Tag Archives: nightlife

Why Won’t Baltimore Food Trucks Operate at Night?

Well Baltimore, the heat has finally broken. The cold has snapped. The mercury is beginning to drop. Very soon the trees will be bare of leaves, the woodland creatures will burrow in, and birds will fly south for the winter. There’s also another species whose ranks are about to be thinned out a bit… namely Baltimore food trucks.

Food trucks have been multiplying faster than mosquitoes all Summer long. After the great city hall food truck crisis of May 2011, trucks were given their own zones, as well as carte blanche to operate anywhere in the city. A new truck seemed to hit the streets almost once a week.

Believe it or not, people get hungry at night too.

That was Summer though, and this is Fall. While there is certainly no shortage on the supply side, demand for street food is sure to wane as the weather grows colder. Curbside Cafe has already served its last burrito for one reason or another, and we’d be willing to bet that at least a few of its competitors will end up on the scrap heap.

The food trucks that survive the long, cold winter won’t necessarily be the ones with the best food or the most advantageous lunchtime parking spot, but the ones that are willing to work the hardest and put in the longest hours. Up until now, gourmet chuckwagons have catered almost exclusively to the downtown lunch crowd. A few of them will gear up for a Saturday event now and then, but by and large their operators have treated their enterprises mostly like a nine to five job.

Not only does this limited-to-lunchtime business plan completely ignore an entire segment of the local market, it runs counter to the whole purpose of selling food from a truck in the first place. Historically, food trucks have catered to blue collar workers at places like construction sites and steel mills, or any other remote location where people may be hungry. Baltimore’s fleet of trucks has for some reason chosen to operate only in areas that are already glutted with restaurants, and to compete with them directly from 11 to 3.

But what about the other 11-3? The one after dinner and before breakfast? The one where all the restaurants are closed but people are still out and hungry? The trucks that fill this niche are the ones that will survive the winter.

Baltimore has a serious deficit of late night dining options. There’s the Sip and Bite and Captain James’ Carryout, which despite all their charm are frankly pretty crummy restaurants. The Papermoon Diner is still crucial, although they’re no longer 24 hours, and often feature a post-last-call rush and lengthy wait times on weekends. There are a few traditional diners as well, though these are mostly on the outskirts of the city and can be inconvenient for those of us living downtown. We’re sure we don’t speak only for ourselves when we say that after a long night of Chopping it up at the bars, we’d much rather sample some delectable mobile fare than coming home and eating drunkfood like a fatty.

We’re out of luck though, because even though every weekend there are plenty of starving students at Power Plant, Hungry hungry hipsters in Station North, and famished folks in Fell’s the city’s food trucks refuse to claim their rightful place in its nightlife scene. Food truck owners: You are literally leaving piles of money sitting on the corner. All you’ve got to do to double your profits is just show up.

It’s not just insatiate imbibers who would be well served by food trucks hitting the streets at night. There are also plenty of cops, EMT’s, doctors and nurses and other public servants in the downtown sphere who don’t keep regular hours, but enjoy a mid-shift lunch nonetheless. They deserve better than what’s left on the shelf at 7-11 or a sack lunch brought from home. Serving up hot food on cold nights would not only boost a truck’s profits, it would bring the concept full circle, serving hard-working people who can’t get a restaurant meal.

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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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The Best Midnight Snacks After a Night Out Drinking

We know you like to eat, Baltimore. We know you like to eat well, too. You’re all about your farmers’ markets and your new restaurants and your local, sustainable, seasonal ingredients and everything else.

We like to eat as much as the next armchair gourmet, but even more than that, we like to drink. A sub-par meal can always be salvaged by a stiff Rusty Nail beforehand, a bottle of Boordy Rockfish during, and a generous pour of Cognac afterward.

Of course sometimes when we’re out on the town, we have such a good dinner that we forget to actually order any food. When we stumble home at 2:15 am and realize that our kitchen is not air-conditioned and that brown rice and whole vegetables often require a lot of time-consuming and messy work over a hot stove, our palate becomes a lot less sophisticated real quick.

Still though, eating Captain Crunch by hand right out of the box or smothering questionable leftovers with ketchup is a low to which we cannot stoop. After a long night of boozing it is necessary to walk that fine line between quality and convenience. It’s at dire times like these we’re glad that we make a point of always keeping on hand one of our top five favorite midnight snacks.

Morningstar Farms Burgers

At only about 2 minutes in the microwave, these things are already done before you can reach for the buns and plates. They come in several varieties (including vegan) and you can top them off about a thousand different ways. These might be our favorite food, period.

V8 Soups

A little pricier than your average can of soup, but well worth it. These things are good enough on their own, but once you throw in a handful of baby spinach and heat up a couple of slices of frozen cheesy garlic bread, you can easily pass off your booze blackout as a food coma.

Knorr-Lipton Pasta Pouches

These things also come in several flavors and usually cost less than $2 each. They boil up in under 10 minutes in one pan, which is just enough time to add your own frozen vegetables to the mix and have them end up just right.

Zatarain’s Black Beans and Rice

This product takes a little longer to cook up, but it won’t cost you any more effort. It’s a good choice if you’re making it home before last call, and you’ve also got plenty of choices on what to add to it or top it off with. As an added bonus, these boxes are just big enough to feed two people.

Noodle Bowl

Nowadays there’s a lot more to instant noodles that the old nickel packs of Top Ramen. Rice noodles cook almost instantly, and while a noodle bowl is not quite substantial enough to be a meal unto itself, you can pair it with any sort of microwaveable spring roll, or add some frozen potstickers for a quick and tasty nosh.

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The careful reader may have noticed that all of these choices are vegetarian friendly. The fact is that the Chop is a vegetarian, and we wouldn’t recommend anything we’re not eating ourselves. While after a long night’s drinking you may be more interested in Esskay franks or a bologna sandwich, we at least hope it goes to show that eating vegetarian is a lot easier than most people think, and even when you’re getting tipsy and microwaving, you’re still getting a better meal than what you find on most bar food menus.

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House Rules: How to Make a Polite Introduction

It’s Monday Baltimore. It’s a new week, and the perfect time to introduce the first in an occasional series of posts called House Rules. House Rules will focus primarily on Barroom etiquette. The art and science of buying rounds, what to drink and how to tip, rules for last call, how to choose the proper bar for the right occasion… all will be covered. Over time the House Rules category will become a comprehensive guide and one-stop resource for proper behavior in the modern bar and nightlife scene.

A visual approximation of the Chop's weekend.

Rule #1: Introductions

It constantly amazes us how many people we know in Baltimore that we don’t actually know. It’s a shameful testament to the poor social graces of the Chop’s friends, who have failed to introduce us. It’s shocking when we come across someone on Facebook who shares more than 20 Friends whom we’ve never actually met socially.

The point was driven home at a show recently when a friend failed to introduce us to a friend of theirs. It really stuck in the Chop’s mind, because we had encountered the same non-acquaintance at the same bar a month prior, where she was chatting with Roommate, who also failed to make the introduction. We bumped into her a third time this weekend, this time with no common friends present. It would have been nice to be able to say hello and chat for a bit.

Now, the Chop is no wallflower, and isn’t afraid to introduce himself to anyone on principle, although in practice this can be very socially awkward, as a self-introduction will never go as smoothly as a proper social introduction.

An introduction must be made. It sounds simple, but the first and most important step in making an introduction is that you actually have to do it. This is a case where doing it wrong is far preferable to not doing it at all. Don’t ever assume that two people you know know each other also. If you’re unsure, there’s no shame in simply saying “Do you two know each other?” In any case, if you’re in a bar and someone you know joins your circle or takes the next stool, an introduction is required.

Respect is due. Social Primer gives the guidelines for who should take precedence in an introduction. A lot of the old rules don’t fully apply to Baltimore nightlife, but it is a good idea to present men to women. All things being equal, the Chop says give deference to the friend you’ve known longest, or to whom you’re closest.

Say who’s who. In any case, you should say the full names of all the people you’re introducing. It’s also good form to state your relationship to each party or how you know one another. For instance: “Brian Matusz, this is my cousin from Colorado Garrett Atkins. [then to Atkins] I met Brian at the University of San Diego.” or something similar to that.

Note what’s common. It’s always good form to let your friends know if they have anything in common, aside from knowing you. In our example above, you might say something like “Garrett has just been signed from the Rockies, and Brian was actually born in Grand Junction.” This will go a long way toward helping two strangers feel much more familiar with one another.

State the facts. It will be polite to note something current and significant about each person. If you’re introducing a guitarist in a local band to someone who regularly does volunteer work for a non-profit, you should say so. If you’re introducing someone who engages in no particular notable activity, it is also acceptable to address a hobby or interest they might have. This is to encourage conversation between your friends.“Garrett can play first or third base and Brian likes dinosaurs and gummy bears.”

It’s pleasure, not business. While there are exceptions, it is traditionally impolite to mention someone’s job during a social introduction. Not everyone particularly likes their job. Some people can even be downright ashamed of what they do for a living. Still others have good jobs they may enjoy, but which are conversational dead ends. No one wants to discuss desks and cubicles and memoranda while they’re out at night. A fairly large income gap between your friends might also be a factor. Personally, the Chop has a very interesting job which we like and usually don’t mind discussing, but it’s uncommon enough that it provokes the same set of questions often, and answering them can become tiresome quickly.

Keep the conversation going. If you’re in the middle of a conversation you mean to finish when one of your friends approaches, You should pause to make a quick introduction and then resume the conversation, now including the person who just approached. If we were talking with Brian Matusz about who in Baltimore serves the best hamburgers when cousin Garrett stepped up to the bar, we might say to Atkins “I was just telling Brian about the burgers at Alonso’s. Have you had a chance to try Abbey Burger Bistro in Federal Hill yet?” Which will go a long way toward making a new arrival feel welcomed and valued.

And really, isn’t feeling welcome and valued the goal with all social interactions?

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