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February 20, 2009

On reviewing bars: Is it better to be too soon or too late?

j.a. murphy'sGot this email from a reader named Ted:

I read your review of J.A. Murphy's (pictured) and question the wisdom of reviewing someplace that has only been open for a week. Bars and restaurants need time to work things out. Even the best and most experienced restaurant owners make many changes in their first year.

The New Orleans food critic Tom Fitzmorris has a policy of not reviewing any restaurant until it has been six months. I think it allows owners to smooth out the problems. If they haven't, they probably won't be around in a year.

And here is what I wrote back to him ...

Thanks for the email, Ted. I'm with you -- I think reviewing a place a week after it opens is unfair. When I started The Sun's nightlife column about three years ago, I always waited about a month before reviewing bars and clubs for this very reason. But lately I've been getting some competition from other Web sites.

j.a. murphy's happy hourNormally when a new bar opens, I like to announce it on my blog, Midnight Sun, give it a couple weeks to get its bearings, and review it.

But more and more, these other Web sites see my blog posts about new bars opening, run to the bars and review them -- just to say they were the first to review them.

So I've been forced to review bars the first or second week they open. It's silly and unfortunate, but in the press, being the first is everything.

Now, in my reviews, I usually mention that I was there soon after the bar opened, and new bars take time to get their bearings.

Thanks again for the feedback.

(Photos by me. Kudos to the tavern for offering such a sweet happy hour special, too.)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:04 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


I think when it comes to reviews, fair and accurate is better than first.

But that's me.


This situation is unfortune, rather like Broadway shows that are made or broken by opening night reviews.

Do you do a follow up after that month or two?

GDA, I try to follow up on the blog, but I can't go back again for another nightlife column. There's too little space for that, unfortunately.

I think a good idea would be a notes column like Table Talk where you could provide news about new bars or management changes. It could include hours, specials, a little blurb about the owners and then follow that up with a review in 2-3 months.

Ted, that's pretty much what the blog is now.

that is one hell of a happy hour special.

That's way too far you Evan. Very long and dangerous drive to Fells Point from Federal Hill. You might be safer walking to fine establishments near your house.

Or on the other hand You buy, I'll fly!!!

I think Sam just wants a excuse to get a free beer! He has another reason to get hammered that night! Sam Sessa is the guy who's eyes are Red and has a notebook in his hand at the bar! He talks to his-self when he gets drunk! They say he looks like Jerry Lewis when Sam puts his Bifocals on at the bar! He is so drunk when he writes his review that he has no idea 5 minutes later what he just wrote! He wakes up next morning with a hangover and says why did I write that 10cent review last night! Sam sober up..before I throw some Old Crow in your face!

Can I just say that I love this bar already!

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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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