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August 4, 2008

What bar do you love to hate?

Devilish question: If you could mail this book to any local bar, which one would it be?

What is the most poorly run Baltimore bar? Or the bar you love to hate? 

Cast your votes.

Whichever bar wins, I'll mail them this book along with a hand-written letter explaining why they're getting the book.

Hee hee.

(Photo by me) 

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:48 AM | | Comments (65)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


What a tough one; so many candidates:

Magerk's, Grumpies; Mad River, Coburn's.

I think Magerk's wins out. It's really the gold standard of crappy crowded meathead bars.

Rams Head Live... hands down and yes i'll call it a bar since you can't see the stage from most areas!

F. Pants McFadden, I have to go with Coburn's. It's the ONLY bar in Canton that charges cover Friday and Saturday night. I have no idea how they are still in business.

I don't think those bars are poorly run, even if they aren't your style. I think they're actually well run, because they're giving thier "meathead" clientle exactly what they're looking for, and probably making a killing doing it. Went to Mad River for a college style dancing night with my girls this weekend and loved it, even though it's not my usual hang.

I'd say a place like Portside, where they let too many people in and don't move tables out is pretty poorly run. It loses all appeal to hang out there when it's so packed you can't even move. I'd also say the one stall ladies room is probably an issue later in the evening, although I didn't stay long enough to need it more than once. The transistion from restaurant to bar scene is not smooth there, and totally killed the potential.

I agree about Portside. Nice job remodeling but a pain in the butt to move around. Coburns uses promoters that only make money off of the door which makes them stray from the rest of Canton. But as for the worst, i'd have to say Shuckers in Fells. I have given it several chances and been disappointed every time. poor service and bad food every time.
A shame considering it has a great waterfront location.

Golden West Cafe. Hands down. Bad snippy service, lime chilli on everything. "hipper than thou" attitude the second you walk in the door.

Place is annoying as hell.

I'd have to say Lager's. If you aren't a friend of the bartender or prepared to wait 10-20 minutes in a mostly empty bar to get noticed enough to order a beer, it is horrible. The food is uneven. I am not quite sure how it manages to serve the BSSC/kick ball crowd it does generate on random weeknights when 2 bartenders can't manage to get 10 people total their drinks on any given tuesday.

@ sherry: i've noticed the exact same thing at lagers.

...but the most hated bar in Bmore has to be Majerks.

Sky Lounge

Portside (too crowded) and McGerks (way too crowded and some of the staff/bouncers are rude!)

I'm gonna agree with Kate and say that it's not the management that's poor at MaGerk's, it's the crowd. Considering their patronage volume they run a considerably tight ship. (I still prefer to not go there)

As far as what gets my vote, and I gave this a lot of consideration, I'm going with Holy Frijoles - bad food, bad service, terrible bartenders, nuff said. There were a ton of other contenders but Holy Frijoles definitely edges them all out in my mind.

Bill's Cafe....

@ James from hampden
right you are sir...good call

Nevins. The head (and only) doorman is a 70 year old woman. Also, some of the bar-staff appear to be in their own world. I'v e personally seen a bartender get fired on three different occasions, and she always seem to be working the next night. For some reason, people still go into that train-wreck.

Magerk's hands down, the owner has a complete Napoleon complex and torments the woman in the bar by treating to hit on them even though he is one of the ugliest dudes

Out in the County - The Grove @ Vin. The place is the perfect setting: outdoor deck with comfortable seating - good central location. Then the problems start: Slow, slow service, tho there is one guy there who is very attentive. The music: house music way too loud - you practically have to yell. Bartenders who don't know basic drinks then when you tell them what you want and how you want it, still screw it up. Their consistency at this is baffling. e.g. I'd like a vodka and lime on the rocks in a rocks glass. That's when they bring you something in a martini glass. Next time I will draw a picture.

And yet - I went there tons last summer. Why? Not enough outdoor bars.

Everything that woody describes about Nevins is why I love that place. An odd, unpredictable bar in a sea of gentrified blandness.

I, will, though have to side with the folks about McGerks. It may not be my cup o tea, but in terms of turning profit I can't imagine those guyse are doing poorly. It's a Philly bar by origin, and if you've ever been up to Olde City you'd see how it fit right in.

If you sit at the bar at Gold West service is pretty quick.

How about the Gin Mill? They've gone through more ownership restarts than I can count.

Though I understand why many have said Magerk's, I honestly don't think it comes close to the awfulness that is Grumpies. I will never set foot in that place again. Absolutely abysmal management and service. Not to mention the all-meathead crowd.

@GMan, i totally agree with you re: Nevins.

I actually like Magerk's, the staff, and the owner. I only go there during the day, they have the best sushi in town. I have to go with Mad River, but they aren't poorly ran, I just don't like them, then again, it's probably mutual. Poorly ran was #$%#, but they are closed now, maybe Sky Lounge, or Illusions.. are they still open?

Lagers, definitely. After spending a very fun evening there with the owner (who got wasted) and friends of the owner, I was insulted by the owner, who called me a stupid H* to my face. Funny how you insult the ONLY paying patrons in your bar...

any of the Green Turtle locations.

horrid customer service (read: inattentive and poor quality bartenders, repeated kitchen mess ups, as well as uncaring managers)

Portside is a great bar, unfortunatley it is small but it is extremely well ran. The owner is a great guy and he run's a tight ship. It is always crowded on the weekend because people like it. The service is decent as is the food. Sam, let's be positive, what about bars that we love, and well ran bars. Who get's an A+ in this town.....

"I actually like Magerk's, the staff, and the owner. I only go there during the day, they have the best sushi in town."

*blink blink* what?!

Owl bar has the absolute WORST service i have ever witnessed. I have been there on multiple occasions where they are severely understaffed and it takes forever to get a drink when there are only a handful of people at the bar.

That and their inability to promote themselves...they don't even know how to put a sign out in the lobby of the belvedere hotel to inform people that there is even a bar/restaurant behind that pillar. I have met people going to the 13th floor who had no clue it was even there.

My vote goes to the Red House BF's band played there twice. Both times they got a percentage of the ring from the bar. Try getting a drink! The worst ever. And don't laugh at me but Austin Grille was a frequent haunt for about a month because of their happy hour...but I when I did get a bartender to wait on me they clearly couldn't make a margarita to save their lives. Honestly reading this blog has made me step up my game. Sam I think you should do a post on places where you can find good service. I go out all the time in pursuit of this!

I have to agree with ryan97ou that the Owl Bar has horrible service. I say this as an frequent victim of it. The list of mishaps is too long to detail here, but one incident accured when coming for a regular dinner meeting only to find to our surprise that the restaurant had new hours. Upon further protest we discovered this was also a surprise to the manager on duty who upon our complaint found out that the staff had mutinied. They are constantly understaffed, always out of beer, and unsympathetic to any suggestion that things might not be running smoothly. Don't ask me why I didn't give up earlier.

The absolute worst bar or restaurant, at least on the Federal Hill side of the pond, is Porters. How are they still in business? Not trying to be too negative, but they have very inconsistent, unfriendly service...I have to agree with anon on drinking there rules! The owner and staff are very friendly.

The Square - Coburns. When the bartenders are goofing off by simulating animal sex behind the bar more then once. That tells me they have nothing to do because no one is in there.
Fed Hill - Tie: Sky Lounge/Magerks Two words - Grease Fire
Fells Point - Cheerleaders. Suffers from the three deadly bar sins. Identity crisis, sh***** bartenders who steal, patrons who flash signs and fight ALL THE TIME.
Canton - Tie: Lager's (never been but these posts confirm what I 'hear') NcDevins (That owner is the biggest F*&%tard. They do absolutely nothing in terms of running that place. Their staff ****s. Ordered the mussels in white wine sauce, came covered in Ragu. Our answer,"well the regulars like it like that." News flash! Do you know my name? Do I know yours? Have I ever been in here before? So fix it, wait, on second thought, don't, I don't need the extra spit. There is a difference between a poorly run bar and a bar that has poor clientele/music/decor but makes money.

Could be wrong, but doesn't Paul own/run both Magerks and Grumpies?

Fells Point--Duda's. The bartenders are mean at times, it smells like a wet dog in there (that is before the smoking ban as well) and the food is only good if the kitchen staff isn't fall over drunk

Canton--Lager's. The bartenders are tools. They spend most of their day running a side business that isn't exactly legal. Their food is all over the place (they can't even reheat a crab pretzel very well). The new owner straight up lied to nearby residents to get his St. Patty's day tent up this year--at least it was half empty all weekend. Even their patrons suck.

Fed Hills--Porters. The rudest bunch of bartenders and waitstaff I've ever seen try to work in a bar. I guess they make enough from the regulars to stay in business.

Rams Head--I like their seasonals and the stage isn't half bad. However, the bartenders and waitstaff are pretty clueless. We were late for two shows waiting for drinks and a check at the bar. It won't be happening again.

"There is a difference between a poorly run bar and a bar that has poor clientele/music/decor but makes money." Anon nailed it. Although McGerks tops many of your lists, the must be doing something right. And after reading through all these posts I am thankful we have places like Mother's, Max's, No Idea where you can find consistent quality.


When did Lager's get a new owner?

TAPS. none of you mentioned it because it's THAT bad. nobody goes there. it changed hands recently and i was looking forward to it contributing to south baltimore's revitalization. it's a large building with a lot of potential. unfortunately, the new owners didn't budget well and haven't been able to spend a dime on new furniture to replace the VFW-style crappy metal tables and chairs.

they did, however, buy some old arcade games to adorn their awkwardly empty rear section of the first floor. the outward appearance of the bar has remained unchanged aside from a new sign on the corner. they need to hire an interior designer to change the ambience - don't do it yourself, guys, you have NO taste - and figure out which market they're targeting. is it the residents? the bar crowd from 7 blocks down?! there are too many ill-fitting components to the bar that keep it from being a comfortable, attractive place to go.

I must vent and nominate two nefarious Baltimore County landmarks that I have done everything in my power to avoid, at all costs, ever since I was a teenager (when they would have let me or any girl in to drink illegally ...) My nominees for worst bar, both serving the annoyingly prentious breed of alcoholic that can only be raised in Northern Baltimore County are ... drumroll please ...

The Kent where there are a few dudes who have basically lived for several decades selling the devil's lettuce and boasting about attending classes at TU for at least 20+ years on pop's dime and The Mt. Washington Tavern where when if you ask a guy where he went to school he will answer McDonough, SP, BL or Gilman ... only in Smalltimore ... and I can say this because I attended both SPFG and MVP but if you asked me I'd say Elon College for undergrad then UB Law. And I LOVE Nevins! Stop bashing Baltimore's best karaoke :-) XOXOXOX - Nevins! It is the last authentic Baltimore spot on Cross Street.

I can't believe no-one's mentioned Little Havana. Unless you're best friends with the bartenders, they totally ignore you. They chat with their friends, eat, and do bar chores. Anything but wait on you.

And, they have mice that run across the floors.

Yo how y'all people hatin on Nevin's. Haha I sound mad hard. But seriously that place is awesome. I have a serious appreciation for dive bars full off characters, overly confident singers, and cheap drink and Nevin's is that perfect storm of ridiculousness. My favorite part is the really serious karaoke guy with the long pony tail who barely drinks and loves Billy Joel.

Anon-I believe the new owners of Lagers took over last year. The old owner, a nice guy who played soccer and was related to a couple of area regulars, sold it to at least two guys and a lady. One of them was a manager at Coburns and at Owl Bar. Not surprisingly, both of those other places showed up on this list as well...

No bar in Baltimore has ever been as bad as the Poste Moderne Brasserie in D.C. One evening in that nightmare has given me the patience of a saint here in Charm City.

Man oh man. I gotta make a tally. Let's keep this going all week. I'll announce the winner on Friday.


Don't mean you will identify the loser(s) on Friday :)

Sam, too bad Baja didn't stick around for a few more months. They surely would have made the list!

As far as Little Havana goes, you might hate the bartenders, but you love the bar. The place is packed all the time. I wouldn't say that it is poorly ran, is it poorly staffed? Sam, is there going to be a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place winners?

Well, I was going to originally mail the book to the bar with the most votes. But I guess I can do first, second and third place. I'll just photocopy the book cover and mail it to the 2nd and 3rd place winners. Or should I have some kind of professional award made? Any idea that costs money is out of my price range.

why not hold your party at the "winner/loser's" place? see if they learn from their mistakes...

I heard all sorts about that place and how it's for sale, not for sale, for sale(going out of biz) I made my list by man, I think TAPS will eventually turn T*Ts up cause they just don't have the juice, sorry to say. That was a good listing MA,

I am really happy to see that FüL has not made this list.

Mahaffeys in Canton is pretty bad. I live nearby and have given it several chances. Ever feel like you have waked into a strangers house unexpectedly? Like that feeling? Try Mahaffeys.

it's funny that everybody loves Nevin's because of how bad it is.

Lagers without question. The bartenders are more drunk than the customers. The food sucks! The clientele is rude and obnoxious. When they do get a crowd, the women that show up look overly desperate - very strange. My boyfriend use to love the place and drag me in there. Thank god he's done with Lagers... movin' on!

Lagers is in the lead, but what about Clauddaugh's Pub. I have heard many a stories about the owner there, I still can't believe they are true. Walking around the bar with a rifle, are you kidding me? Yelling at staff in front of customers, yelling at customers in front of the staff. However they are still packed every night. Location, location, location!!

As an FYI for the Vin Grove comment, the book would come too late since they are closing for "renovations" sometime in the next week or so. My vote would be for The Golden West. The service has been so consistently bad during my visits that in spite of the tater tots we don't bother going there anymore. Rocket to Venus has those fried pickles anyway.

It's not that Nevins is the best bar in the world, but for its style and location, it's awesome. There are very few drinking holes in this town that have the same unique mis en scene if you will. That uniqueness makes it attractive. Plenty of places I can watch meatheads sweat on ladies in Fed Hill. Nevins provides a nice alternative. Nevins is my favorite after O's game dive.

nevins, is a very well ran bar. The owner probably hasn't put that much money into for years. Why? because he doesn't have to! He is sitting on a gold mine, why try to fix something that isn't broke. One of these days, somebody is going to give him a lot of money and turn it into another "fed hill" bar and possibly fail.

Magerk's should win this for the owner alone, that guy is a [nasty word]. All he does is tell girls he is the owner of the bar to hit on women, it's really rather pathetic.

wow...never realized there were so many SM-lovers else to explain the plethora of people who keep going to a bar, just so they can [gripe] about it.

hey Sam, I have to work this weekend, who's the winner...

please don't make me wait til next week.

I disagree with most of the posts above. I feel Magerk's has the most friendly servers/bartenders in the neighborhood. They are very attentive and seem genuinely interested in their customers, most seem to know their customers on a personal level. I have eaten there numerous times in a week and have never been disappointed. Their food is consistenly solid. As far as the owner (who seems to be the brunt of much unneccesary slander), is a very nice guy and has never hit on me. He always goes out of his way to make sure my service is good and my food was good as well. I think Magerk's gets it. They can't control the crowd or clientele, they simply put out a consistent product that people seem to like!

Clauddaughs tops it for me. The owner is a jack*** with no concern for his customers. As long as the bar is packed he feels no need to be friendly or welcoming. MaGerks owner and staff are very friendly but the crowd is less desirable after 10 on weekends so just stick to the happy hour shifts.

I will second Little Havana--the bartenders are truly terrible--the worst and I don't think I'm alone in feeling that bartenders make or break a bar....a great bartender can make a rat hole in the slums of post-nuclear Kansas fun but a bad one can ruin the best day in the best location....

If you are a girl and can't get served at Havana, you are probably are a wildebeast.

I'll agree on Claddaughs... What's that owners name? Mike? What a ... Was in Nordstrom one night and he was even yelling at the salepeople there like they were his staff.

Hey "too bad",
The correct spelling is Wildebeest and I'm not a chick, I'm a ... broad and I didn't say I couldn't get served...I said the bartenders [stink].

I think you all need to really think about how crazy the bar business is! These bars are the reasons we go out! I've had good times at all these bars! Especially MaGerk's. And by the way, the owners name is Paul, you should all meet him. He's a great business person and is one of the funniest, most out going people I know! Plus, he's a cutie! Stop by and see for yourself!


What's the difference?
Broad sounds so Fifties/Sinatra/Rat Pack. Chick, in England Dolly Bird, sounds so Beat Generation/Swing Sixties. Broad does sound decidely brassier. Neither really come off as respectful.
Why apply any to yourself?

I am a chick and it's the ... chick bartenders at Havana that won't serve me. On more than one occasion, i've been next to a guy and she's asked him what he wanted, but not me... I don't know whether she still works there, but she's a royal ... and for no reason...

Shame on you sunpaper for allowing something like this to happen. I feel really sorry for the bar that won this sick joke. Statistics show that 9 out of 10 bars and rest fail. Why? Because it is one of the hardest businesses to run. Its like being a zoo keeper, you are working with a bunch of wild, angry or really excited animals. On top of having a business which is extremely easy for people to steal from you. Its quite apparent the person who came up with this great idea has never own a bar. Most likely it is one of their life long dreams that has never been fulfilled and never will be, so they get pure pleasure out of criticizing.

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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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