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October 31, 2009

Photos from the Midnight Sun Social

midnight sun social at bad decisionsAll right -- Alexander D. Mitchell IV came through with a couple good photos from the Midnight Sun Social at Bad Decisions.

I forgot to bring my own camera, and our usual camera woman, Courtney, wasn't able to make it.

So when Alexander strolled in wearing a camera, I ever-so-smoothly asked him to snap a few quick pictures for me.

Ladies and gentlemen, here are the results. I'm going to post these up on Facebook, too, and tag as many people as I can. So look out! There are two more photos after the link ...

midnight sun social at bad decisionsmidnight sun social at bad decisions
Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:58 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

October 30, 2009

The wickedly awesome Midnight Sun Social drink list

As promised, here is a complete list of all the specialty cocktails and shooters featured at last night's Midnight Sun Social. Many thanks to John Reusing of Bad Decisions for coming up with such a wickedly awesome drink list ...


Kisling's Runoff  $5
Sauza Tequelia and soda with a dash of Spicy Buffalo sauce

No Idea  $6
A different red drink each time

Shirley's Honey Hole  $7
Mead, Van Gogh Caramel Vodka, Barenjager (may cause diabetes)

Bertha's Mussel  $5
Saffron and Natty Boh with a shot of Pikesville Rye served in a pint glass

The Hippo  $6
A cosmo made with Bubble Gum Vodka

Little Havana $8
10 Cane Rum, White Vermouth, Mint Simple Syrup (served up)

Nightshift $6
Creme De Violette, Stoli Blueberry Vodka, White Vermouth and 2 blueberries (served up)

Samos $6
Metaxa, Rye whiskey, ginger ale and a dash of Orange Bitters (served on the rocks)

Metropolitan $7
Espresso Vodka, Pumpkin Spiced syrup and soda (served on the rocks)


Slainte Shooter $6
Irish Mist, Powers Irish Whiskey, Baileys

Green Turtle Bomb $7
Monster and Melon Liquor with a shot of Aqwa De Bolivia dropped in

Idle Hour $5
Ye Olde Pickle back

Teavolve $7
Green Tea Vodka, Vanilla Vodka, Cinnamon Simple Syrup and nutmeg bombed into gingerale

Matsuri $6
Wokka Saki Vodka with a dash of Aloe Vera Soda and Wassabi Powder

The Bad Decision  to End All Bad Decisions $6

Possibly  the most terrifying thing you put in your mouth this Halloween season

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:42 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Recapping last night's Midnight Sun Social

How was last night's Midnight Sun Social at Bad Decisions?

In a word: Awesome.

So awesome, in fact, that pictures can't even begin to describe how awesome it was. (This is my way of saying I don't have any pictures from last night's party.) If anybody has some, can you e-mail them to me --

Now, back to recapping the Social ...

We had a great mix of commenters, bar owners and even a prominent city figure or two. Since I was running late, I half-ran, half-walked to Fells Point from Federal Hill. By the time I got there (around 6:10 p.m.), I was covered in sweat, out of breath and famished. I secretly hoped that no one would have showed up yet, so I could have a few minutes to collect myself. 

I rolled in and there were already a dozen folks waiting for me. Stephan Fogleman (you may know him as Liquorboarding or as the chairman of the Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City) was there.

Jason Z (you may know him as the man behind Don't Know and No Idea taverns) was there. Brendan (you may know him as co-owner of the Idle Hour) was there. Don Farley (you may know him as the publisher of the City Paper) was there. So were a few lovely ladies from Profiles PR.

So much for quiet time to collect myself.

The Social didn't really heat up until about 7:30 p.m. or 8 p.m. That's when it got really packed.

I hung out with TAFKA Canton Kate, Bryanintimoniumtowson, a woman who claimed to be Samantha Sessa, my evil Doppelganger, Baltimoregal, jmgiordano, Josh, ryan97ou, Shankman and many others. Commenter Amywoo was the only person to come in costume (a lovely ladybug, no less). Shame on all you non-dresser-uppers.

And finally, after more than two years, I met one of the very first and funniest (looking) Midnight Sun commenters -- JTK. He's been posting on Midnight Sun since August 2007. Wow. He even drove all the way down from New Jersey for the Social. Double wow.

Alexander D. Mitchell IV suckered me into tasting Brewdog's Nanny State, an incredibly, viciously hoppy brew with a whopping 1.1 percent alcohol content. It was truly a Bad Decision beer. One sip of the stuff burned all the taste buds off my tongue. It was like I'd sipped Drano.

On the other hand, Midnight Sunner Evan oversaw the distribution of some delicious pumpkin pie vodka shots. And I liked all the drinks I tried on the special drink menu were yummy. I'll post the complete list later today.

When I left around 11 p.m., there were still plenty of folks in Bad Decisions.

Thanks again, everybody, for making the Social such a great time. I still can't believe that people read and enjoy Midnight Sun enough to drop by and say 'Hi.' It made my week.


Sam Sessa
Midnight Sun

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:10 PM | | Comments (38)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

10 Spot: The 10 best unsigned Baltimore bands

10 spotLast week, when I asked you for nominees for Baltimore's most promising unsigned bands, I had no idea I'd get so much feedback.

We topped 400 comments -- the most a post has ever received on Midnight Sun. That's really impressive. Thanks again, everybody, for all your suggestions. I was turned onto a few solid Baltimore bands I'd never encountered before.

I put a lot of time and thought into this list. It ran in today's paper. And here is a link to a great photo gallery of all the bands on the list.

OK, so, here's my list ...

Two years ago, it would have been much easier to name the 10 best unsigned Baltimore bands.
That was before the word got out about Baltimore's boiling-over music scene. Since then, record labels like Sub Pop, Thrill Jockey and Merge have swooped in and signed several of the city's best bands. But there are still plenty groups who deserve some recognition.

Here are 10 of the most promising Baltimore bands.
1. J-Roddy Walston and the Business

Nobody rocks quite like J-Roddy. They serve up blistering, old-time rock 'n' roll, complete with big riffs and big hair.
2. Caleb Stine
Stine is a forward-looking Americana singer/songwriter with a firm handle on the past.
3. Ellen Cherry
A keen sense of melody and a soft yet striking voice make Cherry's songs standouts.
4. Fools and Horses
This guitar band delivers biting, down-the-middle rock songs with panache.
5. Among Wolves
The versatile musicians in Among Wolves can handle reverb-soaked harmonies or stripped-down alt-country with ease.
6. Victoria Vox
Vox is a hard-working ukulele troubadour with tasteful songwriting and a heartfelt voice.
7. Nelly's Echo
Simply put, Nelly's Echo knows how to work a groove.
8. Can't Hang
Every city needs a hard-partying reggae and roots rock group, and Can't Hang knows just how to throw down.
9. Dropout Year
When it comes to catchy pop punk, Dropout Year has the potential to be one of the area's next breakout bands.
10. Eureka Birds
Thoughtful instrumentation and canny lyrics make the Eureka Birds a band to watch.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:30 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Local music

October 29, 2009

A sneak peak at tonight's drink list

The drink list for tonight's Midnight Sun Social at Bad Decisions is so great, I can't help but give you a sneak peak. All in all, John Reusing and I came up with nine cocktails and six shots. Here are a couple ...


Metropolitan $7
Espresso Vodka, Pumpkin Spiced syrup and soda (served on the rocks)

Shirley's Honey Hole  $7
Mead, Van Gogh Caramel Vodka, Barenjager (may cause diabetes)


Teavolve $7
Green Tea Vodka, Vanilla Vodka, Cinnamon Simple Syrup and nutmeg bombed into gingerale

Matsuri $6
Wokka Saki Vodka with a dash of Aloe Vera Soda and Wassabi Powder


Now I'm thirsty.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:03 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

The Midnight Sun Social is tonight!

sam at the first midnight sun get-together at idle hour in 2008Boyohboy!

I can't wait for tonight's party. It's been a while since I've hung out with the Midnight Sun crew. Too long, methinks.

Well, all that will change tonight. Our gracious hosts at Bad Decisions (1928 Fleet Street) are concocting a delicious drink list, featuring cocktails named after Baltimore Bars.

The list hasn't been finalized, but here are a few of the tentative drink names ...

Feel free to add your own ideas, and also to share what you think should be in these drinks:

1) The Ale Bloody Mary's

2) The Fells Pint

3) The Bad Decision

Things will get rolling around 6 or 6:30 p.m.

See you tonight!

(Photo by Courtney Block)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:54 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

So I wrote this Halloween event roundup ...

elephony halloweenyEvery year, some sucker gets swindled into writing a roundup of Halloween events happening around town.

For the past couple years, that special someone has been me. 

This year's Halloween roundup appeared in today's paper, and focused heavily on all the new Halloween happenings in and around the Station North Arts and Entertainment District.

Here's a link.

I'm talking about Gutter Magazine's Dead Celebrity Ball at the Metro Gallery, the Heroes and Villains costume contest at Windup Space, Grateful Dead tribute band Shakedown Suite's show at Joe Squared and the BOLT dance party at the Hexagon.

The best part? All the events I just mentioned are free. FMEB lives! ...

The piece also touches on Power Plant Live, Remington, Federal Hill, and of course, the granddaddy of Halloween spookery, Fells Point.

A bunch of these events are in their first year. I'm interested to see how they go.

If you have any you'd like to add that I didn't mention in the list, feel free.

Oh, and happy almost-Halloween, everybody!

(Sampson, an 18-month-old African elephant, sits down to get closer to his treat during the Annual Pumpkin Smash at The Maryland Zoo in  Baltimore, the kickoff for ZooBOOOO! Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:21 AM | | Comments (2)

Two tasty fall drinks

spiced bourbon ciderThis morning, I was perusing City That Breeds, a lovely local blog about drinks, nachos and whatnot, when I came upon this delicious post about fall drinks.

Look at this picture. It's a spiced bourbon and cider. My goodness, that looks amazing. A real person -- not a bartender -- made that drink. Can you believe it?

I took a gander at both recipes on the post, and before I even realized it, I was licking my computer screen.

I. Want. That.

The hardest part to all this seems to be the spicing of the bourbon. It involves cheesecloth and various ingredients such as nutmeg, cinnamon and allspice. I have those in my cupboard. But making homemade spiced bourbon also requires patience -- about seven days of soakage -- and I am not a patient man.

Boy oh boy do these drinks sound tasty, though.

(Photo courtesy of City That Breeds)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:30 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

October 28, 2009

So Percussion tonight at the Metro Gallery

so percussionI'm not sure what you're up to tonight, but if you're game for some live music, head to the Metro Gallery. The group So Percussion will be performing.

Ever heard of these guys?

They're a Brooklyn-based experimental group that usually plays much larger spaces than this. Tonight, they're performing a new composition.

The show is being presented by our friends Aural States. Tickets are $12 at the door.


(Publicity photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:26 PM | | Comments (0)

The Baltimore phone pole

I'd like to introduce you to the newest, coolest place to post your digital event fliers: The Baltimore phone pole.

The phone pole was the brianchild of jmgiordano, who wanted to have one place where Baltimore musicians and promoters could share their shows with everybody. Here's the link to the phone pole's Facebook page.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:20 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Local music

Concert review: Jewel at the Lyric Opera House

jewelSun writer Chris Kaltenbach was at last night's Jewel show. Here is a link to a photo gallery from last night. And here is the review:

When Jewel asked the crowd at the Lyric last night what songs they wanted to hear, there was no shortage of replies.

"Satellite," from 2006’s "Goodbye Alice In Wonderland," seemed the crowd favorite, but plenty of other suggestions came pouring out of the audience, songs running the gamut of her career, some not even yet on any of her studio albums.

"It's very cool," she said, complimenting her Baltimore audience on their extensive knowledge. "I like my fans."

Well, her fans like her, too. And for good reason.

For about two hours, the Alaskan-born singer-songwriter regaled them with beautifully sung acoustic versions of both her hits ("Hands," "Who Will Save Your Soul?") and songs only her true fans knew beforehand ...

Beginning with a passionate take on "Over the Rainbow," included on her latest album, "Lullaby," Jewel played to her strengths. Her voice clear, her storytelling both charming and often self-deprecating, she charmed, crooned and otherwise captivated the crowd.

The evening was vintage Jewel: intimate, satisfying and, when an 11 p.m. curfew forced her to wrap for the evening, over far too soon.

One note: From the stage, Jewel took exception to the introduction to my interview with her that ran Sunday. She was not, she said, dropped by her record label. Rather, she said, she had an album of country music to put out (2007’s "Perfectly Clear"), and Atlantic doesn’t do country albums.

(Photo by Chris Kaltenbach)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:00 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Concert reviews

Concert review: Van Morrison at the Meyerhoff

van morrison

JazzTimes managing editor Evan Haga saw Van Morrison last night at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. Here are his thoughts:

The Irish singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Van Morrison is one of popular music's great contradictions, as he proved last night during a 90-minute set at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall. The performance was, on several levels, bewildering.

Over the last four-plus decades, Morrison has written indelible melodies and delivered them in his singular blue-eyed-soul shout, a sort of half-croak, half-belt that feels at once homey and otherworldly. He has recorded songs, like "Brown Eyed Girl," that even children know to sing along to. People genuinely feel like they own his music, even when it's dressed in jazz and Celtic flourishes.

But what he offers, even as it's anchored in American roots and R&B, is so totally esoteric. A notoriously diffident and difficult personality, Morrison, like Bob Dylan, is now less interested in celebrating those terrific melodies than being a roots bandleader ...

Morrison spent most of the Meyerhoff gig directing his crack nine-piece ensemble (with strings) through simmering vamps and R&B shuffles, stoically cuing a keyboardist to lay out here, inviting a guitarist to bend a few more bluesy licks there. You heard stop-time percussion solos, long, true notes played on soprano sax and flute, corner-bar organ and muted, Miles Davis-esque trumpet. For many in the audience, it very well may have been the most they’d ever listened to improvised music.

Morrison himself holds musicianship dear, even if his chops on guitar and sax are middling (he fares better on harmonica). His voice is the thing, and he treats it like his horn, turning lyrics into syllabic scats, re-harmonizing songs whose melodies are set in stone (as he did on "Moondance"), and generally understanding that his inflection and phrasing are more important than enunciation.

There's a parlor game I play at shows like these, especially Dylan. Compare what you remember to what you’re hearing: Last night, "You wiped the teardrops from your eye in sorrow," a favorite line from "In the Garden," became "You'll ride the T. Rex tomorrow."

It's the voice that makes for moments of transcendence, no matter how much attention Morrison pays to his band. His generous croon over the striding "And the Healing Has Begun" and thrusting "Gloria" almost made up for how unaccommodating he is as a performer. In case you're wondering, "Brown Eyed Girl" was tossed off at the very top of the show.

The hour and a half flew by without Morrison acknowledging his audience, and there was no encore despite the crowd's floor-shaking request for one. There were also tech issues: Toward the beginning, a radio signal was continuously funneled into the sound system, providing a serious distraction during ballads, and the house lights seemed constantly in flux throughout.

You might chalk all or at least some of this up to Van the Man's legendarily defiant being. But with tickets running roughly $80 to $350, legend only goes so far.

(Photo of Van Morrison performing at the Orpheum Theatre in Los Angeles by Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:41 AM | | Comments (27)
Categories: Concert reviews

Concert review: Snoop Dogg, Method Man and Redman at Rams Head Live

snoop doggMidnight Sun correspondent John John Williams IV was at Snoop Dogg last night. Here are his thoughts:

When I found out I was going to see the Snoop Dogg Wonderland High School Tour, I was fully expecting to leave Rams Head Live in Baltimore with a second-hand contact high.

I knew that plenty of people in the crowd were going to be smoking marijuana and that my clothes were going to need a good dry cleaning afterward.

To my surprise (and relief) the marijuana smoke was held to a minimum due to vigilant security staff last night. I'm sure that many of the fans found this to be annoying, but I honestly didn't mind.

The performances by headliner Snoop Dogg and rapping duo Method Man and Redman were more than enough to keep the audience in an altered state.

These veteran performers could satisfy the wants of the most finicky hip-hop fans ...

Unlike the newest generation of rappers who spit out trite lyric after trite lyric with tired catch phrases and the ever-so-annoying trend of auto tuning, the three rappers last night showed that strong beats and a distinct sound can go a long way. They were crisp in their delivery, it was pretty easy to follow their lyrics, and they all possessed some true showmanship.

There were no elaborate bells and whistles when it came to stage design, either. Snoop had the most extensive set up with a group of 10 on stage with him — a mix of background rappers, musicians and a DJ. Method Man and Redman only had a DJ perform with them.

Method Man and Redman brought an unmatched energy to the stage, and kept up that momentum for their hour-long set. The duo threw water on the crowd. They hopped around, and ran from one side to another -- giving the audience a closer look. Method Man even body surfed at one point.

The two did a number of cuts from their latest album "Blackout! 2." The single "A-Yo" was particularly enjoyable. But the crowd really got into the performance when the two played some of their classic material.

snoop dogg"How High," which the two originally released in 1995 as part of the movie "The Show: The Soundtrack" had the crowd bouncing. "I’ll Be There For You/You’re All I Need," which Method Man released as a duet with hip-hop soul songstress Mary J. Blige worked as a duel rap with Redman. In fact, Redman did a great job all night complementing Method Man with all types of songs that he was not originally associated. This was especially the case with the two performed "Shimmy Shimmy Ya" by the late Ol' Dirty Bastard.

Headliner Snoop Dogg was much more laid back than the duo. Apparently the real smoking was going on back stage. Snoop announced to his fans that he was high midway through his hour-long performance. Although he was much more reserved than the duo, he really didn’t show signs of being in an altered state when he took the audience through a musical journey spanning his nearly 20-year career.

Snoop launched into the classic "Gin and Juice" from his 1993 debut album "Doggystyle," which threw the crowd into a euphoric frenzy. "Bitch Please" from his 1999 album "No Limit Top Dogg" was also a crowd favorite.

Snoop's "Ain't No Fun (If the Homies Can't Have None)" from "Doggystyle" had most of the crowd singing along. He later performed "Lay Low" from 2001’s album "The Last Meal" after doing an anti-police skit. It was kind of corny, but quickly forgotten by the single "Drop It Like It's Hot" from 2004's "R&G (Rhythm & Gangsta): The Masterpiece." That song was set to a funky jazz arrangement, which was hot.

One of the highlights of Snoop's performance was when female rapper The Lady of Rage came to the stage for a duet. She then rapped her signature single "Afro Puffs," a crowd pleaser. I couldn't keep my eyes off of Snoop's microphone, which was encrusted in diamond nameplate with his name. It was impressively gaudy.

Other good songs during the set included "Who Am I (What’s My Name?)" from Doggystyle, and "Sexual Eruption" from the 2007 album Ego Trippin.

Always the marijuana proponent, Snoop encouraged the audience to smoke weed before he left the stage. I didn’t inhale, but I most definitely enjoyed the performances.

(Top photo by Getty Images. Bottom, handout photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:15 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Concert reviews

Concert review: Jay-Z at 1st Mariner Arena last night

jay-zFew rappers can make an entrance like Jay-Z.

He didn't just take the stage -- he set a timer first.

Before his sold-out show began last night at 1st Mariner Arena, the THX sound effect boomed through the speakers and digital clocks displayed on the big screens started counting down from 10 minutes. When time ran out, the curtain was pulled back, revealing Jay-Z's tight 10-piece band and a screen shaped like the New York City skyline.

He didn't just walk onto the stage, either. He rose from the floorboards, wearing black shades, black pants, a black shirt and a black leather jacket.

Now that's an entrance.

The rest of the show was everything you'd expect from one of hip-hop's superstars: Swaggering, bragging and furious verses. Jay-Z dominated the mike, and the audience loved nearly every minute of it ...

When Jay-Z told them to bounce, they bounced. When he told them to make some noise, they made some noise, chanting "HOVA" and making his trademark diamond-shaped hand sign. Here is a link to a photo gallery from the show.

Jay-Z's performance was a 90-minute hit parade that toured through "The Black Album," "Vol. 2 ... Hard Knock Life" and the rapper's latest No. 1 album (his 11th to debut at No. 1, which surpasses Elvis' record, he reminded us last night), "The Blueprint 3."

Longtime collaborator Memphis Bleek joined Jay-Z for much of the show, J. Cole guested on "Every Day A Star Is Born" and singer Bridget Kelly easily held down Alicia Key's parts on "Empire State of Mind."

jayz1stmariner.JPGThe highlights: "Jigga What, Jigga Who" was just dirty; Jay-Z nailed it. "Heart of the City (Ain't No Love)" had an easygoing groove. And Pharrell joined Jay-Z for a solid performance of the brass heavy, high-stepping "So Ambitious."Jay-Z had the band fade out at the end of several songs so he could deliver the last verse and chorus a capella, which gave the words even more weight.

The show's only stumble was the long, rambling finish. Jay-Z might know how to get a performance rolling, but he had trouble wrapping things up last night.

During the encore, he took about 15 minutes to give shout outs to strangers in the crowd, identifying them by what they were wearing. If you weren't up front, it was incredibly boring, and unsurprisingly, people started leaving early.

Finally, Jay-Z closed out the show with a so-so rendition of "Forever Young" and saluted the crowd while being lowered back down below the stage. Endings aside, last night's show was definitely one for the books.

The opening acts weren't too shabby, either. Washington's own Wale, who looks to be the most promising rapper to come out of the District, warmed up the audience with some heavy-hitting hip-hop (and even a little go-go). During his last song, Wale strode out into the crowd, shaking hands and greeting folks. When his debut "Attention: Deficit" drops Nov. 10, he might not need to introduce himself anymore.

N.E.R.D. hit the stage after Wale, delivering an intense set of rap/funk/hip-hop. Their songs, which seemed too progressive for the crowd, changed tempos more than Madonna changes outfits. The only track that really brought down the house was their closer, Pharrell's "Drop it Like It's Hot."

(Baltimore Sun photos by Kenneth K. Lam)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:49 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Concert reviews

October 27, 2009

I hope Mayor Dixon signs the live entertainment bill

city council argues live entertainmentLast night, the Baltimore City Council passed a bill which lets more bars and restaurants bring in live entertainment.

City Council President Stephanie C. Rawlings-Blake, who sponsored the measure, said it makes Baltimore "more marketable as a city."

She's right. This bill, which is a drastically scaled-back version of an earlier live entertainment initiative, is an important step for Baltimore.

More live entertainment means more opportunities for bars and clubs to bring in DJs, karaoke and live bands. Local and regional groups will have more places to perform -- even if it's just acoustic nights ...

Currently, Mayor Sheila Dixon is considering whether or not she will sign the bill. It does not have enough city council votes to override a veto. That means it's up to the mayor. As a nightlife and local entertainment blogger, I want to see this bill passed. More live entertainment in Baltimore, means a bigger music community and more destinations for locals and tourists alike.

I don't think most people realize what is technically "live entertainment" in this city. Anything that involves dancing, karaoke, a DJ or a band is considered live entertainment. I've been in quite a few places that have a DJ or dancing on Friday and Saturday nights but don't have a live entertainment license. On the flip side, there are plenty of bars and restaurants (Pazo, for one) that should have live entertainment but don't.

Also, almost anything involving zoning in this city (and, I suspect, most cities) is a major headache. A couple months ago, I sat down with Annie Linskey, who wrote this piece in today's paper about the bill. We tried to figure out why some bars have live entertainment when they're not in the proper zones for it. Both of us ended up scratching our heads.

I understand the neighborhood associations' alarm at the idea of bringing in more live entertainment. If there are enough safeguards in place to find a happy medium on noise and other nuisance -- and I think the other two measures passed yesterday have enough -- the bill will be good for Baltimore.

Credit where credit is due: Rawlings-Blake, who has been working on expanding live entertainment in this city for years, should be commended for her efforts. Now, all we need is for Mayor Dixon to sign it.

Above, councilwoman Mary Pat Clarke, against the bill, sees clashes between bar or restaurant owners and area residents. (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina Perna / February 23, 2009)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:10 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Local music

Checking in with Van Morrison

van morrisonFew singer/songwriters have had a greater impact on music than Van Morrison. 

Morrison has written some of the most important songs and albums of the 20th century. Ever the recluse, Morrison gives few interviews and rarely interacts with audiences at concerts. Instead, he lets the music speak for itself.

For Morrison, music isn't real unless it can be played live. He looks with disdain on some of his biggest hits, such as "Brown Eyed Girl," which he has called a "throwaway." Due to bad contracts, he didn't gain control of his career until the late '70s, he has said.

Tonight, the 64-year-old Irishman will perform at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall (you can buy tickets here). Here is an e-mail interview with Morrison ...

Question: Van, You've said when you play live, everything hinges on your voice. The players follow your voice. Do you follow your voice too? Do you guide it? Does it guide you?


What's it like to be in the moment, when you're performing and nothing's on your mind, and it's just you and the music? 


With time, has it become easier for you to get your feelings and emotions across in your singing? Or does the challenge remain the same?


You've said Leadbelly, Rory McEwan, Ray Charles and John Lee Hooker were a few musicians who you got into right off the bat. These guys had soul, which is almost impossible to describe. But when you think of these artists and some of your other favorite singers, what qualities in their voices and performances drew you to them?


What goes through your mind when you hear one of your own albums, like "Into the Music?" Are you critical of yourself? Can you step back and enjoy it? Or do you ever go back into your own catalog at all, just to sit and listen?


Do the saxophone, guitar and piano appeal to you in different ways? Can you discover things on one that you wouldn't have found on another?


I'm sure it can be hard to answer a question like this objectively, but how have you grown as a songwriter and a singer in the past couple decades?


(Publicity photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:50 AM | | Comments (13)

Snoop vs. Jay-Z

snooooooooop.jpgTonight, two of hip-hop's most iconic stars -- Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg -- will both be in Baltimore. Snoop is playing Rams Head Live and Jay-Z is playing 1st Mariner Arena.

Side note: These are but half of the A-list shows happening as part of Super Music Tuesday.

In today's paper, I wrote a (hopefully) funny and light-hearted comparison between Snoop and Jay-Z. Read it here. Of course, it looks much better in print, where it's actually a chart. But you can still kinda figure out what's going on if you read it online.

(AP photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:54 AM | | Comments (3)

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: A hairy situation

furriesThis week, Owl Meat has somehow stumbled upon a particularly wacky group of people called Furries (it takes one to know one, Owly). Here, OMG exposes the underbelly of this hairy subset:

This week, lions and tigers and bears roam with impunity. Want to thump melons at Safeway as a costumed carnal carnivore? Meow. In a month? Nah, that would be weird.

But in the world of Furries, it's Halloween every day.

Furries are adults who dress up as stuffed/plush animals. This sub-culture has their own animation, music, conventions and literature. There are dozens of conventions and events all over the world. The largest, Anthrocon, attracted nearly 4,000 attendees this year ...

In an article in Vanity Fair some basic terms were defined:

"Yiff" means sex. "Fur pile" denotes a bunch of furries lying on top of one another, affectionately, while skritching [fake grooming and scratching]. A "furvert" is anyone who is sexually attracted to mascots and such.

furriesThese are no costume store rentals. People create characters with their own psycho-biographies. Costumes are hand-made and very specific. Some are creepy animal/human combos called "morphs" or "anthros".

The creepiest are the animals with human-like genitalia. Many wear clothes, including bikinis, lingerie, cowboy outfits ... whatever. Over-sized tails are popular (Do the psycho-math).

Here are some descriptions of Furry composers' "identities" from the Furry Music Foundation (really):

  • A 6' tall kangaroo rat. He has tan fur covering most of him, with creamy white under his belly. He has a long black tail, and is usually seen wearing his "Indiana Jones" style hat. He loves to goof around, listen to and make music, and he's just an overall nice rat.
  • Five foot ten inch anthro skunk. Something of a hermit, but friendly enough once you get to know him.
  • Brody Catsmouth is a tall young lion with a gentle demeanor.
  • Chama C. Fox is a little, nonmorphic cape fox with a big appetite for life and music.

Sexualized anthropomorphic animals (animals with human features) freak me out. Then I realized that children are bombarded with talking animals and plush animal toys from birth. How does that not imprint on our sexual identities? I'm surprised we're not weirder than we are.

Aside from the propinquitous Halloween costume angle, there is a Midnight Sun music tie-in. Yeah, Furry music. Zink!

more furriesDuran Duran's "The Reflex" re-imagined as a Furry beach romp.

Behold the creepy Furry tribute.

There is a Furry music database with songs listed by animal. Tsk tsk, their vulpine fetish list has "Fox on the Run" but not "Portions for Foxes". Grrrr ... Jenny Lewis, "and the talkin' leads to touchin' / then touchin' leads to sex / and then there is no mystery left ..."

Creep out to Aerosmith as raccoons.

Is Furry the new Goth? Maybe. Ever see old Goths? Even Robert Smith of The Cure can't escape the withering paws of time, but a full-body plush purple squirrel suit with beret and monocle is forever young.

Judge not, for this is Halloween, when Otherness is King.

By the way, this is the best Halloween costume ever!

So what is your Halloween costume? Will you wear it to the Midnight Sun Social on Thursday? Me? I'll be dressed as bad news, 'cause baby I'm bad news.

(Photos courtesy of

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:50 AM | | Comments (45)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays

October 26, 2009

Roll call: Who's coming to the Midnight Sun Social?

For the first time ever (and with the help of Sun staffer Carla), I have established an official Facebook event for the Midnight Sun Social.

In case you've been living in a cave for the past few months, the Social is this Thursday (Oct. 29) at Bad Decisions (1928 Fleet St.) in Fells Point. Here is a link to the event page. Anybody who's on Facebook can RSVP to the event. Hope to see you there!

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:16 PM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Tomorrow is Super Music Tuesday

jay-zDo you know what tomorrow is?

Tomorrow is big. Real big.

So big, in fact, that I'm calling it Super Music Tuesday.

Tomorrow is perhaps the biggest day for live music in Baltimore this fall. Jay-Z is playing 1st Mariner. Snoop Dogg is playing Rams Head Live. Jewel is playing the Lyric. And Van Morrison is playing the Meyerhoff.

Whew! Now comes the cool part ...

Midnight Sun is sending four (4) reviewers out on the town to cover the shows. I'm covering Jay-Z, John-John Williams IV is covering Snoop, Chris Kaltenbach is covering Jewel (read his interview with her here) and Evan Haga is covering Van Morrison.

So get ready, gang. Midnight Sun is about to represent.

Oh snap!

(Photo of Jay-Z performing at Wembley Stadium by Joel Ryan/AP)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:15 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Concert reviews

Behind the scenes bar stories: How about female bouncers?

Last week, I had an interesting discussion with local bar owner Jason Zink about bouncers.

Big, burly bouncers who sit or stand outside bars checking IDs aren't the way to go, he said. They can be imposing, and are often unnecessary. Zink doesn't have bouncers at No Idea or Don't Know Tavern. But if he did, they'd be female ...

And they'd be a cross between bouncers and greeters. Beaters, if you will. Wait a minute, that's not right. Scratch that last part.

Anyway, think about it: Instead of Mr. Muscle demanding your license or other valid form of ID, you get a pleasant greeting from a pleasant woman. It's all about putting the right foot forward, and female bouncers could do that much better than male bouncers. 

The only downside to having female bouncers is they probably couldn't break up a wild and crazy fistfight in the same way Mr. Muscle could. But what's stopping a bar from having a female bouncer at the door and Mr. Muscle behind the bar? That way, if a fight broke out, Mr. Muscle could jump the bar in a single leap and crush some skulls, if need be.

But wait, there's one more advantage to having female bouncers, Zink said. A female bouncer would never let in 18-year-old girls. 

I wonder why more bars don't hire female bouncers?

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:23 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

October 25, 2009

Happy 60th, Duda's!

Today, Duda's Tavern (1600 Thames St.) is celebrating its 60th anniversary. The Fells Point corner pub has been open since 1949. In honor of the occasion, owners Antoinette and John Flury are throwing a birthday bash today.

The party, which starts at noon, will feature $.60 Miller and Pabst drafts, as well as various rotating beer specials over the course of the afternoon. Nice!

I called Antoinette (her parents opened the place) and talked to her about what the bar and the neighborhood were like back in the day ...

"When we first started, the ships docked across the street," she said. "It was nothing but industry. You had a huge warehouse where DuClaw is now. ... We had trains coming down Bond Street and Thames Street. You had a lot of shot-and-a-beer bars."

One big difference about the clientele is the cussing, she said.

"The expression 'cuss like a sailor' and all that -- you hear these young ones doing more cussing than the sailors did," she said.

Happy birthday, Duda's. Here's to many more!

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:18 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

October 24, 2009

Concert review: Maxwell at 1st Mariner Arena

Midnight Sun contributor John-John Williams IV was at Maxwell's show last night at 1st Mariner Arena. Here are his thoughts:

Maxwell ended the American leg of "The BLACKsummer’snight Tour" last night at First Mariner Arena in Baltimore, and he left it all on the stage. The neo-soul crooner sure knows how to leave a crowd satisfied.

Maxwell's "BLACKsummer’snight" was one of the most anticipated albums of this year -- and for good reason.

After all, the Brooklyn native was one of the main artists along with Lauryn Hill who became the face of the neo-soul movement of the mid-to-late '90s. Sure, there have been tons of suitors since then -- Anthony Hamilton, Raheem DeVaughn, and even the uber-successful John Legend. But none have been able to knock Maxwell off of his often vacant throne ...

While crooners like Legend have been a little bit more subtle in their songs about love making -- he sure was during his performance a couple months back at Merriweather Post Pavilion -- Maxwell all but slaps you in the face with it.

What amazes you about Maxwell is that he is such a sensual showman. Who knew? Maybe that’s something he has developed during the eight-year hiatus since his last album "Now."

During "Bad Habits," a single from "BLACKsummer’snight," the veteran crooner did James Brown splits and thrusted, and swiveled his hips to taunt the audience with his sex appeal. Later during the evening, he slapped the microphone stand as if to mimic slapping a rear end. He even made sure the crowd saw him sniff a pair of thongs that were thrown onto the stage by a fan.

"How many of ya’ll trying to get some booty after the show?" he yelled to the shrieking crowd in between songs. "Well you came to the right place tonight."

It was a new personality and a new style for Maxwell, who no longer has his signature curly afro a la Lenny Kravtiz circa early '90s. Now, Maxwell rocks a closely tapered cut. A "Men in Black suit" and tie completed the stylish look last night.

In addition to singing crowd favorites, "Sumthin' Sumthin," "This Woman's Work," and "Fortunate," Maxwell's concert featured an elaborate set design. His Y-shaped stage reminded me of something I would expect to see at a top-tier music awards show.

At the end of each prong of the stage, a trapped door allowed Maxwell to disappear into the underground tunnel below and emerge from the other side. It was a very hot feature that Maxwell utilized several time during the evening. It kept the crowd guessing, and always resulted in piercing screams from unsuspecting fans.

Rapper Common also gave a spirited hour-long performance that featured a slew of his hits, such as "The Light" and "I Want You," some intense free-styling to various old school rap tracks by artists such as The Notorious B.I.G and Biz Markie, backup vocals by crooner Bilal and even a stretch where Common popped and locked and break danced.

Maxwell wasn't the only one taking advantage of his magnetism during the concert. Common drew shrieks, screams, and cat calls from the audience while he delivered a rap serenade to a fan that included him stroking her face and kissing her on the lips -- twice.

Maxwell didn't kiss any fans on the lips -- on stage at least, but he blew plenty of kisses to the crowd at the end of his nearly two-hour set. He also showed a lot of class when he passed the microphone to each of his musicians and backup singers so that each one could say his or her name and hometown. It was a nice touch from neo-soul royalty.
Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:58 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Concert reviews

October 23, 2009

MTV takes over Merriweather tonight

Tonight, Merriweather Post Pavilion is playing host to its first Halloween festival, Ulalume (it's named after an Edgar Allan Poe piece).

Ulalume features performances by Paramore, AFI, Asher Roth and Kid Cudi. But the best part is the Halloween costume contest. The grand prize is $2,500 and two lawn seats to every 2010 Merriweather show. Second place is $500 and first place is $100. MTV will be on hand to tape the festival, too. Sweet!

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:13 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Local music

Behind the scenes bar stories: Permits? Who needs permits?

hookahHas anybody been to the new VIP Hookah Bar & Cafe in Little Italy?

Wait -- maybe I should rephrase that: Did anybody go to the hookah bar in Little Italy?

It might be closed already.

I'm not sure when this place opened. But apparently, the owner thought it was a good idea to bring a hookah bar to the heart of Little Italy without doing his homework -- or even meeting his neighbors.

Here are the details, courtesy of this article by Peter Hermann ...

A hookah bar, sandwiched between two rowhouses with a 98-year-old woman living on one side and an 86-year-old woman living on the other, somehow managed to open without an occupancy permit, though the owner assured skeptical residents that he would obtain the necessary documents and, despite the advertisement on his door, he does not have nor does he plan to have belly dancers.

I love it!

As for those non-existent belly dancers -- VIP Hookah Bar's Web site advertises live belly dancing on Friday and Saturday nights:

We Always Have Something Different Every Weekend Such As Belly Dancing And Different Artists Performing.

Not the brightest bulb, I see.

I'm all for hookah bars, and have written about them extensively in the past. But if you're going to open any business in this city, you've got to make sure all the paperwork is in line. And it's a common courtesy to at least shake hands with your neighbors -- especially in Little Italy.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:30 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Red Square's punishment

Red Square, the Russian-themed restaurant and bar in the basement of the Belvedere, finally came before the liquor board yesterday.

They were cited for illegally serving customers twice in the past eight months, and were being protested by the neighborhood. The neighborhood dispute was dropped, but the liquor board did stick Red Square with a $2,250 fine and suspended their license for 60 days, without a stay, according to chairman Stephan Fogleman and this Sun article by Brent Jones.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:30 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse

OK, OK, I admit it -- sometimes, I Google my own name. Yes, I know, it's super lame. I like seeing where my stories end up online, that's all.

Anyway, you know when you start to type something into Google's search bar and it gives you suggestions? Well, as I was typing my name in, the words "Sam Seltzer's Restaurant" popped up. Intrigued, I clicked on it ...

It just so happens, there is a restaurant chain named Sam Seltzer's Steakhouse in Florida. How awesome is that?
I love the name. It sounds like a restaurant you'd run into while cruising west on Route 66 in my '66 Chevy. I picture the owner as a rootin' tootin', 10-gallon hat-wearing feller.
What's even more awesome is, the Web site plays smooooth jazz! What could be better than a thick steak and some smooooth jazz?
Nothing. That's what.
Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:30 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Random stuff

October 22, 2009

Dancers are gearing up for Saturday's mass "Thriller" performance

thriller dance rehearsalsSeveral months ago, dozens of dancers began training to zombie walk and booty swim their way through a mass synchronized performance of Michael Jackson's thriller.

The celebration, called "Thrill the World" will take place in the Inner Harbor at 8 p.m. Saturday.

As of today, about 275 have registered to perform the dance.

At the exact same time, thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) will join them around the world, in an effort to set a record for the largest synchronized dance routine at various venues ...

"It's been a lot of fun putting this together," said Cheryl Goodman, who organized the event. "The diversity of the people who are doing this is amazing."

Goodman has worked with 4-year-olds, senior citizens, men, women and folks from all different races, shapes and sizes, she said.

"I'm just amazed," she said. "Everybody has a great time."

If it rains, the performance will be moved to the Hippodrome, Goodman said.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:01 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Local music, Random stuff

What are Baltimore's best unsigned bands?

baltimore's best unsigned bands?In the next few days, I'm going to put together a list of the Top 10 Most Promising Unsigned Bands in Baltimore.

Maybe that title could use a little tweaking. But you get the gist.

Anyway, I'm looking for some suggestions.

Who are some of your favorite unsigned Baltimore bands?

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:01 AM | | Comments (514)
Categories: Local music

Checking in with Brad Paisley

brad paisley

Gooood morning Midnight Sunners! I hope you all slept well last night.

Don't know if you've seen it or not, but in today's paper, I had a profile of country music star Brad Paisley. He's performing tonight at the 1st Mariner Arena (tickets are available here).

He seems like a really smart, down to earth guy.

Usually when I've got an interview with an A-list musician, their publicist calls me, then connects me to them. Not with Paisley ...

My phone rang, I picked it up, and it was him. I told him about the publicist thing and he said:

"That's a pain in the butt. I just make phone calls."

We talked about how he likes using nostalgia in his music, and his guitar playing. If you don't know much about Paisley, he's every bit as good a guitarist as he is a songwriter. And whether or not you like pop country, you have to admit -- 10 straight No. 1 singles is impressive.

(Handout photo by Kurt Markus)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:44 AM | | Comments (3)

October 21, 2009

Splice Today releases "Baltimore Does Baltimore Part 1"

baltimore does baltimore by splice todayWhen Splice Today contributor Zach Kaufmann announced his plans to put together a compilation of Baltimore bands covering songs by other Baltimore bands, I was pretty excited.

The compilation, "Baltimore Does Baltimore, Part 1," came out today. You can download it for free here.

After hearing "Baltimore Does Baltimore," I have to say -- it has some thrilling moments.

One of the standouts is Wye Oak's cover of Rod Lee's Balitmore Club classic "Dance My Pain Away." Singer Jenn Wasner turns a banger into something of a dirge, without losing the original song's urgency.

"Wye Oak blew my mind," Kaufmann told me today ...

"It turns this fun, dancey song into a really deep, troubling, upsetting song. When she sings the verses, there's so much emotion and pain in her voice. It hurts me. It's awesome." ...

I haven't sat down and listened to the entire compilation yet. But the songs I've heard, from singer/songwriter Caleb Stine's sparse, ambient cover of Small Sur's "Two Mantras" to rapper Mickey Free's rendition of Wye Oak's "That I Do," are compelling

(Cover art by Katherine Fahey)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:30 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Local music

Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner ...

chesapeake restaurantThe bar pictured in the Name That Bar contest was Chessie's Lounge in the long-defunct Chesapeake Restaurant.

Man, Alexander D. Mitchell IV and I tried to stump you guys by posting a picture of a bar that's been closed for years, but commenter HK guessed it in a few hours.

Congrats, HK.

E-mail me at to claim your prize.

And as always, thanks for playing, everybody. Please remember to have your pets spayed or neutered!

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:00 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Name That Bar

Fix up the Inner Harbor carousel? Or put something new there?

inner harbor carouselI loved your suggestions for where to put the Frank Zappa statue. 

Today, I read where the Baltimore Development Corp. is taking a hard look at the shabby (but long-standing) carousel on the South side of the Inner Harbor, near the Science Center.

You don't need to spend much time near the carousel to notice that it's not used much and in need of some pretty major repairs.

The question is, should the carousel be restored? Or removed altogether and replaced with something else?

The Inner Harbor "has to be re-energized," said Jim Seay, president of Premier Rides of Baltimore, who presented ideas yesterday. "We have to return some of the magic of the Inner Harbor."

I'm with you, Jim ...

The Inner Harbor needs a face lift, post haste. If I were in charge, I'd start with something more prominent, like, say, the Pratt and Light Street pavilions. Have you been in them lately? They look tired -- especially the food court in the Light Street Pavilion.

As for the carousel, I'm personally torn over what to do with it. I'd like to see it redone with Baltimore-themed figures. It could have a raven, an oriole, Frank Zappa, Edgar Allen Poe, a crabcake, the Natty Boh man ... hee hee.

I'd also like to see something else replace the carousel. I like the sound of a Ferris Wheel. That could be cool. But is there enough room to build a big one? Because little Ferris Wheels are lame. A big one that gives you a panoramic view of the city would be cool. I'm sure you'd run into opposition from the folks at Top of the World Observation Level, though.

Here are some of the other suggestions: A "4-D theater" with changing themes such as a simulated pirate ship during non-holiday periods and a "winter wonderland" when it's cold, a traveling museum featuring artifacts from Ripley's Believe it or Not Museum or a "mirror maze" by Ripley's.

Uh ... I'll pass on those.

What do you think should happen there?

(Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:09 AM | | Comments (28)
Categories: Random stuff

Suite Ultralounge could get padlocked after all

It's about time.

In today's paper, Peter Hermann had a great article about how city police are looking into padlocking Suite Ultralounge, the troubled bottle club in the basement of The Belvedere (backstory here and here). They've scheduled a hearing for Nov. 16 at police headquarters ...

Suite's liquor license comes up for renewal around the same time. And I know the liquor board is looking to yank Suite's license. However, there has been some question to whether or not the liquor board can actually revoke the license.

At the insistence of a Circuit Court judge, the board recently issued a new set of rules and regulations specificially for bottle clubs (Suite is the only bottle club in the city). But can the liquor board revoke the license based on violations that occurred before the new rules and regs went into place? We'll find out.

Either way, I think it's a good thing the police want to padlock Suite. Hermann's blog has a laundry list of violent crime linked to the club.

Oh, and his article also touches on that letter Baltimore City Council President Stephanie Rawlings-Blake sent to the police in September, urging them to padlock the club.

Police spokesman Anthony Guglielmi said his department was already working on building a case when the letter arrived.

"The violence that took place is no secret to anybody," he said. "It's been on our naughty list for some time. While we appreciate their support and involvement in keeping the community safe, this was definitely on the commissioner's radar already."

Told you the letter was just political posturing.

Anyway, I'm interested in what will happen at the liquor board and padlock hearings. Looks like we could be in a race to see what agency can shut down Suite first.
Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:29 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

October 20, 2009

Where would you like to see the Frank Zappa statue?

frank zappa statueMore than a year ago, Baltimore accepted a bust of Baltimore native Frank Zappa. Valued at $50,000, the bust was a gift from a Lithuanian Zappa fan club.

Since then, officials have been debating where to put it.

For a while, it looked like the statue would be placed at Fleet Street and Broadway in Fells Point. But the Fells Point location wasn't suitable for the statue, officials said.

Tomorrow, officials from the Baltimore Public Art Commission will scout two new locations: The intersection of South Conkling Street and Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown and a Patterson Park annex.

"They want to have more room so people would be able to interact and congregate around the sculpture," said Tracy Baskerville, spokeswoman for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts.

"That's what the Fells Point location lacked. These two locations have that. More than one person can be next to it."

Personally, I think neither of these new locations are appealing.

Where would you like to see the bust? I have a suggestion ...

I don't know how Zappa would have felt about a statue in his hometown. But I'll bet if he had a say in the matter, he wouldn't want it to be someplace you'd expect a statue.

Do you know that patch of water in the Inner Harbor near ESPN Zone and Pratt Street? I think we should submerge the statue there, so that once a day at a set time, it would rise from the water while a speaker system played "Peaches En Regalia." It would be kind of like Old Faithful, but weirder.

Just a thought.

(Pictured is a Zappa statue in Lithuania, similiar to the Baltimore statue. AP photo.)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:04 PM | | Comments (40)
Categories: Random stuff

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: Square hop, anyone?

square hopI must say, I was a little puzzled at first by OMG's column about the origins of hip-hop. Then I read it some more, and started chuckling. Square dancing begot hip-hop? Who knew? Here goes:

Yo yo, Notorious O.M.G. on the blizzy, y'all.

Lemme lay you down some epic truth-swerve: Rap was invented by white people – really, really white people.

Say whaaaat?
It's all about the beats and movin' your feets. When I hear some skinky thribby-throb, I gotta throw down some supa-phresh rhymes, like farmer's market fresh ... and call me some square. That's right. Square dance calling is  hip-hop's baby-daddy.

That's some gnarly gristle to gnaw on – rap was spawned by calico dress-wearing, tractor-dancing, barn varmint, not so modest yahoos ...

Square dancing invented the hoe down get-down. Hip-hop pimped it out. Both have MC's rapping over music and bossing you around. The influence in early hip-hop is fairly obvious. Consider Sugarhill Gang's "Rapper's Delight", telling you to up-jump the boogie to the bang bang boogie. Swing your pardner round and round.
Even more square is Kurtis Blow's "The Breaks".

"Clap your hands everybody
Throw your hands up in the sky
And wave 'em 'round from side to side
(All right) Say ho-oo!
(Ho-oo!) And you don't stop
Keep on, somebody scream!"

Pure squarin'. Kurtis is callin' hard and no doubt his "Turkey in the Straw" rap would be killa. Until then who knew you could throw your hands in the air like you just don't care? Ain't no shorties do-si-doing that at the barn dance.

Coolio's "Ghetto Square Dance" and Sir Mix-a-Lot's "Square Dance Rap" pay homage to their hillbilly roots:

"Now grab your partner, take a bow
If you can't dance, I'll tell you how
Wave your hands and take two steps
Grab your hips and slide to the left
Get all in your partner's face
Swerve to the side and show your lace
If you're a freak then let it show
And grab your partner do-si-do"

That's all good clean fun, but rappers took it deeper. Life is nasty, brutish, and short and hip-hop reflects that. Before Schooly D or Ice T the original O.G., Brooklyn Masta Double B was making it real in 1950. You knew him better as Bugs Bunny. In the cartoon "Hillbilly Hare" he is a sadistic gender-bending cracker-bashing Brooklyn home-boy gangsta callin'. Is it a stretch to subtract the humor, add misogyny, and end up with Eminem? Swing your partner round and round, [do disrespectful acts of domestic violence], and promenade around the hood.

What is the future of hip-hop? It seems perversely logical to look to the ultra-pale scene in Scandinavia. Consider Swedish swing rappers Movits who rap about stealing apples or these fierce rap battling Stockhomeys. Only slightly more absurd than Eminem starting feuds with adorable homunculus Moby or hand puppet Triumph. Viking rap? It could happen

For a truly epic battle check out legendary industrial hip-hop rap-slayer Kompressor versus nerdcore geek MC Frontalot  on "Rappers We Crush".

"I'm representing for them Vikings all across the world (Still)
Hitting them corners in them Volvos, girl (Still)
Taking my time to wash with Neutrogena
And I still got love for IKEA.
Wörd to your moder."

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:28 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays

Name That Bar, vol. 13

nameit.JPGAh, lucky 13.

Man, it's hard to believe we've already done so many of these. 

You know what to do: Name this bar and win a prize. 

Good luck, everybody!

(Photo by Alexander D. Mitchell IV)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:10 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Name That Bar

October 19, 2009

Check out No Rule at the Metro Gallery tonight

no rule at the metro gallery"Don't these people have jobs?"

That was the first thing that crossed my mind when I stopped by No Rule.

The free Monday night dance party, which has been at the Metro Gallery for a couple months now, doesn't really heat up until 11 p.m. or midnight. On a Monday.

After hitting up No Rule twice in the last month, I have to say: It's Baltimore's best Monday night dance party. Not that it has a lot of competition. But still ...

Cullen Stalin, who co-organizes No Rule along with Scottie B, consistently brings in talented DJs. And if you still haven't been to the Metro Gallery, you should check it out. It's a charming art gallery/bar/performance space that has helped anchor the growing Station North Arts and Entertainment District.

The two times I've been, most of the crowd has been chatting at the bar or lounging on the sofas and chairs scattered throughout the place. I haven't seen the dance floor packed yet. But the clientele is really mixed -- from b-boys to hipsters. I even ran into up-and-coming rap duo the Get 'Em Mamis there.

If you're looking for an interesting place to chill and maybe dance, definitely hit up No Rule.

(Photo by Josh Sisk)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:36 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Local music

Has Fells Point lost some of its mojo?

broadway marketHot spots come and hot spots go.

For years, Fells Point was the No. 1 nightlife destination in Baltimore, hands down. When county folks, tourists and yes, even city dwellers were looking to throw down, Fells Point is where they went.

Now, I'm beginning to wonder: Has Fells Point lost some of its mojo?

In the past several years, Federal Hill, Power Plant Live, Harbor East and Canton have really comes into their own. It seems like there are more bars and clubs in Federal Hill and Canton than ever before.

Fells Point on the other hand, feels like it's in a bit of a slump ...

When I walk down Broadway, it looks like there are more boarded-up shops and bars than ever. A couple years ago, I heard about this plan to revitalize the neighborhood, but aside from a few sketches posted in the windows of vacant storefronts, I'm not seeing much progress.

The more I stop by Fells Point, the more I think it needs a shot in the arm. Yes, Fells still has irreplaceable joints like Max's, the Cat's Eye and Bertha's. And yes, Fells has always been rough-around-the-edges. But look at Broadway Market (pictured). Aside from the Polish deli and a fish stand, it's largely vacant.

Now, at midnight on the average Friday night, the average out-of-towner is more likely to go to Power Plant Live or Federal Hill than Fells Point.

Seems to me like Fells has lost some of its mojo.

What do you think?

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:49 PM | | Comments (45)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Behind-the-scenes bar stories: I'll take that!

look at all these bottles of liquor!Here at Midnight Sun, we spend a lot of time discussing bars and clubs from the patron's point of view.

But I don't think we dig too deeply into the business side of the entertainment industry. I'm going to try and change that in the next couple weeks.

Let's start with an interesting factoid that, if you don't own a bar, you probably aren't aware of: Bars have to purchase all their booze from a licensed state distributor.

If a bar owner runs out of Pabst Blue Ribbon (which should never be a problem), the manager can't just run to the nearest liquor store and buy some more. If they get caught doing it, bad things happen.

Take, for example, the case of the AIG Lounge, at 291 S. Pulaski St.

Talk about a bar with an unfortunate name, by the way. Back in January, liquor board inspectors paid a visit to AIG Lounge, where they discovered that none of the booze behind the bar came from a licensed distributor.

Uh oh ...

All in all, inspectors confiscated 281 bottles of distilled spirits, three bottles of wine and 1060 containers of beer. Ouch!

A quick aside: How annoying is it to count all 1060 bottles and cans of beer? Unless, of course, the inspectors were tallying them as they drank them! I jest, I jest.

Also, what happens to all this confiscated booze? [Insert joke about late night liquor board raver.] 

Anyhow, the AIG Lounge's hearing was last week, but nobody from the bar showed up. They pull one more no-show and their liquor license could be yanked, I'm told.

Cases like this pop up every once in a while, and if it's a first-time, offense, the liquor board usually fines the bar $500. Why such a small fine? Well, the bar already has to replace their entire stock. Adding a $10,000 fine on top of that is overkill, according to liquor board comissioner Stephan Fogleman.

I'll let you know what becomes of the AIG Lounge's case. And stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes bar stories this week.

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:14 AM | | Comments (19)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

October 18, 2009

Outings for kids with autism

I had a story in today's paper (link) about a rise in the number of events that are geared toward autistic children. I'm talking about movie screenings, restaurant nights, local trips, church services and even play zones. For someone who mostly covers entertainment, this was an interesting piece to research and write.
Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:08 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Random stuff

October 17, 2009

Oooo spooky Egg Babies Orchestra Halloween video

Baltimore's own Egg Babies Orchestra is playing a Halloween gig Oct. 30 at the Metro Gallery. They'll cover spooky songs and such while creepy videos play behind them. I'm scared just thinking about it. Anyway, they made a super creepy (and funny) video to promote the show. Here it is:
Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:13 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Local music

October 16, 2009

Concert review: Kiss at Wachovia Center and Verizon Center

kissSun Ring Posts blogger Kevin Eck is quite the Kiss fan. Frankly, I'm a little shocked at how many times he's seen the rock stalwarts. He went to two (2) Kiss shows this week alone. Here is his report:

They say you never forget your first Kiss. I vividly remember mine. 

The date was Dec. 20, 1977, and I was 10. That was the night I saw the self-professed hottest band in the land for the very first time, at the old Capital Centre in Landover.

What I experienced that night was much deeper than a school-boy infatuation. It was the start of a lifelong relationship, and even though there have been peaks and valleys over the past 32 years, the passion is still there ...

I've lost count of how many times I have seen Kiss in concert, but it’s more than 20. I added two more shows to the list earlier this week when I saw the makeup-adorned rockers at Wachovia Center in Philadelphia Monday night and Verizon Center in Washington the next night as part of the Alive 35 Tour, which celebrates Kiss' 35th anniversary.

The members of Kiss may be long in the tooth – their ages range from 48 to 60 – but they’re not short on energy, as the band performed for two hours each night and kept the crowd on its feet the entire time.

Kiss dug into its extensive catalog of catchy, three-chord rock songs and pulled out 18 classics, two-thirds of which came from its first three albums – "Kiss," "Hotter than Hell" and "Dressed to Kill," all of which were released between 1974 and 1975. I can't find much fault with the song selection, although I was disappointed that it was the exact same set list both nights.

kissAll the staples of a Kiss concert were on display, from the pyro explosions, to tongue-wagging bassist Gene Simmons spitting up fake blood and breathing fire, to the blizzard of confetti that filled the arena during "Rock and Roll All Nite."

As usual, front man and rhythm guitarist Paul Stanley commanded the stage. During the latter part of the show, he summed up the band's lack of pretense in regard to its live performances: "If you're here to hear about saving the whales, or ending world hunger, or who to vote for, you're in the wrong [expletive] place! You came here to forget about all that stuff."

While Kiss has always been more about flashy stage shows and larger-than-life characters than musical virtuosity, the band sounded tighter on these shows than it did during its glory years in the '70s. 

That’s due in large part to the presence of lead guitarist Tommy Thayer and drummer Eric Singer. Some hardcore Kiss fans are angered that Thayer and Singer perform in the makeup and costumes made famous by original members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss, respectively, but it's clear that Kiss is a better band with the facsimiles playing alongside founding members Simmons and Stanley.

Kiss got the show off to a rousing start with the vintage one-two punch of "Deuce" and "Strutter," the first two tracks on Kiss' landmark 1975 live album, "Alive!" Eleven of the first 13 songs Kiss played were included on "Alive!"

gene simmonsSurprisingly, the band only performed one song – "Modern Day Delilah" – off its latest album, "Sonic Boom," which was released last week. Kiss played a five-song encore, including "Lick It Up," the only song in the set from the era when Kiss performed without makeup. 

While watching Kiss close Tuesday night's show with "Detroit, Rock City," I really tried to savor the moment because I knew it could very well be the last time I see the band live.

Then again, I have felt that way at every Kiss concert I’ve attended since the band put the makeup back on in 1996. Something tells me this was not a Kiss goodbye.

SET LIST (same for both nights)

Let Me Go, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Hotter Than Hell
Got too Choose
Modern Day Delilah
C’mon and Love Me
100,000 Years
I Love It Loud
Black Diamond
Rock and Roll All Nite
Shout It Out Loud
Lick It Up
Cold Gin
Love Gun
Detroit, Rock City

(Photos of Kiss performing at Verizon Center in Washington by Nicholas Kamm/Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:03 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Concert reviews

Concert review: Ray LaMontagne with the BSO at Strathmore

ray lamontagne

There's so much space and sweep in singer/songwriter Ray LaMontagne's music, it's a wonder he doesn't perform with orchestras more often.

Last night, when LaMontagne played with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra at the Music Center at Strathmore, it was only the second time he's had an orchestra behind him (the first was earlier this year at the Hollywood Bowl). Tonight, LaMontagne and the BSO will perform at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

Aside from a few miscues, it was a fluid showcase of LaMontagne's compelling body of work.

If you've heard LaMontagne's breathy, sandpapery voice, chances are, you either love it or hate it. Whether whispered or howled, LaMontagne's voice seemed to hang in the air last night in the gorgeous Strathmore hall.

Arranger and conductor David Campbell (whom you may recognize as the father of Beck) led the BSO through a few classical pieces, including John Adams' "Shaker Loops" and "The Unanswered Question" by Charles Ives, before LaMontagne took the stage. The works were adventurous and accessible without being patronizing; it was clear Campbell knew his audience.

After a brief break, LaMontagne, looking ever the mountain man with his beard, dark hair white button-down and vest, emerged with a three-piece band (drums, bass and guitar).

The 80-minute performance was a tour through LaMontagne's three albums, touching on hits and album cuts alike ...

The only notably absent song was "Three More Days," the single from his sophomore album "Till the Sun Turns Black."

A reclusive, enigmatic artist, LaMontagne usually has little interaction with the audience, and last night was no exception. He rarely spoke to the crowd, except a few soft "thank yous" and a brief appreciation for the BSO. Of course, that didn't keep concertgoers from yelling appreciations such as "We love you Ray!" between songs.

The BSO's lush strings gave many of LaMontagne's songs extra breadth and depth. The brass section sounded rigid on "Hey Me, Hey Mama," a song that's built on New Orleans swing. But overall, the BSO meshed well with LaMontagne's music. The BSO tacked an instrumental outtro onto "Till The Sun Turns Black," which flowed smoothly into "Gossip int he Grain."

LaMontagne's own band was incredibly tasteful. Drummer/percussionist Jay Bellerose handled LaMontagne's material with considerable finesse, and the other players eschewed solos in favor of warm fills.

LaMontagne closed out the show with "Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's a Shame)," an upbeat bluesy piece which saw LaMontagne hissing and hollering into the mike and sawing on a harmonica. The song showed just how versatile LaMontagne's voice can be -- he led an orchestra through a night of songs that swooned and stomped, rarely missing a beat.

Set list:

Be Here Now
Hold You In My Arms
Let It Be Me
Winter Birds
Hey Me, Hey Mama
You Can Bring Me Flowers
Till the Sun Turns Black
Gossip in the Grain


You Are the Best Thing
Henry Nearly Killed Me (It's a Shame)

(Handout photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:07 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Concert reviews

Drinks inspired by famous mustaches

Yesterday, Consuming Interests blogger Liz Kay sent me a heads up about this list of a few mustache-inspired drinks.

I've always been pro-facial hair (on men), and got a kick out of the drinks. We have the Bandit, the Magnum, the Flanders and the Burgundy. Each one starts with a base of Canadian Club Whisky ...

I'm not a huge fan of Canadian Club, but I'm sure you can swap it for some other kind of whisky or scotch.

The only downside? You can twiddle a mustache, but you can't twiddle a drink.

Otherwise, these cocktails get the Midnight Sun stamp of approval.

Thanks, Liz!

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:12 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

October 15, 2009

Concert review: Bruce Springsteen at the Spectrum last night

bruce springsteenThere are Springsteen fans, and there are Springsteen fanatics. Baltimore Sun sports guru Ron Fritz has seen Bruce Springsteen 12 or 15 times. I don't know if I'd call him a fanatic, but he's definitely more than a casual fan of the Boss.

Fritz saw Springsteen last night in Philly. Here are his thoughts:

Get ready Baltimore, the Boss is coming and he’s bringing a smokin’ hot E Street Band with him.

Bruce Springsteen, scheduled to play 1st Mariner Arena on Nov. 20, played the second of four shows in Philadelphia last night at The Spectrum.

He played for about 2 hours and 45 minutes, 15 minutes shorter than the first night in Philly, but got the old building rocking right from the start with "Thundercrack," followed by "The Ties That Bind" and "What Love Can Do."

The band was so good, right off the bat, that it was like seeing the Ravens run their 2-minute offense to start the game and have everything perfectly in sync ...

Bruce let the house sing "Hungry Heart" while he body surfed from the middle of the general admission pit back up to the stage. He seemed to enjoy being passed around.

He's been playing whole albums on this tour and Tuesday night it was "Born to Run." On Wednesday, it was "Darkness on the Edge of Town," and it could not have been finer. Bruce and the band ripped into “Badlands” and “Adam Raised a Cain,” but for me the highlights of the “Darkness” set were the three in a row of "Candy’s Room," "Racing in the Street" and "Promised Land." The version of “Racing” was beautiful, led by Roy Bittan's amazing piano work. One thing that the “Darkness” set reinforced is what great musicians these guys are. Bruce, Roy and Max particularly stood out. Folks around me also thought the version of  "Darkness" was terrific.

Following the "Darkness" set and "Waiting on a Dream" and "Sherry Darling," the band, including the Biggest Man Alive, Clarence Clemons, roared through a four-song arc of "Human Touch," "Long Walk Home," "The Rising" and "Born to Run." Patti Scialfa, who did not play with the band Tuesday, was terrific with Bruce on "Human Touch."

Bruce opened the encores with "Ramrod," which is just a fun song, and ended with "Rosalita." In truth, it left me wanting more. But as with every Bruce show, you can't expect to hear everything. He hasn't played Baltimore since 1973, so let's hope he has something special planned.

As he sang in "Rosalita,":

"So hold tight baby, 'cause don’t you know daddy's comin'."

I can't wait.

(Photo by Steven M. Falk/Philadelphia Daily News)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:38 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Concert reviews

Sampling seven orange crushes around town

mango strawberry crush at FiVeBaltimore Sun contributor Lisa Wiseman recently set out to sample seven (7) orange crushes from various Baltimore bars.

It was an ambitious, acidic task, and I hope she brought a roll of Tums with her. Here's a link to the roundup.

The orange crush pictured here is actually a delicious-sounding mango strawberry crush, which can be found at FiVe Martini Bar.

Lisa describes it as such:

Naturally, this cocktail will remind some of a strawberry daiquiri, except that this one is made with vodka, not rum, and is not frozen.

While its bright red color is a little alarming, this drink is a nice alternative to other fruity, girly drinks like the aforementioned daiquiri or a strawberry margarita. Plus, it comes in a manly pint glass, so dudes can order without fear of having their man cards revoked.

Manly, eh? I just might have to try one myself.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Lisa Wiseman)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:29 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Looks like Red Square is in trouble

Today, In a couple weeks, Red Square, the Russian-themed restaurant and bar in the Belvedere Hotel, will come before the liquor board to discuss all kinds of violations.

UPDATE: The hearing has been pushed back two weeks to Oct. 29 (coincidentally, the date of the Midnight Sun Social).

First (and perhaps most importantly), it looks like Red Square has run afoul of the community association. That's never a good thing -- especially since this is license renewal time. 

Then there's the charge that Red Square served alcohol past 2 a.m. And to top off the list, Red Square has some unpaid taxes.

Ouch ...

If memory serves, I only went to Red Square once. It was exactly what I imagined a real club would be like in Russia: There was a middle-aged lounge singer, crooning his way through stale pop hits like Rob Thomas and Carlos Santana's "Smooth" with a thick Russian accent.

To get the real Russian experience, I made it a point to try a shot of garlic and black pepper vodka. It was one of the worst things I've ever tasted.

You know those puddles of oily water on the side of the road? It tasted like I'd slurped one of those. I still gag when I think about it.

But I did like trying the Baltika beer. Good stuff all around, as I remember it.

I'll let you know what comes of the hearing. But it doesn't look too good for Red Square. 

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:48 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Catching up with Ray LaMontagne

ray lamontagneTonight, enigmatic singer/songwriter Ray LaMontagne will play the first of two sold-out shows with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

The first is at Strathmore, and the second is tomorrow at the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall.

I talked to Ray for an article which ran in today's paper (here's a link). I was shocked to find out he's never played one of his songs for his wife, and that, at first, he didn't like his voice.

This is the second time Ray has played with an orchestra. The first time was this past July at the Hollywood Bowl.

Ray had a funny perspective on what it's like to be backed by an orchestra:

"When you play with an orchestra, you have to go back and re-learn all the songs," he said. "It's just a pain in the ass." 

Hee hee ...

Of course, having a professional orchestra to back you up isn't the worst thing in the world, Ray admits.
"We played at the Hollywood Bowl with the Hollywood Orchestra," he said. "It was beautiful. It was really amazing. It probably should have ended right there. That probably should have been it for orchestra shows, because it was a nice way to say goodbye to the first three records and shift gears and move on."

We'll find out if that really should have been the end at tonight's show.

Here's another interesting little tidbit I couldn't squeeze into the story: Not only has Ray never played a song for his wife, he hates the whole folk singer mentality.

"I get really uncomfortable with the folk scene," he said. "The singer/songwriter mentality makes me really uncomfortable. I just want to throw up. I just don't like it. I think it's so weird. Let's all sit around a campfire and sing songs? No thanks."

(Handout photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:39 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Random stuff

October 14, 2009

Geeks unite for Mobbies tonight

Tonight, the Baltimore Sun is throwing a lovely little party over at the Metro Gallery (pictured), at 1700 N. Charles St.

They're going to be giving awards to the winners of the Mobbie Awards (for outstanding local blogs). 

The shindig gets started at 7 p.m.

I'll be there. So should you. Come on down and meet some of the area's best and brightest bloggers.

(Photo by Emily Hunter)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:56 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Fletcher's changes owners, could reopen next month

Fletcher's may be down, but it's not out.

Co-owners Craig Boarman and Evan Tanner, who planned on opening a Latin/sushi spot on the first level, are no longer involved with Fletcher's. Building owner Bryan Burkert has taken over the Fells Point live music club, which he is currently rehabbing, he said.

Fletcher's could reopen as a bar and live music venue sometime in November -- but that's just a guess, Burkert said. He has to hire new staff and have the liquor license transferred back to his name.

Burkert, who also owns nearby music store Sound Garden, ran Fletcher's for several years. About 18 months ago, he transferred ownership of Fletcher's to Boarman and Tanner. Now, it's back in Burkert's hands.

"We'll see what happens," he said. "There's a lot of things you don't want to be doing, but sometimes you wake up and you're doing them. No matter what, I've got to put the business back in order."

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:30 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Local music

It looks like Fletcher's is closed

Midnight Sun tipster jmgiordano just drove by Fletcher's, and said the long-standing Fells Point live music club looked down for the count. Brown paper was taped to the windows -- a bad sign.

I'll see what else I can find out today. I've called co-owner Craig Boarman a couple times, but he hasn't called me back. The club's Web site isn't working, either. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Fletcher's has changed owners can could reopen as early as next month. More info here.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:18 PM | | Comments (27)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Local music

Is the liquor board getting too tough on bars?

club phantom baltimoreI couldn't help but chuckle when I read this piece by Sun reporter Brent Jones. The article takes a look at how the liquor board has started cracking down on Baltimore bars and clubs. Here's an interesting little snippet:

The board has issued more than $94,000 in fines this year, and $325,000 since January 2008. It has also revoked five liquor licenses dating to 2007, a move rarely used in the past and generally reserved for clubs and restaurants with long records of serious misconduct. The previous panel revoked just two licenses.

I've been writing about nightlife for just about four years now. I didn't get involved on the legal side (liquor license revoking, etc.) until the past couple years.

But I've kept an eye on the liquor board hearings and the punishments doled out to bars who break the law for a while.

I have to say, I think on the whole, the liquor board is doing all right. If anything, they should have cracked down even more on some of these spots (namely, Suite Ultralounge) ...

Take Club Phantom, for instance. I think this other piece (also by Brent Jones), sums it up perfectly:

The license was awarded to owner Shane Anderson last year with several conditions, according to the liquor board. Phantom was not allowed to have live entertainment, performing disc jockeys or promotions for parties.

But the club advertised 13 parties this year, using an outside agency to create fliers and promote the events, according to testimony during the 90-minute hearing. Neither Anderson nor a lawyer represented Phantom at the hearing, but the club's manager testified that he was unaware of the agreement, liquor board Chairman Stephan Fogleman said.

Um ... what? Unaware of the agreement? Sounds pretty simple to me. The liquor board said, OK, guys, you can open this place as long as you don't throw DJ dance nights. And what did they do? They threw DJ dance nights. A bunch of them.

Of course the community is going to be up in arms. They signed a petition to shut the club down.

Remember, this little strip of Boston Street clubs has been a bane of the neighborhood for several years now. The clubs have brought several incidents of violence, noise and disorderly conduct. That's why Club Phantom wasn't allowed to do live entertainment.

So the liquor board pulled Club Phantom's license. To me, that's not harsh -- that's common sense.

I'm not going to go case by case here, because that would take too long. And I'm sure the liquor board has made mistakes, and fined certain bars too much. That's inevitable. But as a bar-goer and a city resident, I'd rather have the liquor board be too tough on these joints than let them get by with whatever they wanted to do.

(Photo by me)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:01 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

October 13, 2009

Paul Masson covers "My Girls" by Animal Collective

Local singer/songwriter Paul Masson (no relation to the winemakers) was recently in studio to record an episode of Baltimore Unsigned, which airs tonight at 8 p.m. At the end of his session, he played this acoustic cover of Animal Collective's "My Girls." Dig it:
Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:40 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Local music

Half-sampling the new fall drinks at B&O American Brasserie

B&O american brasserie When the B&O American Brasserie announced its new fall drink menu yesterday, I was excited to see if some of the drinks lived up to their lip-smacking menu descriptions.

After having a couple cocktails there last night, I'm still not sure.

You see, the B&O American Brasserie's new fall drink menu doesn't actually come out until today, our bartender told us.

All the ingredients arrive today, and the staff's formal training on how to make the new drinks starts today. Somebody jumped the gun in announcing the menu, it seems.

Oops ...

Eager to please, the bartender offered to try and make the drinks with the ingredients he had on hand. Always in favor of experimentation, we told him to take his best shot. I ordered a Washington's Nightcap, a fancy rum and cider. The bartender put a splash of simple syrup in it, which made it too sweet.

Amie got an Engineer's Coffee, which was supposed to be espresso and brandy garnished with Grand Mariner whipped cream. Since the bartender didn't have any whipped cream, he added some Grand Marnier, which didn't jive too well with the espresso. 

I was glad the bartender at least tried to humor us by doing the best he could. And I loved the wide, velvet-covered bar chairs. It's a pretty swanky space, all in all.

Last night's episode brings up an interesting point. When I first started doing the nightlife column, I quickly learned it's not fair to review a new bar or club the first week it opens. Usually, the owners are still smoothing out the wrinkles.

But since blogs and Twitter have made being the first person to report news so important, I feel like in order to be on top of new nightlife (like this cocktail list), I have to be the first person on the scene.

As I learned again last night, being the first person there doesn't always work out in your favor.

(Photo from B&O American Brasserie's Web site)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:49 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: I'll never drink that again.

ouch!Oh man. Owl Meat's guest column brings back some rather nasty memories of bad tequila circa freshman year of college. I was soured on it for years. Here's Owl Meat:

Is there a drink that you over-indulged in years ago that still makes you queasy? Some youthful ill-advised binge splurge whose smell can still turn you green?
For me that blunder was Southern Comfort: peachy seductress, Kentucky succubus. Sweet, fruity, and powerful like a Skittles Crown Vic. In the folly of youth we gravitate toward alcohol that is sweet and strong – a formula for ignominious defeat. SoCo deserves a special place in the Bad Ideas Hall of Fame for me along with, well, you know who you are.
On a trip to the beach with two friends, I bought my first legal liquor after I crossed the border from Pennsylvania to Maryland. I don't recall what else we bought, but I remember dastardly SoCo, the Snidely Smiley Whiplash of liquors.

In my mind it was a macho drink. Oh so wrong ...

More wrong was waking up on the motel bathroom floor with a lattice of tile marks on my face, a belly full of empty regret, and my friends banging on the door. Stooopid.
SoCo, it's some kind of fancy liquor, right?. Electric man-hooch, Kentucky courage, Dixie demon dew, a liquid torrent of antebellum testosterone-y quenchiness. A man's man drink or at least a man-boy's drink. That doesn't sound right.
What's the real dealio with SoCo? Great ghost of Jim Beam, the truth is ugly. Wikipedia declares, "Southern Comfort is a fruit, spice and whiskey flavored neutral grain spirit-based liqueur produced since 1874." Whiskey flavored liqueur? Aaaaaaaaa ... I say, I say, I say, I say, somethin' is afoul in the chicken coup.
Neutral grain spirit-based liqueur? That means that it's a flavored, sugary, diluted vodka ... a liqueur! Oh, the indignity, to be laid low by such a dainty poseur. I do declare, as Foghorn Leghorn might say, I feel defrauded, fraudulated, and enfrauded.
I refuse to believe that the first bottle of Beelzebooze to take me downtown to Tiletown was a girly bourbon imposter. Gimme the bottle, Kyle. Let's have a look see. Established 1874. Seventy proof, well below the norm of 86 proof for bourbon. The bottle claims it is "the New Orleans original" and yet it is, "Produced and bottled by the Southern Comfort Bottling Company, Louisville, Kentucky." It is actually bottled in St. Louis. Sweet sassy molassey, I do declare I have been hornswaggled. I say, I say, I say, ...
My motto since then is, "Yo, no mo SoCo, bro."
As I related this tale of whoa to others at the bar, they chimed in with their own youthful Waterloos, including Boone's Farm Strawberry Hill, liebfraumilch, peppermint schnapps, and an improbable Chartreuse.
So what was your youthful downfall?

(Photo by Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:30 AM | | Comments (41)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays

October 12, 2009

The Midnight Sun Social is approaching

Nudge nudge. Hey buddy, did you hear? The Midnight Sun Social is only a couple weeks away.

In a world where everybody and their brother is using social media to encourage get-togethers, I just wanted to issue a warm, personal reminder that if you don't come to the Midnight Sun Social (it's Thursday, Oct. 29 at Bad Decisions), I will reach through your computer screen and ever so gently slap you in the mouth ...

As previously stated, since the Social is so close to Halloween, I think costumes would be cool. You know what's even lamer cooler? Showing up dressed up as something blog-related. For example, someone could show up as Chris Sligh, or Zero Tolerance Parking, or the Flower Dude or ... something. Just a thought.

Anyhow, I'll see ya in a few weeks!

Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:26 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

I'm digging B&O American Brasserie's fall cocktail menu

B&O American Brasserie

Baltimore doesn't have many places with well thought out, seasonal cocktail menus.

That's why I was pleased to get a copy of B&O American Brasserie's new fall drink list. Here it is Monday morning and I'm already drooling over some of the menu's wintery mixes.

I like the sound of Washington's Nightcap, a $12 cocktail made with Madeira wine, Drambuie liqueur and warm apple cider and garnished with roasted nuts. Mmm.

Here are some of the other highlights ...

Caboose Cocktail
Vanilla bean ice cream, Nux Alpina walnut liqueur, Godiva Chocolate Liqueur with dark chocolate shavings. $10

Parfait Poire
Absolut Pears, pear puree, fall spiced syrup, splash of champagne ($10)

Boxcar Beer
Tröeg’s Nut Brown Ale, Scrumpy’s Organic Cider, St. Elizabeth’s Allspice Dram ($10)

The one item I'm a little curious about is the Smokestack. The menu says it's made with Sazerac Rye, Dolin Sweet Vermouth, fig jam and liquid smoke. Liquid smoke? What? How do you liquify smoke?

(Baltimore Sun photo by Kim Hairston)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:19 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Your random, funny photo for the day


(Photo by me)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:30 AM | | Comments (4)

October 10, 2009

Alliance Comics celebrates its grand opening tonight at Illusions

illusions magic bar

Looks like today is all about the grand openings.

The new Alliance Comics in South Baltimore is celebrating its grand opening 8 p.m.-10 p.m. tonight with a celebration at Illusions Magic Bar (1025 S. Charles St.).

According to Alliance's owner Amy McNeal, there will be drink specials, snacks, and of course, a live magic show.

She writes:

If you're looking for some relaxation at a beautiful art deco style bar with delicious drinks and an awesome magic show , come and join us!

(Photo by me)


Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:00 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Random stuff

The grand opening of The Reserve is today

The ReserveSouth Baltimore's newest bar, The Reserve (1542 Light St.), is throwing down hard today.

They're shutting down an entire block, setting up tents and a stage, wheeling up a beer truck and roasting a pig, according to co-owner Andrew Dunlap.

"It'll be a good time," Dunlap said.

The block party starts at 11 a.m. and runs until around 7 p.m., Dunlap said. Two bands, The Stimulus Package Band and Can't Hang, will perform for free.

They'll be pouring drafts of Bud Light ($3), Shock Top ($4) and Stella Artois ($5).

"From now on out, things are only going to get better," Dunlap said. 

(Photo by me sobojosie. For some reason, I thought I took it. Oops! Sorry, sobojosie! This is also the photo they use on the bar's Facebook page, without giving me credit. I just think it's funny they haven't stood outside their own bar and taken a better one themselves.)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:26 AM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

October 9, 2009

I'm not excited about the Baltimore Music Conference

On paper, the Baltimore Music Conference is a great event. It features showcases of a ton of Baltimore bands, as well as seminars covering nearly every aspect of recording and promoting music.

This is something Baltimore desperately needs -- especially considering how visible our music scene has gotten, lately.

The BMC's founder, Lisa Suit, has the best intentions. But intentions only go so far ...

The conference, which runs Oct. 14-17 at various locations around the city, has been poorly managed from its beginnings several years ago. Remember the debacle at last year's conference?

In order for the conference to realize its full potential, it needs fresh leadership and a new focus. With the right person at the helm, the BMC could become more like South by Southwest or the CMJ Music Marathon in New York City.

I really want the BMC to draw more attention to Baltimore's music scene, and help local musicians further their careers. But until it's retooled and better organized, the BMC will continue to be a mess. And that's a shame.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:44 PM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Local music

Is Choya any good?

choyaThe other day, I spotted a bottle of Choya Umeshu in my local liquor store.

Ever seen this stuff? After some intense Internet research (Googling, mostly), I discovered that Choya is Japanese plum liqueur. 

In fact, this particular bottle of Choya had little round thingys floating in the bottom of it. They must have been plums.

So my question is: Have you ever tried this stuff? What's it like? 

It's not that expensive. I'm tempted to try some.

(Photo by me)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:00 AM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Azul 17 has its grand opening this weekend

azul 17

Azul 17, a new Mexican restaurant and lounge specializing in upscale cocktails, is celebrating its grand opening this weekend.

The odd part? Azul 17 is at 9400 Snowden River Parkway Suite 127 in Columbia.

Do you think Columbia is ready for something like this?

Owners Julio and Lily Soto do. They've lived in Columbia for 15-odd years, according to Amber Drenner, Azul 17's general manager.

"They're residents here and feel like this is something Columbia needed," Drenner said. "It's gorgeous."

From the way Drenner describes it, Azul 17 sounds sharp ...

The space is done in crisp whites and bright blues, and the bar changes colors, she said. But the drink list is what really interested me. True to its name, Azul 17 has 17 signature margaritas, 17 signature cocktails and a wide-reaching list of bottled beers.

Each of the signature cocktails are made with name brand liquors, hand-squeezed juices and fresh nectars, Drenner said. The cocktails range in price from $9 to $13. We're talking about mojitos, Cuba libres, caipirinhas -- oh my.

After 10 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, DJs will spin house and Latin music, and the dining area will be turned into a lounge, Drenner said.They also have a dance floor.

Azul 17 had its soft-opening on Labor Day weekend. To celebrate its grand opening, Azul 17 will be offering drink specials and giveaways. Its normal happy hour is from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. and features $5 margaritas.

Hours are 11:30 a.m.-midnight Sundays-Wednesdays and 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. Thursdays-Saturdays.

(Photo courtesy of Azul 17's Facebook page)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:30 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

October 8, 2009

Baltimore Beer Week begins today

baltimore beer week

Suds lovers unite! The first (and hopefully annual) Baltimore Beer Week kicks off with a cask-tapping by Boog Powell himself tonight in the Inner Harbor.

All in all, the organizers did a fantastic job organizing hundreds of events over the course of 10 days to celebrate all kinds of ales, lagers and the like.

The Web site with all the info is right here.

Happy Drinker Rob Kasper is all over Baltimore Beer Week. So is b writer Michael Cook.

(Photo courtesy of

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:44 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Checking in with Brandi Carlile

brandi carlileOn her new album, "Give Up the Ghost," singer/songwriter Brandi Carlile got a little help from a lot of high-profile friends.
Rick Rubin produced the album, which was released Tuesday. Red Hot Chili Peppers drummer Chad Smith played on it. Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers keyboardist Benmont Trench played on it. So did Indigo Girls member Amy Ray. Carlile even performed a with Elton John.

Tonight, Carlile comes to Rams Head Live

Here, Carlile talks about her approach for the album, and how she recruited such a star-studded cast of guest musicians ...

brandi carlileWhat were you listening to and where were you coming from musically when you started work on "Give up the Ghost?"

I was listening to two records in the extreme opposite ends of the spectrum that I was planning to approach. One was "A Night at the Opera" by Queen - the other was Johnny Cash's "American Recording." I wanted to understand production when it isn't equated with over production, and an intimacy that is so bare that feels heavy. Queen and Johnny Cash have more in common emotively than you'd think!

How did Rick Rubin come to produce it, and what did he lend to the feel of the album?

Rick Rubin is a producer and yet holds an executive position at Columbia records so most of the bands on our label get the opportunity to learn from Rick and his amazing history with making great records.

It gets complicated at times when the line becomes blurred between a creative collaboration with a producer and the infiltration of the record label executive into the creation of art. I felt both things working with him ... his role in making this particular record with us was pretty ambiguous. The result is a record that I'm very proud of and a lot of great lessons that I will learn from throughout my musical life. Art vs. commerce is an age old battle and I believe art will always land on its feet.

It looks like you got contributions from a number of high-profile players, from Amy Ray to Elton John and Chad Smith. Did you go into the recording process with the idea of working with other people, or did it just happen that way?

Chad Smith was an amazing Rick contribution! As well as Benmont Tench. Elton has been a childhood hero since I was 11 and he brought the song "Caroline" completely to life! Amy is my dearest friend and I couldn't imagine making this record without her voice.

How did the Elton John collaboration come to be? Did you meet him to record, or was it done separately?

I flew to Vegas to record "Caroline" with Elton John. He was unbelievable and played in one take what I knew somewhere in the back of my mind he would play ... he then sang perfectly and schooled me on new music. He introduced me to Leon Russel causing a ripple effect through my song writing I'm sure. He invited me and the twins (Tim and Phil Hanseroth) back the next night to see him play and he dedicated "Tiny Dancer" to me!!  The twins still won't stop teasing me for crying in the theater!

(Top photo by AP. Bottom photo by Anthony Saint James)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:21 AM | | Comments (2)

Why is it called happy hour?

I completely missed the boat on the Dining@Large discussion about happy hours from a few days ago. But after several minutes of intense deliberation, I have come up with my own theory of why it's called "happy hour" and why it routinely lasts for more than one hour ...

Let's break it down. First, the "happy." That's an easy one. You see, drinking makes most people happy -- especially when drinks are half price. Maybe what I mean to say is, moderate drinking makes most people happy.

Heavy drinking tends to stir up drama, and, sometimes turns stomachs inside out. Happy hour usually runs from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. The less publicized drama hour is more like 8 p.m. to midnight (on weekdays).

Now, the "hour." The front door of most bars is so much more than just a door. It's actually a time portal. Once you step inside, everything slows down. One hour inside becomes two or three hours outside. This is a scientific fact that most women just don't seem to understand.

You see, when a guy says he's going to a bar for an hour, that could easily become two or three hours -- because of the time portal. It's not his fault. That's why happy hour is usually much longer than one hour.

There you have it, a thorough (and scientific) explanation of happy hour. Cheers!

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:33 AM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

October 7, 2009

Local rocker Elise Major featured on new iPhone app "Tap Tap Revenge 3"

elise major

How's this for hometown love: The brand new iPhone and iPod Touch app "Tap Tap Revenge 3" features a song by Baltimore-rocker Elise Major.

Released yesterday, the app is modeled after games such as "Guitar Hero" -- you tap the screen with your thumbs to play along with the song. I love the instructions the phone gives:

"Tap the balls as they cross the tap zone at the bottom of the screen."


Before I tried playing Elise Major's track, "Green," I called up Elise, and asked her if she'd tried the game yet.

"I'm so lame," she said. "I don't have an iPhone, so I don't know. I want to see what level my song is going to be on. It better be on hard, because it's hard for me (to play)."

Earlier today, iPhone wizard (and books blogger) Nancy Johnston downloaded the $.99 app so we could try it out ...

Once you install "Tap Tap Revenge 3," you can buy songs to play on it or select from a few free songs. Thankfully, "Green" was one of the free ones. 

Playing along with Elise Major's song wasn't easy at all. "Green," is listed under the Extreme difficulty level. 

Nancy played the first half of the song, and I played the second half. It was pretty tough, but we somehow ended up with 81 percent accuracy rate (yeah!) and a longest streak of 30.

Elise's label, Ingrooves, helped get "Green" on the game, she said. She hopes it will help get her music some more exposure.

"I'm excited," she said.

(Thanks to jmgiordano for this photo, and for the tip)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:32 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Local music

Green Cilantro is back open

green cilantroLast week, when I found out that Green Cilantro was closed for repairs, I speculated the Fells Point joint could be closed indefinitely.

Turns out, I was wrong.

Earlier today, I saw a tip from commenter Heather that Green Cilantro was open for last weekend's Fells Point Fun Festival.

I called down to the bar, and found out they really were closed for repairs, according to general manager Mario Ruiz.

Green Cilantro had a gas leak, and shut down for a week to repair it and make sure there weren't any other potential problems, Ruiz said. 

"It's fixed now," he said. 

Welcome back, Green Cilantro!

(Photo by Alexander D. Mitchell IV)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:20 PM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

A new Fells Point bar?

Got a tip yesterday that a new spot called Little Phil's has opened in the South Broadway space that used to be La Marsa (and before La Marsa, Wee Pete's).

Little Phil's has a six-day liquor license, which means it will be open until 1 a.m. and closed on Sundays. No food yet, my tipster tells me, but food is in the works. I'll keep you posted.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:30 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

October 6, 2009

Mark Clayton and Joe Flacco will be at ESPN Zone tonight

flaccoMark Clayton and Joe Flacco (I mean, do they really need introductions?) will be at ESPN Zone starting at 7 p.m. tonight.

They'll be taping an episode of FOX45 Playbook, but Ravens fans are more than welcome to join the studio audience.

I hear Flacco and Clayton will even be fielding questions from the crowd.

So head down there, check it out, and report back to me tomorrow.

(Photo by Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:02 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Celebrity sightings

It's official: Porter's is closed

porter'sPorter's, the restaurant and bar on Riverside Avenue in Federal Hill, is closed for the near future, according to land owner Dave Cowell.

That's about all Cowell knows at the moment, he said.

"As a property owner, a lot of times, you're the last one to know," he said.

Cowell said Joe Fonte, who owned the business, had been looking to sell for some time. 

"I don't know how much more desire he had to run a restaurant," Cowell said ...

Cowell said he'd know more in the next few days. He filled me in on some of the building's history, though, which was interesting. Before Porter's, it used to be called Ransom, and before Ransom, it was a corner bar named Paul's, according to Cowell.

I only went in Porter's once. The food and drinks were good, but the service was so bad I never went back.

Now, the space sits vacant. 

"If you know anybody that wants to buy a restaurant, let me know," Cowell said.

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:50 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

OK, so, here's where I took the out-of-towner last night

the owl barThanks for all the suggestions, everybody.

Yesterday, I got to show freelancer and videographer Benji Lanyado a night on the town.

Benji was filming a video which will (hopefully) pop up on the Web site of the Guardian sometime in the semi-near future.

Where did we go? A little bit of everywhere, actually.

We hit up the Sidebar Tavern first -- just in time to watch the suit-wearing crowd mingle with the hardcore punks. Solid stuff.

Then we dropped by the Pratt Street Ale House for a brief chat with brewer Steve Jones, who happens to be from overseas himself ...

Our third stop was the Idle Hour, where DJ Rezzie Ron was spinning. Rezzie Ron is named after Resurrection Ale, and it looked like he was pounding Resurrections last night. Hilarious. I swear, for some reason, my phone still smells like Chartreuse -- even though I only had one shot of it. Weird.

The Owl Bar (pictured) was stop No. 4, because I wanted to show Benji some Baltimore history.

Then we set out to find some live hip-hop, which was harder than you'd think on a Monday night. For some reason, Five Seasons was closed and padlocked. Ste. 18 didn't have anything going, either, but some folks there told us to check out Club Reality.

We hit up Eden's Lounge because it was on the way, but even Eden's was shuttered for the night. Thankfully, a DJ was spinning at Club Reality, and there was a decent amount of people there.

I had to show Benji the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, so we dropped by the Metro Gallery for No Rule. Quite nice, quite nice. 

We ended our little adventure with a pint at Kooper's Tavern Fells Point. It was a blast. Benji loved that the Block is only a block from City Hall.

I'll post the video when it gets edited and goes live. It will need a lot of editing, methinks. But maybe -- just maybe -- it might turn out OK. We certainly stirred up a little mischief.

Thanks again, Benji, for putting up with me, and Guardian editors, for coming up with the idea. Cheers!

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:32 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: The tipping point


You know, the more I think about it, the more I like Owl Meat's suggestion for a new tipping system. Take it away, Mr. OMG:

Tipping in America is an epic fail.

It foments tension where there should be digestion. It's demeaning to workers. It has whiffs of blackmail and bribery. It's a chance for cheapskates to stiff someone. Good and bad service are often rewarded similarly because of social pressure or mandatory service charges.

Americans tip about 42 billion dollars a year in the food industry. Tipping is supposed to improve service, but research shows otherwise:

"this common wisdom might be wrong. Empirical evidence suggests that tips are hardly affected by service quality."

Here at the Owl Meat Drink, er, Think Tank we propose a new system: free market tipping. The concept is simple ...

Bartenders and servers set their own minimum tip rates. No government interference or "living wage" nonsense. Customers choose their server from a menu of photos and backgrounds. Goodbye to the indignity of monetizing human behavior after a night out.

Do I want suave, mustachioed Antonio, with twenty years of fine dining experience (25%), or twitchy Mindy, a student with one month's experience (13%)? The miserly and wanton might choose turbo-hottie Mindy. The discerning gourmand and pretentious tool might select Antonio.

This system has many advantages. It encourages employees to maximize sales, which is good for them and owners. Employees never get stiffed. Patrons don't have to guilt-tip. Foreigners can't plead ignorance. Customers and employees both have a sense of control. Tipping above the minimum is allowed, so there is an incentive to excel. Antonio has a nasty gambling habit, so you might negotiate him down on a slow night.

This adds complexity and might not work everywhere, such as a small bar. You could set one rate per bar or restaurant and let them compete with each other on the price of service.

Service is a commodity and should be subject to free market competition. We already do the math, we just don't translate it properly into money. I go to certain bars on certain nights, because I like the bartender. I don't mind paying more for good service, but I also want to pay less for poor service. One often hears that a restaurant's food is good, but the service is poor. Let's pay commensurately for that service.

The tango of the tip is complex. That won't change, but this would make it more rational and less stressful. Let's destroy the old system and set up a free market for all parties. Welcome to America where everything is for sale, now let's agree on a price.

(Photo by Getty Images)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:38 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays

October 5, 2009

Where would you take an out-of-towner tonight?

sidebar tavernSo, if you got a call from a videographer from an overseas newspaper who wanted you to take him on a tour of colorful Baltimore bars tonight, where would you go?

I'm planning on hitting up No Rule at the Metro Gallery, the Sidebar Tavern (pictured), Bad Decisions, Brewer's Art, Joe Squared, Idle Hour, maybe Eden's Lounge and the Five Seasons.

It's tough, because tonight is, well, a Monday night, and there's not tons of wild and crazy stuff going on.

Any recommendations?

(Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney, Jr.)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:57 PM | | Comments (38)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Unpaid utility bill shutters El Rancho Grande

el rancho grande baltimoreEl Rancho Grande, the cafe and live music venue in Hampden, has been closed for the past several weeks due to an unpaid utility bill, according to owner Peter Schmader.

"We've got power issues," he said.

Since it opened in February of 2008, El Rancho Grande has never been about making money, Schmader said ...

"It wasn't supposed to be a flashy, high-rolling place," he said.

Schmader is holding benefit shows at other venues such as Golden West Cafe, hoping to raise enough money to get El Rancho Grande back in business.

"I've been putting everything into it," he said. "I still have hope."

(Photo courtesy of the venue)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:44 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Local music

Now dig this

I've always wanted Midnight Sun to have a list of all the events going on around town. From time to time, I've tried to do it myself (remember Three Hot Weekend Tips and Whatchadointhisweekend?).

But inevitably, it either takes up too much time or I just get sick of it ...

Finally, we have a solution. If you'll notice, there's a new feature in the Midnight Sun Sidebar (over there to the right of your screen). It's Baltimore Event Listings, courtesy of the lovely site Thanks, Localist.

Now, Localist is going to round up the events for all of us, which means less work for me and more juicy info for you.


Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:25 AM | | Comments (5)

October 2, 2009

Sipping Michelob Ultra Pomegranate Raspberry beer

michelob ultra pomegranate raspberry

This post might just put a permanent dent in my manliness. But that's OK.

Last week, Amie saw an ad for Michaelob Ultra Pomegranate Raspberry beer (think they could have made the name any longer?).

When she asked me to pick her up a six-pack at the local liquor store, I cringed to myself.

I figured she would try one, not like it, and I'd be stuck drinking the other five bottles of fruit-tastic beer.

Oh boy!

Turns out, it's not actually that bad ...

If you like some of the Pub Dog's fruity beers -- like their blueberry or watermelon, you'll probably like this stuff too.

On first sip, the fruit is the first thing you notice, and then, as it hits the back of your palate, you taste the beer.

Now, we realized, the only problem was our timing. It's not hot outside anymore, and Amie only wants to drink Michelob Ultra Pomegranate Raspberry to cool down. So I might end up having the other five after all.

The more I think about it, that's actually not such a bad thing. Mmm.

(Photo by me)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:57 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Drink-ology, Random stuff

What Federal Hill bars don't have DirecTV?

Yesterday, Midnight Sun reader Tyler sent me this e-mail:

Hey Sam - Do you know of any bars in Fed Hill that don't have DirecTV? I'm trying to find a place to watch the Caps hockey game and DirecTV isn't carrying the game because of their feud with Versus.

If you know of any bars, let me know.

Tyler, I'm not sure I have a good answer to that question. So I'm turning it over to the Midnight Sun crew. Got anything for him, gang?

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

October 1, 2009

And the winner is ...

Rob Walshe! That's right folks, our mystery bar was the Emerald Tavern! What's this I hear about using Google Maps' Street View? You guys are nuts.

I'm sorry it took me a while to post the answer. I was giving a talk at a college journalism class about  ... (drum roll please) ... blogging!

Anyhow, Rob, e-mail me at to claim your prize.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:14 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Name That Bar

Name That Bar, vol 12

namemebaby.JPGMan, it's been a while since the last Name That Bar. The reason for the lapse?

Heh, well, to be honest, I haven't gotten around to awarding the last Name That Bar winner his wicked wicked awesome awesome prize pack yet. Shh.

But I will. Don't worry. And all that wickedawesomeness has been collecting interest. So you can only imagine how most excellent the prize will be.

Are you ready to guess the mystery bar?

The first person to correctly identify the bar pictured at the right wins a prize. Good luck!

midnightsunisnotresponsibleforanyinjuriessustainedinthenamethatbarcontest. somelicensingfeesmayapply. seedealerfordetails.

(Photo by Alexander D. Mitchell IV)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:15 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Name That Bar

One of the funniest local music videos I've seen

I didn't know it was kosher to write about local electro-pop outfit Lazerbitch or not, because of the whole profanity thing. Then my editor sent me a link to Lazerbitch's new video and said "Blog about it or you'll never work in this town again, see?" ...

Well, that's kind of an exaggeration. But you get the point.

The video is for Lazerbitch's song "Coquette," and was shot in Baltimore and directed by Brian Morrison. In it, singer Libby Picken struts across town, stealing things from people (and sometimes returning them). She winds up on stage at The Windup Space, just in time for her show, and then leads a dance troupe out onto North Avenue. Pretty cool stuff.

Here's the video:

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:36 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Local music
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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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