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March 20, 2009

At what point do flat screens and beer signs get tacky?

lucys baltimoreAs I mentioned earlier, I dropped by Lucy's yesterday for a couple gin and tonics to celebrate Amie's acceptance to a dermatology residency.

While there, I looked up and saw this banner. It's not a bad special, honesty -- you buy a pint of Samuel Adams and you get to keep the pint glass.

But I question the need to hang this big banner inside such a gorgeous space.

I had a similar thought when I went to the new Pratt Street Ale House (which replaced the Wharf Rat) last week ...

The downstairs bar had almost 10 large flat screen TVs and a dozen speakers. Granted, the Ale House is not as nice as Lucy's, but that's still a pretty classic-looking pub space.

And I understand that a lot of people think the more TVs the better. That's fine, and it certainly has its time and place. ESPN Zone in the Inner Harbor comes to mind.

But I believe there can be a balance -- a way to tastefully put TVs in a pub, and a way to tastefully advertise cool specials without spoiling the space. Am I wrong?

(Photo by me)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:39 PM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


No you are not wrong, there is a limit on what you are willing to put in your place of business. No one wants to go out for dinner and be surrounded by TVs and no one wants to go to a bar and be surround by about 10 different signs.

I was disappointed to see that Pub Dog got a TV in their downstairs bar room a few weeks ago. I love the place and thought that the absence of TVs really helped with its charm. It's not tacky though, and I'll still go.

Sam, you're on to something here. The new Ale house gives a completely diff feeling than the old Pratt Wharf Rat. The new bar is bright & way too many tvs! Way too loud of music. It's lost all of that charm that was there before, it is now a very generic space! Reminds of Applebees & Ruby Tues - a shame i say. Luckily they've kept some good beers around. However it gives a more positive, energetic & less claustrophobic feeling due to this lighting, no obstructions at bar and loud, upbeat background music. I prefer the old place. Places that've no tvs are really hard to find and i'm sad to see Pub Dog put bright ESPN sports scenter on all nite on a Fri or Sat - it keeps me out- what gives? - But to stay on topic, too many neon lights and ads can be really tacky - take a new neighborhood pub in Riverside, place's near glowing blue from (not flattering for seeing people) a tacky, over-sized neon that reminds me of a college dorm room where anything w/ a beer logo was so cool. Their two tv's distract patrons from looking near each other.

This has absolutely nothing to do with this post, but Mental Floss blog ran a contest (prize being a trip to Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Museum) and the winner is from Essex, Maryland!
Pretty cool!

Nothing makes one feel more relaxed and convivial than stepping into a joint and being surrounded by advertisements.

Maybe you could do a post on places that don't have such distractions.

I guess when your running a promotion, loud and crass carry the day in jumping out to grabbing people’s attention, then when was competition ever sutble.

Never really understood the attraction of TVs in bars. I'm really not into sports and viewing anything else is severely compromised by loud music and conversation to do any really meaning full viewing. The whole situation is utterly ridiculous if it's something like a performance by a band or music video and what you hear has nothing to do with what you're seeing.

Personally, when I go out with or meet someone(s), TV is probably the least thing I'm interested in. If I wanted to watch TV I'd stay home where I could view without distraction. TVs can be a rude distraction to conversation taking or hijacking attention from the person speaking and the topic at hand. I suspect it says something about people needing to be entertained all the time by something other than the company of other people, which is sad really.

I think bar owners would be smart to heed the law of diminishing returns. Go for quality over quantity. One large TV is better than a ton of smaller ones; better reception is better too. There's no point in a 50" plasma if its grainy. Case in point, Looney's, a bar I like a lot, gives me sensory overload. There is a TV on every exposed space and many of them get bad reception. I think they would be ok showing one les NHL game and ensuring they have HD.

I agree that Lucy's is a gorgeous space. I say take the sign down and write the special on a chalk board by the front door. Lucy's is classy without the pretentiousness of James Joyce or the attitude.

As for the Pratt St. Alehouse... what a joke compared to what the wharf rat was. I've been in there twice and on both occasions the place was so loud and there were obnoxious big screen tvs every 5 feet...even in the dining room. As for the noise maybe it was just the openess of the space making everything amplfied but i couldn't hear myself think let alone hear what my buddy sitting directly across from me was saying.
The place was stripped of all its charm and authenticity. Its like a cafeteria in there with the bright lights. It used to feel like you walked into a dimly lit, quaint pub that almost teleported you to London(except for the sometimes loud heavy metal music). The only thing they have left going for them are the fine English ales... I say I'll drink them in Fell's at the other Wharf Rat

I love people's comments when the topic of TV's in bars come up. The anti-tv-in-bar crowd loves to chime in and act like because THEY don't watch sports, everyone else feels the same way. As any bar or casual restaurant owner or operator will tell you, a HUGE majority of their customers likes to watch sports, casually or otherwise, while enjoying an alcoholic beverage. My answer to the rare person who is upset by a silent TV showing a sporting event in the background is - when was the last time you took 50 of your friends to the bar with no TV's on a Ravens Sunday to spend their hard earned money? Those same non-sports fans are at another bar on those days watching the game - even if the don't like sports. Their friends do. I'm not sure if anyone has checked lately, but most bars are full on the 16 days the Ravens play, along with the other major sporting events of the year. I would suggest that the Orioles used to drive a crowd to the bars, but I don't think TV existed the last time they fielded a championship-caliber team...

Never, or over 17 per bar;)

I agree with all of the posts. There is a fine balance between marketing an event/special and visually/aurally assaulting bar patrons. Too much screaming type and loud tvs and/or music = overwhelming and tacky. Bigger isn't always better, at least in this context.

If I don't blast music and the tv concurrently at home, why would I go to a bar for the experience...and pay for it, too?

You've inspired me to avoid all places with large signs advertising their specials. This shouldn't be a problem, seeing as these places usually are a bit too tacky for my tastes anyways.

Keep it classy. Only HD should be shown in upscale bars. What's the deal with places like Stalking Horse that show grainy signals on huge old flat screens?


If you're in a sports bar, TVs are set to whatever game of the day is to be expected but having TVs in every bar everywhere that their always in your line of sight is distracting and annoying. There has to be some sort of balance for people watching sports and those who don't want the experience of having an assault on all their senses all the time. Not being able to hold a conversation because the audio, the sports commentary or music play, masking what the other person is say unless their shouting* and distraction of the activity going on over of the person across from you isn't the making of an enjoyable visit for a fair number of people.

* It's probably not good for a person's hearing in the long run either.

This post is mine "March 22, 2009 7.18 pm"

Correction: "distraction of the activity going on over of the person", should read " distraction of the activity on a TV screen going on over of the person shoulder"

bars with oversized specials banners, too many tvs, plus overwhelming music - welcome to low brow america - bid overalls optional

missing the straw on the floor by any chance?

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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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