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July 8, 2009

The mark of death for new bars and clubs

When a new bar or club opens in this city, the worst way they can advertise themselves is with this catchphrase:

"We're bringing Miami/D.C./New York/L.A. to Baltimore!"

I don't know about you, but when I go out to a bar or club, the last thing I think is, 'Gee, this place could use a little Miami.' ...

This tagline about bringing some other city to Baltimore almost guarantees failure. I'm not saying the line is bad luck. It's not. But the line means the owners have a mindset that, most times, just doesn't jive here.

The only time it works is if the patrons -- not the bar owners -- say a place has a New York feel, or something like that.

I talked to Elizabeth Large about this, and she agreed with me.

"It's OK if it's Baltimoreans saying it," she said.

Otherwise, the bar is probably doomed. Probably. Doomed.

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:41 AM | | Comments (15)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Agreed, Sam.

Authenticity is what makes a good bar. "Bringing to is the mark of a bad replica. It is the bar-marketing equivalent of "Mexican-style salsa" or "Italian-style tomato sauce". The 'style' modifier immediately modifies the product to non-authentic, just as trying to 'bring' another city to a particular city is non-authentic.

Many of the places named in your best neighborhood bar segments are just the opposite: truly authentic. Idle Hour, Brewer's Art, Captain Larry's, Ale Mary's -- these places are what they are, and that's why people (my kind of people at least) dig them.

I also agree with the "feel" concept. Idle Hour can 'feel' like a quiet dive in mid-town Manhattan. Ale Mary's can 'feel' like a bar you wandered into on 6th St. in Austin...but they are still in Baltimore and don't make any bones about it.

When places start making a pretense of forcing you to feel like you are somewhere else, the bar becomes Disneyland. And I don't like drinking in Disneyland.

Keep up the good work-

When I read those words, my first thought is they are trying to come up with a way to justify a cover charge. Next!

When someone says something like that about their bar, I immediately think, "WTF makes you think those cities are better than Baltimore? If I wanted to go to a DC club, I'd go to DC."

Frankie, I have to disagree with 1 of your points - drinking in Disneyland is friggin' awesome (:3

I agree with Greg S... Disney rocks. Disney-owned nightlife are the only places I've ever seen where everything is done right. The temperature is correct, the sound system is correct, the music played is correct, the drinks are done right, the place is clean as a whistle, etc.. I wish Disney would take over all of Baltimore's bars, clubs and restaurants and reorganize them into a well-run organization that abides by strict guidelines. Than maybe, just maybe, I won't have to sit in a bar listening to the bartenders favorite songs (usually all the same artist)from his iPod through a crappy sounding system because they are too cheap to hire a professional to install a good sound system. After all, his cousin Alvin can install car stereos, so why not a bar sound system, right? Bring on Disney!!!

Those places tend to be tool magnets.

For example:

Baltmore doesn't want that bottle service exclusivity [expletive]. I mean I go to, and go back to, the same type of bar no matter what city I'm in... or have lived in. No cover, lively crowd, aumbiance, affordable drinks, and good girl to guy ratio.
Yet, I will say, that it is nice to have options, and often times I find myself saying, man, it would be great if some place new, or some place both new and awesome were here, and, or open. Seldom has anyone been able to offer a substantial recommendation.

Johnnycat, don't get me wrong, I do appreciate a tightly-run establishment, whether a restaurant or a retailer.

However, I spent way too many nights in corporate-governed bars when living in North Carolina (where character and authenticity is very scarce)...I found that sterilized air, top 40, new or old (Sirius listeners, think "Classic Vinyl" instead of "Classic Rewind"), and meticulously-measured 2-oz. shots get old real quick.

What I love about Baltimore's bar scene is that it is earthy. There is a phrase in Austin that says "Keep Austin Weird", referring to the eclectic cultural scene in that city.

I think Bmore should embrace its weirdness too. I can't tell you how many times I have been in Idle Hour (where a single Hendricks and soda means ~4-5oz of Hendricks) and I have asked the bartender in awe, "Who the HELL is this", referring to whatever indie or counterculture music he has playing. Maybe the solution to your iPod problem is just start going to places with cooler bartenders...

I guess I don't mind knocking back a yard of Miller Light at House of Blues in Orlando, but most times, I prefer hanging with some friends and reading each other's minds after four Resurrections in the dingy basement @ Brewers...

Sorry johnnycat, once again I failed to properly convey my cyber-sarcasm. While Disney properties are well-run and very clean, I was joking about loving to drink there. Talk about steep beer prices...


F New York/Miami/DC/LA in their overpriced, overmakeuped, image-centric butts.

Maybe it's because the people I hang out with are like me, but my DC friends like the Baltimore bar scene much more than DC's. They like the unique places and "weirdness." DC is very high strung, while Baltimore lets you just relax and have fun in a bar.

Please don't get me wrong-- I totally appreciate off the wall bars and clubs that are unique. But if you can't seem to be able to do unique the right way, then I say bring on corporate.

Plus if you go to most bars in DC/Alexandria/Arglington, it is 90% dudes.

Maybe the women love clubbin it in these places, but any even semi-laid back place seems to have terrible testosterone/estrogen ratios.

Hey Frankie, When I go to a bar, I'm there to drink and relax. I don't care what the guy to girl ratio is. The reason bars and clubs are 90% men is because women don't need a bar to get a date, and guys love to hang out and drink.

The first joint I thought of after reading this is Talara. They've been advertising as South-Beach influenced, and if that claim had not been made, I may have considered checking it out at some point. I bartend in the city, and the kind of response that hook is going to catch is not the sort of crowd that I want to be around.

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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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