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May 12, 2009

Looking back at BAR

pourthatbeer.JPGWith some kind of changes currently under way at BAR, I went back and re-read a column I did on the Fells Point dive bar in May 2007. I got a ton of feedback (most of it positive) on this column when it ran. Check it out:

Music blared from Bertha's Restaurant and Bar at 10 p.m. on Cinco de Mayo. Other Fells Point pubs were packed full of partyers.

But a block east of Broadway -- within earshot of all the festivities -- only three people sat inside BAR. And one of them was the bartender.

They drank and talked among themselves while Pink Floyd's "Money" played on the stereo and a ceiling fan with only two blades left slowly spun overhead.

You could call a place like BAR a dive or a relic. But it's also a quirky little refuge in a changing neighborhood, where a dwindling number of people can come to escape the wilder, crazier bars on Broadway or Thames Street ...

The place's name mirrors its decor: simple and unpretentious. The white sign hanging outside looks like it's from the 1950s, and it very well may be. The bartender said the place has been serving beer and liquor since Prohibition ended, and it's been known as BAR since at least the '40s or '50s.

At BAR, draft Yuenglings (one of two beers on tap) cost $3, and bottles will run you $2.75.

The wine list, also posted on the bar back, gives you two options:

1. White

2. Red

Amie ordered a No. 2, and the bartender hefted a large glass jug of cheap screw-top vino onto the bar and poured her a tall one. My jaw dropped in shock and horror. It was the same nasty stuff winos buy on payday -- straight from the Sam's Club extra-special bargain discount rack.

Amie stopped drinking the wine after a few sips and left it to me to finish (gee, thanks). I took a small taste. It was like taking a karate chop to the tongue.

But, being the stubborn man that I am, I had to finish the glass in front of me. It sucked all the moisture out of my mouth and burned on the way down. I would rather have been drinking cheap whiskey. The only way I could get the wine down was by chasing it with beer.

So there I sat, wineglass in one hand and beer glass in the other. Some people would call that a win-win situation. But when your wine comes from a large glass jug, you lose.

Some of BAR's charm comes from the subtle decorations you'll spot throughout the place. A bouquet of dead roses adorned the bar back, and the two old box TV sets flickered at either end of the bar, both largely ignored. At one point, a young couple walked in looking for the boxing match, but BAR doesn't get pay-per-view, so they left.

We asked our bartender about the dozen or so mugs on the bar-back shelves, and she told us they were for coffee or hot cider. Then we noticed the old microwave sitting nearby. The conversation went a bit like this:

Me: "What's the microwave for?"

Bartender: "Warming up the cider."

Me: "I see."

Bartender: "Hey, hot is hot, ain't it?"

Me: "Yes. Yes, it is."

Some dives have a little energy about them, but BAR just feels tired. The lone pool table in the bar's back section was unused when we got there, and the bartender said the pool league had been dead for some time.

One of BAR's other signs said "Free walking tour" and had an arrow pointing out the door. A little while before midnight, Amie and I took the tour. But I'll definitely be back to BAR, one night when I'm looking to escape the more frenzied Fells Point joints in favor of something more laid-back.

(Sun archive photo)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:30 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Oh I love Bar - hope they reopen and don't go changin' too much. The other funny thing with the wine sign is that it says "Please order by number". And that pool table is right there with the table at the Rendezvous as World's Most Screwed-Up Pool Table. Great stuff.

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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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