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July 2, 2009

Federales to open in Federal Hill

mexicanhatstyle.JPGA new upscale Mexican eatery named Federales is coming to Federal Hill, a source told me.

If all goes as planned, Billabong, the Australian themed pub on East Cross Street, will close, and the liquor license will be transfered to the building at 1100 S. Charles St. (where Dinner at Your Door once was).

The new owners are going to build an outdoor terrace in the adjacent parking lot.

According to my source, Federales is going to be a cross between Rosa Mexicano and Don Pablo's. It will serve tacos and burritos to go at the Charles Street entrance ...

Why is this on Midnight Sun? Well, Elizabeth Large is on vacation, so I thought I'd pass it along before anybody else does.

The chef will be Francisco Lopez, who is currently the sous chef at Ryleigh's Oyster.

I'd say it's a shame Billabong has to close for Federales to open, but I was never sold on the place. It was OK -- certainly not great.

(Sun archive photo)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:05 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


I walk past Billabong all the time and have never seen anyone in there. Of course, opening a new Mexican eatery a block from No Way Jose (whatever its limitations) doesn't seem like a great idea either.

There's also Blue Agave that takes care of upscale Mexican in the neighborhood. It's less of a bar scene, though. I like the idea of a terrace a lot. I don't go to No Way Jose for the food, anyway.

New owner as in Brett Austin, Brian McComas' brother-in-law. Should be interesting given McComas' recent rumored financial and domestic setbacks.

Just can't wait to see a mariachi band wandering from table to table on the outdoor terrace.

Don't sleep on ELVIS -- the small take-out / eatery. They are the best Mexican cuisine in Fed Hill.

Without starting rumors, what financial/domestic troubles is McComas in ?

No tears mates. Billabong's was created with a short shelf life from the get-go. First plan was to raze the building and have the outside terrace run along Patapsco St. with the adjacent building as the main restaurant. The move over to Charles St. will be a much better venue.

@A - Elvis'...BINGO! Great prices with generous portions. Folks who run the place are not Mexican, but Central American. The pupusas are the best around town.

@Poops - Didn't say Brian was in trouble, only word of a couple of setbacks that recently hit the street. Brian's the best at landing on his feet. Friendly, big smile, shrewd business mind, keeps the other bar owners in can't help in not liking Brian and wishing him much success.

I have said this before, Ryleighs has re-set the 'bar' for bar food in federal hill. Hopefully Fransisco can bring authenticity and imagination to a new Mexican joint.

I have still not been to Elvis (and have heard it has solid Mex), but No Way Jose and Agave are miserable excuses for Mexican food. For the price point, Blue Agave has incredibly sub-par food. The only thing it is good for is a Don Julio Anejo with lime 'ritas aren't bad either, but I was tempted to bring in my own guac to show them that it shouldn't resemble week-in-the-fridge Gerber.

No Way Jose is part of an old contingent of bars that needs to get beat on food quality and atmosphere by new competitors. Their food is awful and people tolerate it because there is no immediate local comparison. Slapping some yellow paint on the wall and serving Tecate cans doesn't qualify you as a Mexican Restaurant. Memo to owners of NWJ: check out Las Palmas on Eastern Ave in Fells if you need to find out what Mexican food should taste like.

I'm rooting for you Fransisco, go get 'em.

So Billabong is/was very small and the new space appears to

I wonder what the difference in capacity between the two venues is projected to be?

I love Rosa Mexicano and don't hate on Don Pablo's - our hood needs a great Tex Mex place desperately. It must have killer guac and 'ritas. Any clue when this place is set to open?

@Frankie Sez - Amen! No truer words spoken on Sessa's blog. I avoid No Way and Blue Agave like the Mexican flu.

I enjoy Elvis' for carry out convenience, but It just doesn't quite have a sit down type atmosphere for me.

For authenticity and ambience I head down to El Salto. You're in the right place when the entire staff and over half the patrons are Latino.

Unfortunately the term "upscale", for me, usually means a pretentious attempt to jack prices coupled with a snobbish incompetent staff in order to lighten my wallet.

Maybe a Cactus Willie's clone is waiting in the wings at that said Charles St. location if the "upscale" thing don't fly?

Speaking of upscale, how's Taverna Corvino doing across the street?


Disappointing news... I really dug the Billabong - particularly the aussie beers and some of the aussie grub you could get when the local Australian Rules Football team was around. And catching the occasional aussie accent wasn't bad, either!

KMM - Blue Agave used to be an upscale Mexican eatery. It has since been sold to new management that seem to really lean the place towards being a tequileria and less of a dining destination. I'm sure for that location it works for them.

Baltimore really needs a place like Federales. I hope it delivers. I hope they roll (El Machina!!) out their own flour tortillas like Rio Grande and Laurio Plaza - that makes a huge difference. The Pink Mexican, Rio Grande, and especially Lauriol Plaza would be good templates to apply here.

I watched Taverna Corvino and the clientele for a few weeks before going in. what I saw was a great looking atmosphere with outdoor seating and even some great beers on tap, but the select menu was fair at best. If you can over look the food than it’s a great place to go if you don't want to deal with the younger crowds in the area.
On another note while I was there I noticed a normally overlooked place next door. Kirby’s Szechuan! Great food and the best eggrolls I have ever had. I went the next day and it didn’t disappoint.

@drcpt - Kirby has been around for 30 years as one of the city's best 四川菜 restaurants, but the FH mega -bar crowd has killed his weekend business. Sad.

He'll be tickled he got a mention on an Internet blog.

Tomato Head-Kirby's is great, but do you think that the FH mega-bar crowd killed his weekend business? How can too many people hurt one's business or is it the p-word again?

I do wish the restaurant the best success as it is a great little place for great food.

"Nobody ever eats at that restaurant anymore. It's always too crowded."

Hi Jason,

Comment came straight from Kirby, so he might be the best to answer your questions.

However, I've listed a few comments describing the area and the people who now frequent the once happy little village of Federal Hill. I copied them from the recent MS "Best Neighborhood Bar in Federal Hill" thread:

"crazy party zone"

"douchebag influx on friday and saturday nights"

"The Cross Street corridor has become just plain annoying from Thursday through Sunday night."

"meat heads"

"23 and trying to get laid"

A lot of people for sure Jason, but not exactly the types of folks who are out to enjoy a yummy dinner prepared by Kirby.

Couple the above commentary with the moronic night time pub crawls and the escalation of violence - the recent stabbings, the July 4th incident on Cross St. (police had to use batons and mace) and the brawl on Light St. last night, with the aftermath looking like a scene from CSI:NY. The perception of the lack of safety in the area is certainly part of the equation.

Kirby's place used to be a destination for adults (old people) who wanted to dine out on the weekend. Not anymore. Adults do not want to run the gauntlet of meat heads tooled up on [hormonal] fuel.

As far as the original thread's topic of Federales, look for a Purple Patio clone on that corner come football season.

Thanks Tomato Head,

I didn't hear about the recent stabbings or hte 4th of July incident. Maybe we can add a police blotter onto this blog.

A lot of the quotes that you wrote I am assuming happen after most restaurants close for the evening but I won't dispute anything that Kirby says and I wish him the best with his business. I will make sure to make Kirby's a destination of mine sometime this week.

As far as Federales is concerned, I can see it doing very well throughout the week especially with outdoor seating. Now I am craving a margarita! 63 days til opening day!

@ jason z and jason - are you both one and the same?

Anyway, question for jason the tavern owner...heard the owner of Federales paid $390,000 for the liquor license alone.
That can't be true...or can it? Seems a tad high.

tomato head

$390,000 for the liquor license alone, wow! I highly doubbt it. I believe that the current rate is about 30-40k for a 6 day 1am license and about 80-100k for a 7 day 2am license, depending on the location.

I thought that they were just transferring the license from Turner's(Billabong) to across the street.

That sounds like a decent price for Turner's(the business). To my knowledge, you can't buy another liquor license in the Cross Street Market area, but then again, more and more bars and restaurants open every year.

Either way, this is just my opinion and I could be totally wrong, the person to ask would be Brian. I wish him the best of luck, he has been doing a very decent job in Federal Hill.

I am just hoping that the Bicycle reopens to bring more business down to South Baltimore. Then again The Reserve looks like they will do a great job.

The more the merrier.

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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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