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Chop on the Spot: Griffith’s Tavern

Part of the appeal of any neighborhood bar is being in a spot where “everybody knows your name,” but as we discussed in a previous post, a little anonymity can go a long way sometimes. There are times when a man wants a little solitude; not too much, just an hour or so to sit in the dark, not be bothered, have a drink and be alone with his thoughts.

It’s at times like these- these blessed, quiet hours, that you might find the Chop in Griffith’s Tavern with a cold draft and our phone turned off, hiding in plain sight. Griffith’s is truly the best of both worlds- the place where the bartender will learn your name and your drink, but where you’re guaranteed not to run into anyone you’d rather not run into.

Griffith's Tavern... the bar that time forgot.

In a way, hiding in plain sight is what Griffith’s does best. It sits there right on Hickory, just a block up from the Avenue smack in the dead-center of Hampden proper. It’s still pretty easy to miss though, being as non-descript as a bar can be. There’s comparatively little traffic passing that corner, and even some of the Hampden locals who pass the place on foot mistake it for being either a private club of some sort, or being closed down entirely. The small sign with business hours posted is the only clue that it’s actually a functional bar. Being attached to the back of a rowhouse, with solid steel doors and tiny, barred windows the place is willingly uninviting from the exterior.

On the interior, it’s nothing less than the bar that time forgot. Stepping inside the door is literally like stepping back in time. Wood paneling is the predominant theme, accented by a nicotine-stained drop ceiling, an ancient, never-refinished wooden bar, and a Bud Light clock over the video poker machine which looks to date from about 1985. One flatscreen TV jammed up in the corner is the only nod to modernity.

The flashback continues behind the bar, where you’ll see a few things that are tough to find in some bars these days; glass-door coolers with cans of Busch, pints and half pints of liquor for carry-out, snack food and a “medicine cabinet” stocked with singles of Tylenol, Advil, and Bayer, which come in handy in the kind of bar that opens at 9 am and has no food menu. There’s even an old coffee pot behind the bar.

Of course, the regulars at Griffith’s don’t notice anything being out of date, because that’s just the way things have always been. Griffith’s caters to Hampden’s last genuine Hons. We’re not talking about the neck-tattooed, Newport-breath, recovery program ‘Hons’ you find in Zissimo’s or Dmitri’s either. Griffith’s is like the beauty parlor; the place your mom and your aunt get together to gossip about the neighbor’s kids. A $2.50 draft is cheaper than a perm. Much like a salon or a barbershop, the conversation here is general. Anyone can take the floor and put in their two cents at any time, and not be thought rude for doing so. Or you can just sit back and listen. You don’t even have to listen that long before you hear a few good digs at the expense of a certain Hampden restaurateur.

Griffith’s may not be the best choice for Saturday night. It’s not the bar you pick to meet a friend for dinner. If you’re looking to flirt or meet someone, you’re definitely in the wrong place. But if what you seek is a cold beer and a peaceful hour, enjoyably spent then there may be no better bar in Baltimore.

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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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God Save the Queen!

Today is Saint Patrick’s day, Baltimore. It’s that most drunk and sloppy of meaningless phony holidays which are completely insignificant and thoroughly unenjoyable. We’re already on record as being against drinking holidays and the rabble they produce as a matter of principle, and all of this green and phony-baloney Irish crap doesn’t sway our opinion in the least. Throughout history the Irish have shown themselves to be little more than illiterate Papist subsistence farmers, no better than, say, Guatemala when you really think about it. Instead of ‘Kiss me, I’m Irish,’ we prefer ‘Kiss my ass, I’m American!’

Rather than swill green beer and play at being some sort of drunken foolish hooligan, we’re intending to mark today in the manner we think most proper… a celebration of all things English.

The Chop celebrates England, in all her glory.

With the closing of Canton’s Tyson’s Tavern last Fall, the area’s base of proper English establishments was reduced by a third. Fortunately, two British outposts remain in Central Maryland as a testament to and a reminder of the greatness of the English nation.

If you’re south of the city, Union Jack’s in Columbia is about as British as it gets this side of the Atlantic. We’ve never been, but the photos on their site remind us instantly of some of the pubs we saw in the high street on our trip to Southampton. With a full menu, some 60 beers, and four distinct spaces, there’s little reason to leave once you’re settled in.

If Howard County is a stretch though, you can still get your full fix of all things Anglo at Brighton’s. Hidden away on the second floor of Light Street’s Intercontinental Hotel, Brighton’s is something of an ironic contrast when compared with Union Jack’s. Although it’s in the heart of the city, the ambiance here is decidedly more upscale with something of a country feel to it. It wouldn’t take much suspension of disbelief to arrive around tea time and swear that you’d walked into a country estate, just after the hunt. It also offer’s close proximity to one of the city’s very best bars, the Explorers Lounge. The martinis here may be damn close to $20, but it’s a guaranteed lock that you’ll be able to drink one in peace without encountering a single one of the tossers and punters about in Federal Hill.

If you’re not as flush as all that though, you can still celebrate the same way we plan to: by donning our Arsenal jersey and spinning a Billy Bragg record while whipping up a vegan shepherd’s pie or a bread pudding, and settling into it with a James Bond flick and a pukka dry martini.

(We’ll keep admiring the English right up until about the Fourth of July, at which time of course we’ll conveniently remember our own Yankee superiority, which bows to no one and takes pride in being a citizen, not a subject.)

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Chop on the Spot: Dan Brothers Shoes

Now that the holidays have come and gone and the dead-of-winter hibernation period has fully set in, we’re beginning to make subtle preparations to go a-traveling again. One of the most important of those preparations is the acquisition of a new pair of solid-yet-comfortable everyday shoes that can withstand many hours of standing still in comfort.

We settled on these chukka boots from Johnston and Murphy, which feature a crepe rubber sole and sheepskin lining, and which were comfortable the moment we tried them on, and won’t really require any breaking in at all.

These boots were made for... standin' around.

This isn’t a post about shoes though: it’s a post about a shoe store. When we first set out to shoe shopping, we began by going into Benjamin Lovell in Harbor East, and were sorely disappointed. Their stock was so depleted, and the store featured so many empty shelves that in another neighborhood you might think it was a drug front. As the only customer in the shop we were double-teamed by the staff, who after not having our size of the one shoe we sort of liked, made a point of saying “Well, if there’s something else you need we can order it for you.” Really? No shit? There’s a new invention called the internet. We can order shoes from it without you, thanks.

Since we were downtown anyway, and already had one of those little parking meter slips for the dashboard we stopped by Famous Footwear and, well, that’s 3 minutes of our life we’ll never get back. Don’t ever go to Famous Footwear. Unless you want to buy a pair of Sketchers. Then go.

Which brings us to Dan Brothers. Over the years, we’ve been by there dozens of times, but never really been drawn in. (There’s not much in the way of window displays.) We’ve even been to their website, which is not a particularly good website, and could use a redesign.

The store itself though is outstanding. The large inventory is beautifully displayed and runs the full range from smart-casual to business to formal, even including exotic skins and boots, and a clearance section with shoes you might actually want to wear. Dan Bros is about as old-school Baltimore as you can get, and the friendly, local staff gives the place more the feel of a neighborhood barbershop than a shoe store.

In 70 years they claim to have sold shoes to everyone from William Donald Schaefer to Muhammad Ali, and we can see why. If you want to be the sort of bastard that walks in someplace, orders a good Scotch, puts your feet up on the table and hears someone ask “Whoa, where’d you get those shoes?” Then you’d do well to swing by Dan Bros. It took some self-control for us to walk out of there with only one pair, and we’re certain our first visit will be the first of many.

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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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Chop on the Spot: iBar

We probably shouldn’t tell you about iBar. We should probably keep our big mouth shut for once and leave well enough alone. Or maybe we should use some reverse psychology. Don’t go to iBar. It’s not very cool.

There. That ought to insure that iBar remains one of the best kept open secrets in Baltimore. If you’re anything like us, you’ve driven by iBar 10,000 times and always meant to go in, but never quite did. When you say to your friend ‘Where do you want to go?’ they probably never told you iBar. We were guilty of this for quite a long time. It’s so close to Club Charles, Joe Squared, Ottobar, etc that it’s always just been easier to go with the familiar.

Photo from the iBar Website.

Of course, sometimes you just don’t feel like dealing with the Club Charles. Sometimes you just want to have a cheap beer and watch a few innings of baseball and chitchat with people who are cool, but yet don’t know or care about design aesthetics, electronic music, or bicycles. That’s when you go to iBar.

True to the name they offer free wi-fi, as well as a public internet connected PC at the end of the bar. That’s where the technology connection ends though. The rest of iBar is just a good old fashioned corner place (although it’s not on a corner) with cheap cold beer, pretty and nice bartenders, an awesome pub grub menu, and a decent jukebox well stocked with solid un-ironic 80’s pop. There’s also one nice sized flatscreen which has been tuned to baseball every time we’ve been in.

Next time you’re driving by and idly wondering about the place, do yourself a favor and stop in. You’ll be glad you did.

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iBar is at 2118 Maryland Ave in Old Goucher/Charles North/Charles Village South/Whatever the hell you want to call it.

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