Tag Archives: Bars

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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House Rules: Bring the Bum’s Cooler to Baltimore!

Over the summer, when we were in the Middle East, one of the other Americans we were working with happened to be from South Florida. Now, we know some of you are probably rolling your eyes and groaning just at the mention of South Florida, but hear us out on this one.

This guy, who we’ll call Broward, was kind of an anomaly in that he was actually from South Florida, and was neither a Miami clubfuck or a retired New Yorker. In fact, he probably would have got along quite well in Baltimore.

Broward was about our age, and with the world being as small as it is, we’d actually met him before this trip. Anyway, we got to talking one day, and the conversation had turned to beer and bars and so on, when he told us of a certain bar in his home town which had hit on an absolutely genius idea.

Being down and out is no reason to go thirsty.

This particular bar was located directly across from a greyhound racing track. So when he described it as a dive, you can believe it was a real, genuine dive. It was the kind of place that was open from 6 am until last call every day; where trucker hats are worn without irony and people go to cure the shakes. It was the kind of place where people who lose bets on dog races hang out, and where the bartender would sometimes do customers the favor of cashing their social security checks for them.

But this bar had one thing going for it: The Bum’s Cooler.

Here’s how it works- the Bum’s Cooler sits behind the bar and is stocked with 3 types of canned beer; PBR, Milwaukee’s Best, and Icehouse. For one American Dollar ($1), the bartender will reach into the Bum’s Cooler and grab a can at random to serve you. No happy hour, no specials, just random one dollar swill beers, every day, all day. Don’t like Icehouse? Drink it fast and hope for a PBR next time. Don’t like PBR? Spend two more bucks for a good beer, you bum.

Needless to say, the Bum’s Cooler must be brought to Baltimore as soon as possible. We’ve already imported some of South Florida’s worst ideas, and we say it’s high time we brought in a good one.

If any local bar owner will fill a cooler full of Boh, PBR, and High Life, we promise to sit in there from open to close playing keno and piling up as many empty cans as possible.

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Chop on the Spot: Bluegrass

You don’t need us to tell you about the food at Bluegrass. There are already plenty of reviews out there in the Sun, The Citypaper, Baltimore Magazine and elsewhere. Baltimore is very much a city in which restaurants are their reputations, and when a place like Bluegrass opens up, everyone seemingly wants to be the first one in, and the first one to make that reputation. We’re not just talking about newspapers and magazines, but also about sites like Yelp and Chowhoud, which tend to fill up with very strong opinions from self-appointed experts soon after any decent restaurant opens its doors.

We like to eat as much as the next guy, and even more than that we like to cook, and manage to stay busy enough in the kitchen here at the Chophouse. One thing we don’t like to do though is to write about food. This is not a food blog, and never will be. We’ve already gone on a rant about foodies, and it wasn’t until we checked out Bluegrass’ website and found this little gem that we realized we weren’t alone in our opinions. (Click that link. It’s very much worth your time to read.)

We’re here to tell you that Bluegrass has a bar.

My Old Kentucky Home.

We’re here to tell you that Bluegrass has an excellent bar. With its modest portion sizes Bluegrass has become the kind of place that is becoming increasingly popular in Baltimore; the sort where people go to eat a little and drink a lot. To our mind, if the cocktails are the main attraction, then why even bother with the menu?

Thanks to a bit of architectural foresight, the space’s two dining rooms (upstairs and in the rear) as well as the kitchen (in the basement) are well secluded from the bar. It may technically be a restaurant bar, but it feels very much like an updated version of the South Baltimore corner bar that it is. Being on its own, the intimate bar space is left entirely to take on the mood and feeling of whatever patrons happen to inhabit it at any given moment, which should be the way with all great bars.

But the patrons themselves can only do so much. It’s up to the bartender to do the rest, and with their formidable selection of Bourbons Bluegrass does a fine job of holding up their end of the bargain. Throw in 6 regularly rotating taps, a good selection of bottles, occasional firkin nights, and some purely professional bartenders who pour ’em strong, and you’ve got a recipe for a truly great bar.

It’s one that we’ll be back to whenever we’re down that way, and perhaps even when we’re not. Some say Bluegrass is a destination restaurant, but for us it’s a destination bar.

The best part? They’re open Sundays.

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Bluegrass is at 1500 S. Hanover St. in South Baltimore. 410-244-5101. Closed Mondays.

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House Rules: Football Free Zones- Bars With No TV’s

There’s no denying it. Football is basically the new religion in America. The game once took a backseat to baseball, but ever since the 1994 MLB strike, the NFL has made huge gains in popularity and revenue every year, with no sign of slowing down anytime soon (unless they can’t resolve their own labor issues by next year).

We’ve had a hard time figuring out what to do with ourselves on Sundays lately, inasmuch as the entire city turns purple and shuts down. Non-football fans are pretty much free to walk around naked and rob banks on Sunday afternoons, since nobody’s paying attention anyway. By the same token, if you want to go to where people are, it can be nearly impossible to escape football.

Football and church have a lot in common. They both bore the Chop to death.

Even our humble Chophouse has its living room commandeered by Roommate and his girlfriend every Sunday, so the entire first floor is basically given over to football, takeout, and couch-sprawling. Since we can’t keep our house as a football free zone, and because staying upstairs with nothing else on TV only goes so far, by 7 or 8 we’re usually ready to break the dull monotony with a drink or two between a different set of walls.

Most bars use screen size and premium football channels as selling points to draw the crowds in, but for us, just the opposite will get us in the door. Here are a few of our favorite local spots which don’t have any televisions in the bar whatsoever. These are the kind of places where you have little choice but to talk to the person next to you at the bar. Or, you know, check the scores on your smartphone.

13.5% Wine Bar 1117 W. 36th St, Hampden. Sunday hours 1pm- ‘late’.

Bertha’s 734 S. Broadway, Fell’s Point. Sunday hours 11:30 am- 2am.

Club Charles 1724 N. Charles St., Station North. Sunday hours 6pm- 2 am.

Daugherty’s 223 W. Chase St, Mount Vernon. Sunday hours 12pm- 2 am.

Dionysus 8 E Preston St., Mount Vernon. Sunday hours 5pm-2am.

Hamilton Tavern 5517 Harford Rd, Hamilton. Sunday hours 4:30 pm- 2 am.

Holy Frijoles 908 W 36th St., Hampden. Sunday hours 12 pm- 10 pm.

McCabes 3845 Falls Rd., Hampden. Sunday Hours 11:30 am- 1:30 am.

Metropolitan 902 S. Charles St., Federal Hill. Sunday hours 8 am – 11 pm.

Red Maple 930 N. Charles St., Mount Vernon. Sunday hours 6 pm- 2 am.

These hours are only guidelines, but should be mostly accurate. If you’re looking for the Chop on a Sunday evening, odds are good you’ll find us in one of these spots. What about you, Baltimore? How do you beat the Sunday doldrums and fill the void, if not with football?

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Of course, voting for the Chop in the Baltimore Sun’s Mobbies contest is another great way to kill time on Sundays. We’re nominated in the Music/Nightlife, Misfits, and Personal categories, and we’re going to need your vote now to push us up into first in one of those categories.

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House Rules: Puking in Public

None of us want to admit it, but we’ve all been there. Even your own humble Chop has, on a certain few occasions chundered mightily in the most inappropriate of places (mostly when some asshole friend insists on buying rounds of Jagermeister). We know better now, and thanks to our ironclad moral code and vast knowledge of social etiquette, we are proud to report that we can still show our face in most of Baltimore’s finest dive bars.

Of course, there is only one right and proper place to retch, and that’s in the privacy of your own home in your own miserable commode that you really meant to scrub out really well this week and now really wish you had.

Failing that, the best you can hope for is the side of a road far from the bar(s) where you spent your evening. You’d better also hope for a compassionate and understanding designated driver. While the shoulder of a highway is possibly the best place to puke publicly, the inside of someone else’s car is possibly the worst. And God help you if you ever get retarded enough to sick up in a cab. Not even the Chop can help you out of that one.

At any rate, you should at least be able to get yourself out of the bar. Once you’re outside though, you’re not in the clear just yet. A good rule of thumb is to avoid vomiting in any place where you’d think twice about peeing in broad daylight. Behind a dumpster is cool, a parking meter on Aliceanna Street is not. Behind a tall bush is acceptable, a bus stop on North Avenue is not.

But supposing, just supposing that you’ve imbibed so well that you can’t possibly effect egress in a timely fashion. All hope is not lost.

Listen closely Baltimore: You must make it to the toilets. Run if you have to. Scream as loud as you can if that’s what it takes. Don’t worry- when people realize what you’re about they will get out of your way, even if they have to stop mid-stream to do it. Don’t worry about making a scene, because you’re making a scene anyway.

But here’s the most important thing… whether you make it to the lavatory or whether you ‘stand and deliver’ right in the middle of a crowded tavern, you’re on the hook… and certain things are expected of you.

You have to own up to it. This is best done by approaching the nearest bartender and making a sincerely contrite apology. Apologize profusely. To everyone in sight. The Bartender-Customer relationship is an ancient and sacred trust. Your doctor can’t treat you if you’re not forthcoming. Your priest can’t absolve you if you don’t confess, and your bartender can’t help you if you try to weasel out. Bartenders are professionals, and have seen much worse than you in their day. Never approach a barback, waiter, or other staffer. You are the province of the bartender, and he is your point-man in this situation.

Get your check. It doesn’t matter if you’re drinking alone or a party of twelve. You’re not going to be served anymore, so you might as well leave. Hastily.

Play the victim. You know that routine you break out when you’re calling in sick to work on a Monday? Don’t be afraid to break that out at the bar after you’ve tossed it all. Don’t look at it as ‘this horribly embarrassing thing that I did.‘ Instead look at it as ‘this terrible thing that happened to me.’ Preserve your dignity at all costs.

Tip Lavishly. We really can’t stress this enough. If you’re nauseated in a bar, you need to tip ridiculously well. If your tab is double digits, a 100% tip is in order. If you’re in the triple digits, 50% is your starting point. These are minimum standards. There is no ceiling in this situation.

Get the hell out of Dodge. Don’t try to say goodbye to that college classmate you bumped into. Don’t wait for everyone else to finish their drinks… just GO. Drunken hookup rules apply here. Gather your things and GTFO. If there’s unsettled business or a guilty conscience, you can stop by 3-4 days later during happy hour to discuss things in the light of day.

Don’t do it again! Impeccable behavior is expected from this point on. If you show up the next Friday and perform an encore, you’re sunk. When you heave in a bar, you had better be a perfect gentleman or a proper lady from that point onward.

Now who wants some Jager bombs? We’re buying!!!

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Note: The Chop does not endorse or condone the buying or drinking of Jagermeister. If we see you do it in public, we will walk the other way. Fast.

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