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March 26, 2008

Dodging meatheads

A week or two ago, Bowing Ben asked for a reprint of my very first nightlife column, about how to dodge meatheads in Federal Hill.

I re-read it a couple days ago and chuckled at some of the stuff I wrote in it.

I had just moved to Baltimore a couple months before, and was still getting to know the city.

Keep in mind: This was before Ryleigh's became the now uber-popular Ryleigh's Oyster.  

Here's the piece ... 

A bar night in Federal Hill can sometimes turn into a claustrophobic shovefest, with you versus a bumbling pack of loud, drunken meatheads.

To avoid this, you have to turn your night into a slow-moving game of tag: You hide in one bar until the zombies flood it and you scamper to another bar a couple of blocks over.

If you play well, your eyes won't water with smoke trails from a thousand cigarettes.

You won't have to cup your hand to your mouth and scream:WHAT'S YOUR NAME!?!?!



Here's one man's guide to a (mostly) fathead-free night out in Federal Hill.

Start early at a popular joint before it gets packed. We went to Mother's Federal Hill Grille (pictured, top) for some food about 9:30 p.m. one Saturday, in that nice little post-dinner crowd/pre-bar crowd window.

All-American fare was in order: a few of Brother Don's Big Phat Old Bay Hot Wings and a Big Buh Burger, washed down with a couple Mother's Brews. A medium-bodied beer with good flavor, draft Mother's Brews cost the same ($4.50) as draft Yeunglings and taste better.

After about an hour, the music started getting louder, and the bar area started filling up. We didn't have to deal with this up close (we were in the dining area), but hearing some dumb mid-'90s pop song (Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It") finally broke us.

This might be how we do it, but it's not Friday night, and we're not in middle school anymore. Time for us to move on.

We hunkered down, formed a line behind RJ (the big guy of the group), and elbowed our way through the sea of flesh and smoke.

We walked up East Cross Street looking for another half-full hangout when Robert Plant's high-pitched scream stopped us cold. It was Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love Medley" from BBC Sessions, blasting from No Way Jose Cafe's jukebox, and we were hooked.

While Jose's downstairs area is a little narrow, if you're there before it fills up, it's actually quite cozy. We snagged a few stools near the jukebox and started feeding it.

We ordered a few cool ones, and I looked for some salsa tunes on the jukebox to match the decor. After five minutes, I gave up and settled for the Rolling Stones' "Brown Sugar," because it reminds me of the South, which is as close as I could get to Mexico, musically.

Next came Ryleigh's (pictured, lower right), a clean and classy pub with lots of stained wood and exposed brick. An empty table on the upstairs balcony called to us.

It was well past midnight at this point, and while people still hung out downstairs, the upstairs area where we sat was nearly empty.

We were at a table, so we thought we should wait for a server to take our drink orders. We kept glancing over at the bartender and she kept glancing back at us. Stalemate.

Finally we broke down and ambled over to the bar.

The longer we sat and talked, the more people slowly sifted out the door, making it easier by the moment for us to hear ourselves. By 1 a.m., we couldn't believe our luck - we were almost alone upstairs. I chuckled at the thought of the sardines down the street stuffed into MaGerk's. Not us!

Tonight, at least, I would walk home with my vocal cords and my sanity intact. All in all, I was pleased with the way we dodged the goonies, and dubbed the night a success.

(Photo of Mother's from Sun archives; photo of Ryleigh's by Elizabeth Malby/Sun Photographer)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:09 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


what year was this written?

I wrote this in the fall of 2005.

Boy you were new, weren't you. Pretty much exactly like when I first moved into the city (2004) and I took pictures of EVERYTHING AND EVERYONE AND EVERYTHING.

I still follow the same sort of Meathead avoidance pattern to this day though!

As a former Fed Hill resident, I can say it's definitely true and it brings back memories. I was in Mad River Saturday night before the meathead crowd and it was extremely nice. It's like bar-hopping keep away to avoid the crowd.

Good stuff. I used to love Ryleigh's as well because of the smaller crowds. I've been once since the remodel and will never go back, at least on a weekend. Federal Hill just keeps getting more packed, it has changed a lot in the past 5 years. I remember back to when Mad River was... I can't even remember the name, but it wasn't even crowded on weekends.

You should do an updated plan. Though I cannot think of a bar in Federal Hill proper anymore that is non-meathead crowd on a weekend, I'm sure there are some I'm missing. Some that aren't as centralized... like Porters. Illusions I guess, but that guy/place is totally lame. How are Turners, Sky Lounge and Thirsty Dog these days? I got sick of the crowds and hardly go out around Cross Street the past few years, but would go back if I heard decent word on a place. Better I think to head south to No Idea, Don't Know, Idle Hour, etc., or to another neighborhood completely.

This could be a recurring section Sam.

How to get away from meatheads in..

Fell's Point

Actually, please do Towson. I would love to know what bars people above 25 can actually go in and not feel elderly.

CD, Mad River used to be Boomerang' Austrialian themed place. They served "Kangaroo bites", and poured a mean pitcher of Toohey's. Never been inside since it became Mad River.

Nevin's tends to be my oasis on Cross St. Perfect mix of neighborhood folk, older drinking vets come to sing, and young folk who get the place. Relatively cheap drinks too. Dog Pub ain't too bad either, though I've heard since they've changed their name (Old Thirsty Dog) they don't allow dogs anymore?

everyone here is welcome at FüL.

D from Gtown, you're right. I'm going to revisit this idea in a nightlife column sometime in the next month or so. I'll let you guys know when it comes out.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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