to respond in kind, but during happy hour, when they’re pouring them two at a time, there’s no excuse for not giving back that second drink.

For just the price of a single drink, you’ve received your first drink, bought your friend a drink, and put him on the hook for your next round. That’s three drinks. It’s even better than having your cake and eating it too, and it works both ways. Your buddy is also getting three for one, after a fashion. It’s something to keep in mind the next time you’re in one of our favorite bars with a two for one happy hour, like George’s or the CVP.

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House Rules: Free Food for Happy Hour

The Chop is jumping on the Bolt Bus and heading up to New York for a party tonight. As much as we’re loathe to admit that any city anywhere has some advantage over Baltimore, and especially New York City, we can’t deny that there is one aspect in which the Big Apple is thoroughly and completely superior: free food at happy hour.

The tradition of free food at happy hour traces back to some time of yore in some place that we don’t really feel like Googling right now. However it is mentioned in Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle (1906) in a scene in which Jurgis is low on money and chooses to go to the bar and buy whiskey in order to enjoy the free meal being served with it.

Rudy's in Hell's kitchen has been giving away hot dogs for decades and hasn't gone broke yet. Baltimore bar owners, please take note.

The Jungle is set in Chicago, of course, but we believe the tradition of free food to have originated in Manhattan, probably in bars with specific ethnic clienteles who all enjoyed specific ethnic foods. Rudy’s Bar in Hell’s Kitchen has made itself famous nationwide as ‘the place that gives away free hot dogs all day every day’, and any New Yorker who is hungry or broke or both can easily pull up many lists of plenty of bars which are more than happy to feed customers for free during happy hour. And we’re not just talking wieners here; these bars are serving up everything from dogs and burgers to wings, hummus, cheese plates, pasta dishes and even bagels and brunch spreads on Sundays.

In an era when people are as thirsty as ever and still feeling the lingering effects of the Bush Economy, free food at happy hour makes perfect sense. Baltimoreans are always quick to embrace a deal, and a local bar scene in which taverns compete not on the basis of who can throw the best dance party or tap the most microbrews, but who gives away the best and most food is a winning situation for everyone.

If Baltimore wishes to hold onto its claim of being The Greatest City in America, we need to get our act together on the happy hour food giveaways.

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Chop on the Spot: Charles Village Pub

The Charles Village Pub has always had an outstanding business model: put a bar where a bar needs to be. Be a bar. Have beer and liquor, some background music, a few TV’s, and let the people come.

All the basics are there, right on Saint Paul Street, and no frills at all. It’s a solid business plan that’s seen them through a lot, and starting today and running through Saturday, they’ll be celebrating their 30 year anniversary.

CVP hasn't changed much in 30 years. Why would it?

We’ve never really gone out of our way to rave about the CVP. At the same time, we could hardly imagine Charles Village without it. For a neighborhood comprised almost entirely of savvy, socially conscious urbanites and with a critical mass of college students, there is a dearth of bars and taverns in Charles Village. The taps at CVP though run as reliably as old faithful.

Perhaps the Pub’s chief virtue is that it serves as a true neighborhood bar, able to function as all things to all people. Is it a sports bar? a college bar? a casual dining restaurant? a happy hour spot? a place to hide from the sun for an eye opener? Yes. It’s all of these things.

Personally, we love the Charles Village Pub for its happy hour (2-4-1 rail and wine and discounts on beer, as well as half price bar food) and its prime location for people-watching, especially if you’re snagging a table on the sidewalk or in the window. We love them for keeping regular hours on Sundays, football or no. And then there’s the cheese fries.

The menu is hardly gourmet fare, but that matters not, because we don’t even need to look at the menu. There may be no finer combination in the epicurean universe than crispy fried foodservice fries and processed cheese sauce. Not only will the CVP serve you up a giant basket of perfectly made cheese fries any time of day, they’ll give you a six ounce cup of ranch dressing gratis to dump all over them and not pass any judgments when you do.

The pub will be celebrating their pearl anniversary all week long; presumably with specials, although when we inquired about what those specials might be recently, no one we spoke with on staff seemed to know. So we guess you’ll have to find out how they’re celebrating this week for yourself. We certainly intend to.

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House Rules: Servers and Bartenders, Put Away Your Cell Phones.

We don’t usually embrace curmudgeonly rants on this blog. Even though we’ve got a category for rants, only a couple of those entries could actually properly qualify as one, and even so they’re not the sort of rants that are full of expletives and exclamations.

It is Baltimore Restaurant Week though, and while we were talking about restaurants yesterday it got us to thinking. We have just one simple idea to impart to you today: waiters and waitresses need to put away their goddamn cell phones while they’re on shift.

OMG! It's my BFF on BBM!

We understand that servers are people, and that most people are assholes about their phones. Since we bought a Blackberry we’re on it all the time. We also understand that servers are not defined by their jobs and that they have more interesting things to do than to bring us extra mayo and a free refill. We get it. We know that there’s some pretty cool parties going on tonight, and that you’re only doing this shit until you get a break in your field and that degree starts paying out like a slot machine. Besides, it only takes a second to look at your phone so what’s the big deal, right? Yes we know that. But we also know this:

“Whatever you are, be a good one.” -Abraham Lincoln

It’s hard to argue with Honest Abe’s logic, and whether you’re in a white tablecloth Michelin starred restaurant or a greasy diner, a certain amount of professionalism is called for. If you came to the table to take our order and we brought out a cell phone and checked our email, that would be pretty rude, and there aren’t many servers that we know of who would bear it with a smile.

We’ve even noticed a rash of phone-checking by servers in restaurants whose policies forbid cell phone use by patrons.

Every time we’re eating or drinking and we see a server at the waitstand, cash register, or end of the bar checking his or her phone, it’s just, to us anyway, a great reminder that our table is not really a priority, and that that person would much rather be somewhere else doing something else with someone else.

Just as most restaurant employees are relegated to smoke outside the back door, kind of near the dumpster, so should the nasty habits of twitter, facebook, and IM be relegated to out-of-sight areas of the building, or simply discontinued entirely. A server who’s not preoccupied with phone messages is a more efficient and better-tipped server.

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House Rules: The Soft Opening

For some people a new year can also mean a new business venture. Whether you’re a national bank or restaurant chain buying up properties in a new market or a little guy opening a humble shop on a main street corner, your first instinct might be to hire a PR firm and an ad agency, build a lot of buzz, excitement and goodwill, and pull out every gimmick in the book from free iPads to air dancers and spotlights to midnight madness doorbusters. We say save it.

The Chop fully endorses and approves of the soft opening.

Baltimore is a city of small businesses and corner places in which you are your reputation, and reputations are still made by word of mouth. People in this town tend to be pretty savvy about what works and what doesn’t, even to the point of passing judgment on certain shops, cafes and bars without ever having been inside.

Word of mouth can make a bar legendary. Worked for this place.

This might seem counter-intuitive, but this is also a town of very few surprises. We’ve been just about every place that’s worth going, and the truth is that we’ve seldom been surprised. If someone says a spot has the absolute best bloody marys, they probably do. If the word on the street is that the service is terrible, you can believe that it is. And if a place gets a reputation as a neighborhood’s best kept secret, you’d be much encouraged to get yourself in there as often as possible.

Granted, in this day and age word of mouth is also word of email. It’s word of tweet and word of status update, as the folks at Cafe Hon are finding out. The bottom line remains the same though, if you’ve got the goods you’ve got a good reputation. You can hire all the PR people and social media strategists you want, but none of them can do for your business what a few good words, honestly spoken from a trusted source will do.

So we say skip the big grand opening, no matter what you’re opening. Don’t bother with the 60% off sales and the double-happy happy hours. Forget about the groupons and ad campaigns and luring critics in the door and all of that nonsense.

Just hang out your shingle, open your doors, and offer your offerings as best you can. Baltimore will do the rest for you.

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House Rules: Last Call Part 2

Just before New Year’s we weighed in with our opinion on Baltimore’s 2 am last call law. While some find it absurd, offensive, and annoying, we really don’t mind it much at all. Love it or hate it though, 2 am last calls aren’t going away anytime soon in the City of Baltimore.

Since it’s here to stay, we all might as well make the best of it. When you’re out late this weekend, or any weekend in the future, keep in mind that there is a well-established protocol- a set of House Rules if you will. While the drill may vary slightly from bar to bar, the last call ritual is easier to endure when you know the rules.

Closing time.

Know and understand Bar Time. First thing’s first, when you arrive at the bar you intend to close, locate the House Clock. This will almost always be a large, non-digital clock, most likely behind the bar, but possibly at its end, near the front door, or high on the opposite wall. This clock will be set to Bar Time. Bar time is usually 15-20 minutes ahead of real time, but may even be as much as 30. It may be 17, maybe 12 1/2 doesn’t matter. Whatever it is, that’s what time it is. Doesn’t matter what your watch says. Your watch is wrong until you’re on the other side of the door.

Anticipate the last call-call. When the Bar Time clock says 1:30, you know that last call is coming in the next few minutes. If you’re already ready for another round, get it before every other jerk in the bar orders ‘one more for the road.’ If the bartender asks you ‘Would you like anything for last call?’ or just announces it to the company at large, you should know immediately a) whether you want to order and b) what you want to order. Whether it’s one more of the same, a round of shots, or something for a nightcap, now is the time to order decisively.

Make preparations to leave. If you need a cab, arrange for it now. If your party got separated, get them back together posthaste. If you need to get a phone number, get it before the lights go up. Finish your drinks. Don’t Chug, just finish. If you can’t or don’t want to, then don’t. No shame in that. Now is also a good time to get your coat, since barroom coat theft is a problem rampant everywhere from Baltimore to Blighty.

Pay your check. It’s best to ask for your check before the bartender closes all tabs and hands them out. You should be asking for your check at the same moment you order your last round, before everyone else has a check to pay also. This is also a very good time to ask for a six pack to go if you need one, because it’s not like you can stop by the liquor on the way home, yes?

Know the difference between Last Call and Bar’s Closed. When the lights are turned on, the stools go up, and the staffers start making comments like ‘If you don’t work here and you’re not sleeping with someone who does, you have to leave now.’ that’s not last call anymore. That’s the bar being closed. That’s when you walk out of the door because the bar is not open anymore. Don’t stand around complaining. Don’t go for the bathroom. Don’t try to continue drinking. Just leave. Bouncers and barbacks in this town *will* snatch the drink right out of your hand and tell you to fuck off. Please don’t make it come to that.

Get the hell out of there. Don’t stand out front smoking cigarettes for an hour and a half. Don’t make out in your car in the parking lot until dawn. Don’t walk around in circles drunk dialing people for no good reason. Go home. Or go to the diner or Wawa or someplace. But mostly go home.

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House Rules: Last Call- Part 1

New Year’s Eve is a sacrosanct holiday in Baltimore. It’s the one night of the year when bars are allowed to stay open as long as they damn well please. It’s like every drunk’s birthday at once, where midnight is the starting point and every barstool Baudelaire is bound and determined to drink until they see the windows lighting, stagger out into some epic new dawn of a new year of a new metaphor of a new day of being the Champion, the undisputed Champion of drinking.

When the bar looks that empty and blurry, it's time to go the fuck home anyway.

The Chop, for one, just doesn’t get it. You can go into any bar in this city on any night of the year and every single patron in there will have an opinion about closing time. We don’t suggest you test this theory, because if you do, you’re going to have nitwits falling all over themselves to tell you their own personal stories and opinions on the matter.

“I used to live in New York and up there…”

“Well down in New Orleans…”

“I don’t even get off work until after midnight…”

“I’m a libertarian and blah blah blah…”

Personally, we’re past the point where we even like staying out late. You know the Chop, and we’ll go out five, six nights a week but we’re happiest when we’re getting back home around 12:30 or 1 am. It’s nice to have some time to put your feet up, watch the Daily Show, and decompress a little before the stroke of 3 am. Even on the nights when we want to make it late, we’ve got no problem grabbing a table at the diner or taking it back home for a nightcap. We’ve managed to see the sun come up plenty of times with the liquor laws just the way they are.

We’d also like to humbly suggest to those who would whine about a 2 am closing that it is legal to show up before 11pm. If the place is that great, if drinking is so much fun, if you want to be there longer and drink more, just come earlier. Show up at 9… five hours of bar drinking should be enough for anyone.

Later this week we’ll discuss the actual etiquette of last call. As for today, the comments on this entry are closed. We know you’ve got an opinion on it, but you can go harangue some other drunk about it. We’re too deep into our home bar to listen.

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