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January 30, 2010

Make your own spiked cider

a glass of delicious-looking apple cider may be in your near futureIn last week's City Paper, Michelle Gienow wrote about her (successful) attempt at brewing homemade hard cider.

Her piece is a great read, and makes me want to try it for myself -- except the part where I'd have to press my own. I'd rather just buy a jug from Weber's Farm.

Here's an excerpt from the article:

It turns out that fermenting your own hard cider is in the same category as home-brewing beer--unlike distillation (the making of actual moonshine), brewing is legal without a license so long as you don't sell your product. ...

It's also insanely easy: Basically, I poured a gallon of home-pressed cider into a ceramic crock, sprinkled some yeast on top, covered it and set it off to one side of the basement. Two weeks later, I had hard cider.

It seemed like a minor miracle: Though I don't think it would win any taste tests, my homemade hard cider was dry and crisp and very drinkable--plus it packed an undeniable alcoholic wallop. And it won't even make you go blind! 

I'm all about drinking delicious-sounding hard cider without going blind. I'll bet you are, too. I think I just might have to make some.

Great piece, Michelle!

(Baltimore Sun photo by Jerry Jackson)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:24 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Random stuff

January 29, 2010

Hexagon to go non-profit, stop paying ASCAP fees

The Hexagon, a live music club in Station North run by a collective of volunteers, will no longer pay fees to music licensing organizations such as ASCAP and BMI, officials announced this week.

The club is on its way to becoming a non-profit, according to board member Leeann Brown. It has reached non-profit status in the state, and is on the path to becoming a 501(c)(3). Effective immediately, bands and DJs who perform at the club can only play music that's original, fair use or in the public domain. ...

If you recall, not long after the Hexagon opened in 2008, ASCAP, BMI and SESAC billed the Hexagon a total of nearly $5000 for the rights to host music licensed by their artists.

If you're not familiar with ASCAP, BMI or SESAC, they represent hundreds of thousands of musicians/songwriters/etc. from all genres.

Unable to pay the bill, the Hexagon negotiated the fee down to about half the original sum, and was able to cover the costs for last year. When ASCAP approached the club about paying for 2010, the Hexagon refused.

"It would be going against our mission statement to support these organizations," Brown said. 

The only other club that has publicly refused to pay ASCAP and co. and continued to operate is AS220 in Rhode Island, Brown said. The Hexagon's board looked at AS220's model, which helped them make the decision to stop paying licensing fees.

This decision does, Brown said, present a potentially risky situation for the club.

"If at any point, a musician begins to breach these rules, we'll have to turn the sound off," Brown said. "We're hoping that won't come up."
Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:33 PM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Local music

Sipping a cold can of Bud Light & Clamato Chelada

bud light & clamato cheladaI have sipped the nectar of Satan, and its name is Bud Light & Clamato Chelada.

I don't know who concocted this devil's brew of light beer mixed with the juices of limes, tomatoes and ... clams. Yes, clams.

Somehow, somewhere, someone thought it would be a good idea to bring together all of these things and serve them in can format to unsuspecting Southerners.

Midnight Sunner Evan first told me about the stuff, and  jmgiordano picked up this tall can of it in South Carolina, where he said it appeared to be at least semi-popular. After trying some myself, I don't see how that's possible. 

Besides having one of the most awkward names in the mainstream beer market, Bud Light & Clamato Chelada costs $1.99 for a tall can like this one.

As you can tell from the small fancy glass in the photo, it's dirty salmon in color. 

The taste? How do I describe the taste?

Have you ever dipped your hand into the dark, mysterious waters of the Inner Harbor and licked your fingers? ...

Me neither. But I imagine it would taste something like Bud Light & Clamato Chelada, only less salty.

The first thing you notice when Bud Light & Clamato Chelada hits your lips is its saltiness. It's salty enough to kill a weaker man. Fortunately, I am a stronger man. Still, I could feel my liver and kidneys groaning as I took the first sip.

The second thing you notice is the clam juice.

When I was a kid, I used to dig up nasty river clams with my feet. One time, I convinced my parents to cook them so I could have them for dinner. In my 9-year-old mind, the clams would be delicious. My parents knew better, but they humored me.

The clam juice in Bud Light & Clamato Chelada reminds me of the taste of those river clams -- the bitter sting of shattered childhood dreams.

Fortunately for us Marylanders, I haven't seen Bud Light & Clamato Chelada on shelves ... yet. But if you do, keep your distance. This stuff is only for masochistic drinkers.

(Photo by me)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:43 AM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Windup Space to host inaugural NOVO Festival

the bar at the windup spaceIn early March, The Windup Space is hosting the first NOVO Fest, a five-day event featuring a variety of all-instrumental bands.

Windup Space owner Russell de Ocampo, who himself plays in the local instrumental group Yeveto, said the festival will bring together all kinds of voice-less music, including experimental, post rock and jazz. The festival, which runs March 2-6, will be recorded by Mobtown Studios for a future release, possibly on local music blog Aural States.

"People might not be aware, but there's tons of instrumental bands that don't get heard of as much," de Ocampo said. "I'm trying to put it out there and have people see what it's all about."

Here is the current festival lineup, which could change in the coming weeks ...

Tuesday, March 2:

Out of Your Head's One-Year Anniversary at The Windup Space with special guest Ellery Eskelin from New York.  We will be starting this OOYH at 8:00pm instead of our normal 9:30pm.  As always this event is free of charge.

Set One, 8:00 p.m.

John Dierker-reeds
Cam Collins-reeds
Brent Madsen-trumpet
Rachel Gawell-cello
Alan Munshower-drums

Set Two, 9:30 p.m.

Ellery Eskelin-sax
Michael Formanek-bass
Susan Alcorn-pedal steel guitar

Set Three, 11:00 p.m.

Ellery Eskelin-sax
Eric Trudel-sax
Blake Cramer-vibes
Nathan Ellman-Bell-drums

Wednesday, March 3:

The Water
Expanding Man

Doors at 9 p.m., show at 9:30 p.m. $5

Thursday, March 4

Nathan Bell
Yeveto (playing a stripped down, quieter set)
Insect Factory

Doors at 9 p.m., show at 9:30 p.m. $5

Friday, March 5

Jason Urick

Doors at 9 p.m., show at 9:30 p.m. $5

Saturday, March 6th

We Used to Be Family
Leisure Icons
Holy Fingers

Doors at 9 p.m., show at 9:30 p.m. $5

(Photo by Molly O'Donnell)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 7:51 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Local music

January 28, 2010

Free music tonight? Oh yeah.

3fifthsTonight only (I love that phrase), you can see two great local bands for free at The 8x10.

Baltimore Sun sister publication b is throwing a reader appreciation bash featuring live music by Sticky Mulligan and 3Fifths. They're both solid local bands.

3Fifths is a staple on the local jam/rock scene. And I actually just had Sticky Mulligan in studio to tape an episode of Baltimore Unsigned last night.

Now, since the show is free, it's going to sell out. There are two ways to get tickets ...

1) E-mail the words "The 8x10," your name and the number of tickets you need (there is a maximum of two per person) to

2) Send a text message with the words "The 8x10," your name and how many tickets you need (again a max of two) to 70701.

There will also be door prizes. As of 3:15 p.m., there were only 100 spots left, so hurryhurryhurry!

(Photo by Jake Nodar)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:26 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Local music

Wanna write for Midnight Sun?

sam also poses without his arms crossedHave you ever wanted to be a ("famous") writer like me?

Well, here's your chance.

Starting next Tuesday, I'm leaving damp, chilly Baltimore for sunny, sweaty Argentina. I won't be back until Feb. 16th. I've got a few posts lined up, but they're not nearly enough to get me all the way through my vacation.

That's where you come in. 

If you like writing about bars/clubs/nightlife, I'm all about posting your work on Midnight Sun.*

Of course, I can't pay you in real money or anything. But think about all the doors that will open for you when you're a published author.

You could be a (D-list) local celebrity like me!

E-mail me at for more information.

*Midnight Sun reserves the write to unceremoniously edit and/or delete sub-par submissions. Void where prohibited.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:35 PM | | Comments (7)

The Captain's Corner: Joe the parrot

capt. larry outside his bar, circa 2000

Ladies and gentlemen, it's time for another edition of The Captain's Corner, where Capt. Larry Gross, who used to own Captain Larry's, tells colorful stories from years past. If you missed last week's column about the bullet holes in the ceiling, you can read it here.

Like any proper Captain, Capt. Larry had a pet parrot. This particular parrot's name was Joe, and Joe had a taste for alcohol. I'll let the Captain take it from here. The helm is yours, Captain!

Joe was an African Grey. The deal with Joe was, he loved women and hated men. Women could come in the bar, put their finger in his cage, scratch his head, and he'd coo.

When I would take Joe out of the cage and put him on the bar, he would walk down the bar. He would only drink Budweiser or black rum. That's it. ...

I know he couldn't sip the black rum out of the straw, but he put his mouth on it, and everybody thought that was cool.

When I had the third wife with me, we got Joe so juiced up one night, he fell off the bar. He was on the floor, and his wings were out.

My wife at the time went berserk. She said, 'You killed the (bleeping) bird.'

I said, 'Oh my God.' I thought he was dead.

So I went to pick him up and he's moving a little bit. I put him on his perch, and the son of a (bleep) spun upside down, holding by his feet, and then fell down inside the cage.

I said, 'Christ.'

So he climbed back up and got on the perch. The next two days after that, he was the nastiest bird you ever wanted to see. He must have had a hangover!

Now, the deal about loving the girls and hating the guys is, the guys couldn't fool with him. I would get all these young kids and yuppies coming in and they would want to do karaoke.

One night, this college kid's in there, and he's got his finger in the cage, scratching Joe's head. He said, 'Hey Captain, look at this. I thought he only liked girls. I'm scratching his head.'

I said, 'Yeah, I see it.'

He said, 'Well what do you think about that?'

I said, 'Well, that's how we tell who homosexuals are.'

He went, 'Oh my God,' like we'd broken his heart.

(Photo of Capt. Larry outside his bar circa 2000)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:08 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Bar stories

Concert review: Mariah Carey at DAR Constitution Hall

mariah carey

Concert reviewer John-John Williams IV saw MiMi's show last night at DAR Constitution Hall. Here are his thoughts on her performance:

The legendary songstress Mariah Carey gave a somewhat spirited performance last night during her 90-minute show at DAR Constitution Hall in Washington.

At times, Carey was magical. She showed off the  incredible vocal range that has made her arguably one of the top female vocalists of her time.

She also displayed a noticeably heftier figure that she squeezed for dear life into unflattering outfits. (At one point, when she descended from the rafters on a swing wearing a sparkly champagne-colored gown, she looked sort of like a sausage wrapped in ruffles and rhinestones.)

Although Carey emerged at about 8:30 p.m. and ended the show about 10 p.m., her actual performance time was much shorter.

If you count the outfit changes, the stage breaks she took to sip champagne and the ultra tacky onstage makeup touch-up, Carey only performed for about an hour ...

"I know. I know. It's diva behavior," she said to the audience.

She wasn't joking.

It was truly unfortunate for fans who paid as much as $149 a ticket to watch Carey rhythmlessly wobble from one side of the stage to the other.

Carey only sang about a dozen songs. (It seemed like more Michael Jackson songs were played during her concert than her own material.) Absent were "Vision of Love," "Emotions" and "One Sweet Day."

A dozen or so songs for an artist starting out is understandable. But for Carey, who has 20 years of solid material -- "We Belong Together" was recently named song of the decade by Billboard -- it is completely unforgivable. Shame on you, Mariah. Shame.

Carey was golden when she performed hits like "Shake It Off" and "It's Like That" from 2005's "Emancipation of Mimi" and "Touch My Body" from 2008’s E=MC². They were all crowd pleasers.

On more than one occasion, Carey attempted to show off her whistle register (when she hits those really, really high notes). When Carey began a song with the whistle register, like she did with "It’s A Wrap," she was golden.Sadly, Carey had a tendency to lose that note when the music blared in the background -- especially at the end of a song.

Toss in a couple more songs -- the crowd pleaser "Always Be My Baby," "My All" from "Honey" and "Obsessed," as well as some background dancers and that was it, folks.

Overall, it was a disappointment. We all know that Carey can sing the phonebook. We know that she has an arsenal of hits. And we all know that she is capable of bringing down the house. I just wish that she would have put all of these weapons together for a concert that didn’t cut corners.

(Getty Images photo by John Shearer)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:26 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Concert reviews

Lagers Pub gets a facelift, live entertainment

lagers baltimoreLagers, the Canton Pub we love to hate, has a new managing partner and a fresh interior.

Uriah Burow, who used to run the Canton corner bar Hummers, is now helping manage Lagers, he said in a Facebook message. The interior has been freshened, and Burow added live entertainment.

Lagers also has a coupon in Charmed Magazine for $20 off a tab of $50 or more. Nice.

"Lagers has done a 180," he wrote. "Who knows? Maybe we have done enough to make Lagers the bar you hate to love."

Maybe, Uriah. Maybe.

(Logo courtesy of

Posted by Sam Sessa at 6:50 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

January 27, 2010

You need to listen to Bad Rabbits

bad rabbitsI never go this far out on a limb for an up-and-coming band, but I'm going to do it right here right now.

A band from Boston called Bad Rabbits, is churning out some of the most  exciting party music I've heard lately. With the right management and record label, these guys could be big.

But I don't care how huge they are -- I just want them to keep making music, because I really like what I've heard and seen so far.

Before we go any further, go here and listen to their debut EP, "Stick Up Kids." It's got seven songs, and four or five of them are bangers.

Led by a sultry falsetto and layered with retro synths and pulsing drums, "Stick Up Kids" is a fresh take on the '80s hip-hop/R&B/dance scene -- part Prince, part Kool & the Gang ...

With a sound like this, Bad Rabbits could win over hipsters and pop and urban radio listeners alike.

I didn't think Bad Rabbits would be able to pull it off live until I saw them perform at The Studio at Webster Hall in New York City last Saturday night. The space was filled with a couple hundred people, and half of them knew the words to the songs. How is that possible? The vibe was electric. Bad Rabbits owned it.

By now, I hope you've clicked on that link and listened to "Stick Up Kids." If you have, you really ought to buy it. It only costs $5.

At the New York gig, I briefly talked to one of the guys in Bad Rabbits, who said they're headed to Baltimore sometime in March. I'm there.

(Photo by Jackie Munoz)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:30 PM | | Comments (5)

Is Club Hush the new Suite Ultralounge?

There is another bottle club in Baltimore, and its name is Club Hush. It's an after-hours club, located in a warehouse on the 1900 block of W. Lombard St., according to police.

True to its name, Club Hush is virtually nonexistent online (several Google searches turned up nothing), but police have received complaints from neighborhood residents about the spot, according to Sun cops reporter Justin Fenton

Anybody heard of this place? I'm going to try and get out there to take a photo of the building, if I can find it. I wonder if it's just like the now-shuttered Suite Ultralounge in the Belvedere?

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:35 PM | | Comments (30)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Sipping a bottle o' Bud Light at Cancun Cantina

a cowboy tightens his boots at cancun cantina, circa 1997For a city that straddles the North and South, Baltimore doesn't have much of a country bar scene.

This used to puzzle me -- until I went to Cancun Cantina.

Ever been there? Last night was my first time. Now I see why there aren't many country bars. Why would you need seven or eight smaller country joints when you've got one Cancun Cantina?

As I heard a woman inside say, if you drive by Cancun Cantina and don't notice it, you need glasses. You can spot the radiant glow from the giant neon sign from half a mile away. The sign has the words 'Cancun Cantina' and a huge neon bull skull, horns and all. The bull's eyes glow red. Awesome!

I walked inside, and a hostess at a glass display table asked me for $6. I told her I was just going getting drink -- not participate in the weekly country dance lesson. No deal, she said. Cancun Cantina always charges cover after 7 p.m., no matter what's going on, she told me.

I paid the $6, and kept going.

Cancun Cantina is a sprawling space, split into several sections. There's an outdoor patio, a big dance floor, a couple dining areas and pool rooms.

Last night (a Tuesday, no less), the dance floor was full of folks dancing to country music. ...

A friendly lady was giving lessons. Since I didn't have a partner, I sidled up to the bar. Neither of the bars in the main rooms appeared to have draft beer, so I had to go for a bottle.

What bottle, you ask? Bud Light. As an American in an American country bar, I had to order an American beer. It cost $3, and tasted, um, American.

Country bands come through Cancun Cantina pretty regularly. David Allan Coe (who has a guitar with a Confederate emblem on it) is playing there Feb. 22. My guess is, he'll perform on the elevated wood stage by the dance floor. A black banner hangs behind that stage, emblazoned with Cancun Cantina's logo and streaked with lightening bolts.

In short, David Allan Coe + Confederate guitar + lightening bolts = Awesome!

A game of pool costs $2 at Cancun Cantina. This realization shocked me. I don't know if I've ever seen a Greater Baltimore pool table consume as many as eight quarters at once.

Two gentlemen sat near me at the bar, discussing business. It seemed like they both worked for the same company. At one point, one guy told a sloppy rendition of how the ancient Chinese warrior Sun Tzu beheaded two company commanders for disobedience, and used this as a metaphor for how their company should handle its business. Awesome!

I left Cancun Cantina with a Bud Light in my belly, and on my way out, spotted a sign above the doorway to the patio: "No strangers, just friends you haven't met." Right on, Cancun Cantina. Right on.

(Photo of a cowboy tying his boots outside Cancun Cantina in 1997 from Sun archives. Sorry I don't have a more recent photo. This was the best I could do on such short notice.)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:02 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Generous half-pours at The Falls

a half-pour at the FallsThough I haven't been yet myself, I've heard good things about The Falls (1604 Kelly Ave.), the fairly new cafe, eatery and wine bar in Mount Washington.

The Falls serves wines by the bottle, pour or half-pour. It's the last option that I like the most.

Half-pours let you taste a variety of wines without putting spots on your liver. They don't cost that much either. 

For example, a typical pour of sauvignon blanc at The Falls might run you $5, but a half-pour will only be $3. Unlike many area wine bars, The Falls offers all of their wines by the half-pour.

And judging by the photo, these are some pretty hefty half-pours.

The only other time I've come close to a half pour was a couple years ago at Cinghiale, when Amie ordered a half-pour, only to receive a regular pour. The restaurant only charged us for a half-pour, and Amie gladly enjoyed the extra few ounces of wine.

(Photo by Midnight Sunner CJ)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:06 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

January 26, 2010

J.A. Murphy's turns 1, celebrates with free drinks

j.a. murphy's tavernWow. It's hard for me to believe that J.A. Murphy's is a year old already.

It feels like the Fells Point haunt (which replaced Lulu's) just opened yesterday.

Baltimore Magazine's Jess Blumberg wrote a nice heads up about J.A. Murphy's birthday bash, which features all kinds of free shots and such from 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. tonight.

If there was a No. 6 on my Five Best New Bars of 2009 list, it would have been J.A. Murphy's.

A few Tuesdays ago, when a couple friends and I stopped in and had a few rounds there, I was reminded of how much I liked the spot.

It seems like the owners are trying really hard to make J.A. Murphy's a solid neighborhood spot. For the most part, they've been successful ...

I've never had bad service there, and have always been surprised by the silly bar games. For a while, they were doing a Word of the Day, and whoever said the word of the day won free drink.

When we were there earlier this month, customers could have the bartender spin a wheel labeled with various drink outcomes -- some good and some bad. A guy next to me spun the wheel and had to buy everyone in the bar shots at $1 each. Good thing the place wasn't slammed.

My friend Tom spun the wheel, and had to buy someone a shot. He picked me, and ordered a Shave and a Shower, which was a mix of Rumplemintz and espresso vodka. It sounded awful but was actually not bad.

If you haven't been to J.A. Murphy's yet, check it out sometime. I've been two or three times, and have always had a good time.

(Photo by me)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:42 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Looking for nearby country bars

Speaking of George Strait and Reba McEntire -- anybody know of a good country bar hereabouts? I'm down with Cancun Cantina and Pop's Tavern. There's got to be one or two other country bars around here, right? Why can't I find them?

Also, if you know of a Greater Baltimore bar with a mechanical bull, that would be good, too.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:54 PM | | Comments (9)

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: The great divide

riiiiiiiiiiiip goes the relationship

What's worse when you break up -- dividing up the friends or the bars and restaurants? I used to think friends, but now I'm not so sure. Owl Meat, do your thang:

When you part ways and your other becomes insignificant, the division of assets looms darkly. There is a harsh parceling seldom uttered – your broken social scene. How to we divide up your bars, restaurants, and other haunts?

Unless you wrangle the chupacabra of breakups, the mutual breakup, you have bar terrain to divide. Deal with it.

Rule 1: You get the bars and restaurants you brought with you.
Rule 2: There is no Rule 2.
Rule 3: Nobody talks about Fight Club ...

After moving back to Baltimore I met a girl. We had some kicks for a few years. She used to bartend occasionally in Fells Point. Obviously that place became her place after the split.

This was not what you would call an amicable breakup. It was real scorched earth stuff. We both lived in Canton, so it seemed inevitable that we would see each other occasionally. It's amazing that in Baltimore I have seen her only twice in ten years.

In Baltimore there are certain haunts that cannot be divided. The Charles Theater is one. I remember standing in a line there that looped around so that I stared longingly through it at the snack counter. Apparently I was glaring through my ex-girlfriend. I hadn't seen her in several years. I noticed someone in front of me getting out of line and looping around to exit by the far door. It was her. I guess not noticing someone from your past in favor of the popcorn machine is kind of insulting, Sorry.

In the ten or so years since we broke up, the only other time that I ran into her was at Minato's old location. That was a break-up foul. The owner is a good friend of mine and the staff greets me as Sashimi ____.

I was at the sushi bar talking to the owner and I pointed out my former paramour in the back room. "Oh, she's beautiful. Why did you break up with her?" Well, there are other considerations which trump appearance. He suggested I send her some unagi (eel), giant clam, or a spicy tuna hand roll (her favorites). I declined. Gifts of sushi are rife with untethered symbolism.

Has anyone ever listed their hangouts and divided them up in a break-up? I never have. I think common sense and civility provides a decent unspoken guide, but I've moved around a lot, so I may not be the best example. I wonder if people who get divorced document their divided social terrain?. I'll bet some do.

Point of irony: People break up because they can't communicate with each other, yet they can intuit which social assets each other gets. So for things that really matter, like which bars you frequent, communication is easy and unspoken. Oh sweet irony.

(Photo by Getty Images)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:16 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays

January 25, 2010

Concert review: George Strait, Reba McEntire and Lee Ann Womack at 1st Mariner

reba mcentire

John-John Williams IV was at 1st Mariner Friday night to see Reba McEntire, George Strait and Lee Ann Womack. Here is his review:

Reba McEntire (pictured, top) showed Friday night at 1st Mariner Arena why she is arguably the queen of country music, while veteran crooner George Strait (pictured, bottom) left me wondering why he hasn't been kicked from his throne.

Strait's dry performance lacked the flare and persona of McEntire. Strait's songs sounded pretty much the same in both lyrics and tempo. After the 10th reference to honky tonk, Strait's act started to wear thin.

It was a different story with McEntire and Lee Ann Womack, who went on before Strait. They both showed more style and flair. The two were dressed to impress, and flexed their vocal muscles with a good mix of songs. Their performances definitely delighted the crowd. (McEntire brought the audience to its feet on several occasions.)

Strait, on the other hand, sang one sad, whiny, slow song after another. It's a shame because the concert had so much promise. ...

A brunette (she's usually blond) Womack kicked things off with a slew of her No. 1 hits. (I know this because she reminded the crowd each time she sang one.) Highlights from her half hour on stage include her singing "Last Call" from her 2008 album "Call Me Crazy." The pain and liberation of the song was palpable.

"I Hope You Dance," the title track from her 2000 album, is a beautiful ballad that has become her signature song. (You've likely heard it played at weddings.) She dedicated the song to her two girls. It was a nice half-hour display of Womack's traditional country sounds.

george straitMcEntire was definitely the show stopper. She pulled out all the stops during her 90-minute performance. The iconic native Oklahoman took the stage after a montage of clips from her career was shown on several big screen televisions hanging from the rafters. She immediately launched into "What Am I Gonna Do About You," her 1986 hit.

McEntire then took the crowd on a hit parade which spanned more than three decades. "I Keep On Loving You", a new single off of McEntire's 2009 album of the same name was a crowd-pleaser. Written by hitmakers Brooks & Dunn, the ballad is tender with a very traditional country twang. I also enjoyed "Does He Love You," (McEntire's 1993 single from her Greatest Hits: Volume 2) which she recorded as a duet with Linda Davis.

Instead, Womack surprised the crowd and took the stage for a virtual sing-off. The two really captured the tension of the song. The crowd gave a standing ovation at the end.

Toward the end of the performance, Melissa Peterman, the co-star of McEntire's now defunct sitcom "Reba," came on stage for a funny stretch that included McEntire singing the show's theme song, "I'm a Survivor."

McEntire ended with an encore where she sang her signature song "Fancy." McEntire, who had now changed into a shimmering red dress and matching shoes, came back on to the stage after emerging from a taxi cab that drove down the aisle, which was reminiscent of the 1991 music video. The song -- the ultimate survivor's anthem -- brought down the house, and had the crowd invigorated and satisfied. That's where the concert needed to end.  

(AP photos by Gail Burton)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:07 PM | | Comments (77)
Categories: Concert reviews

Checking in with Beach House

beach houseIt's been a busy year for Beach House.

Since early 2009, the Baltimore dream pop duo has written a bunch of new songs, retreated to upstate New York to record them and signed to Sub Pop Records. The new album, "Teen Dream," comes out tomorrow.

A week ago, I met up with guitarist Alex Scally and singer/keyboardist Victoria Legrand in their East Baltimore warehouse practice space and talked to them for a couple hours about the new music.

Here's a link to a lengthy profile I wrote on the band, which ran in yesterday's A&E section.

And here are a few things that didn't make the paper ...

From the ages 14 to 21, Legrand took piano lessons and studied opera. Learning to sing opera was athletic, like building a muscle, she said. It's much different from the natural, instinctive way she sings now. But opera and classical piano are rigid by nature, which turned her off from performing them. Though Legrand hasn't sung opera in years, she still has an affinity for it.

"I love opera," Legrand said. "I used to listen to opera all the time. I'd cry, and act out the suicide scenes and all that stuff. When I was in high school, in "Madame Butterfly," when she kills herself, I would act it out."

Scally and Legrand have toured obsessively the past few years (playing something like 300 shows, they estimate), and are about to set out on another international tour next month.

Because of their modest success selling albums and show tickets and the signing to Sub Pop, they were able to quit their day jobs and be full-time musicians. That's not as glamorous as it sounds, though.

"We don't have jobs, but we're not any more well off than we were financially than we were a year ago," Scally said. "It's just, now we don't have time to work other jobs. If we we want to do this as well as we think we can do it, we have to do it all the time."

I think bigger things are in store for Beach House. "Teen Dream" is their best album yet, and dates on this tour are beginning to sell out already. Friday night, Beach House made their TV debut on "Late Night with Jimmy Fallon," performing "Zebra," the first track on "Teen Dream."

Here it is:


(Baltimore Sun photo by Kenneth K. Lam)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:52 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Local music

Sipping Clipper City cask ale in New York City

the pony barAs I mentioned earlier, I spent the weekend in New York City visiting friends. I love New York.

Friday night, we were hanging at a Hell's Kitchen watering hole called the Pony Bar (pictured).

Drinking in New York has its ups and downs: There are thousands and thousands of cool bars to choose from, but on the whole, drinks are a lot more expensive up there. Not so at the Pony Bar.

All of the Pony Bar's 20 drafts were $5 each, all the time. Except at happy hour, when they're $4. The bar had a rustic feel, with wood everywhere and wooden barrels in the middle of the bar. Friday night, it was full.

I scanned the draft list, and was about to order a brown ale when I spotted a sign for cask ales. Lo and behold, one of the casks was Clipper City Loose Cannon -- one of my favorite Baltimore beers ...

I hesitated before ordering one, though. I mean, I was in New York, in a bar with a ton of great drafts. Why should I order a Baltimore beer there? But I had never tasted Loose Cannon from a cask (casks are hand-pumped, not carbonated and typically served close to room temperature). So, after a minute of intense internal deliberation, I got one.

From the cask, Loose Cannon tasted hoppier, with almost citrusy notes. To be honest, I didn't like it quite as much as regular draft Loose Cannon.

The service, however, was awesome. The bar was slammed, but the bartenders made eye contact with me when I walked up, and told me they'd be with me in a minute. A minute or two later, they were. Why can't more Baltimore bars be like that?

Still, it was pretty fun drinking a Baltimore specialty beer in a New York City bar. When I got my check, it was only $30. For six beers. Dee-licious!

(Crappy cell phone photo by moi)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:04 AM | | Comments (21)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

January 23, 2010

Some interesting weekend reading

Since it's the weekend, and since I'm in New York City (more on that later), I thought I'd link to a couple cool pieces from other local blogs. They're a little on the long side, but they're both great reads. 

Gutter Magazine dug up a historical profile of the old North Avenue disco scene. The piece, written by a University of Baltimore student, profiles 1515 and Odell's from the perspective of someone who just missed the disco era.

Quarterlife Party, a blog run in part by Midnight Sunner ryan97ou, just published its Top 10 Albums of 2009 list. Unlike many other lists I've seen this year, Quarterlife's descriptions are geared toward music fans -- not music snobs.


Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:08 PM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

January 22, 2010

Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament tonight

scissorsTonight, Midnight Sunner Josh is hosting a Rock, Paper, Scissors tournament at the Sidebar Tavern.

Do I really need to go on, here? 

I mean, its awesomeness speaks for itself.

$5 gets you entry in the contest. But there are only 32 spots total. So get there early. The winner gets a cash prize.

Doors open at 9 p.m. 

(Photo by Sam "Monkey Fingers" Sessa)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:37 PM | | Comments (9)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Milan now takes Euros

milan baltimoreWhat a strange little saga this has been.

As of Wednesday night, Milan, the upscale Italian restaurant/lounge in Little Italy, now accepts Euros as a form of payment.

If you recall, Milan stirred up a mini-firestorm when it listed prices on its menu in both Euros and dollars -- but only accepted dollars.

According to management, the computer system will be updated daily to calculate the proper exchange rate from Euros to dollars.

As a result, the U.S. dollar prices listed on the menu will remain the same, but the Euro prices may fluctuate some with the market. ...

I could be wrong here, but I believe this makes Milan the only restaurant in town that officially accepts Euros and dollars.

I was critical of Milan's decision to list prices in Euros and dollars, and I stand by what I wrote. However, I've got to give some credit where credit is due. It's clear Milan's management listened to their customer base and adapted their business plan to better cater to them. That's a good sign.

I'll bet there are a bunch of people with Euros left over from vacations who wouldn't mind spending them on some fancy food and drinks. Well, folks, here's your chance.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina Perna)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:25 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

January 21, 2010

Ed needs our help

two people playing laser tagMidnight Sun reader Ed sent me an e-mail begging us for advice. He's celebrating his birthday Saturday, and he wanted to go on a tour of the Clipper City Brewery, but it's all booked up.

He writes:

Our nights out usually include hitting up area bars, making new friends, and gradually taking over places with a lethal combination of charm, good looks, loud conversation, and consumption.

What should Ed and his part of about 10 do? Where should they go?

My first suggestion doesn't involve drinking, but it is rather awesome, if I may say so myself ...

Believe it or not, there is still one Laser Tag warehouse still open in the area. It's out near Eastpoint Mall. That's always a possibility.

And, in keeping with the "activities" theme, I will also nominate paintball. A friend of mine had a bachelor party activity at this paintball spot, and it was a blast. That's more of a guy thing than a gal thing though, Ed.

As for drinking? Well, let me see here. 

There's always country line dancing at the Cancun Cantina. Yee-haw, Ed! Or you could go on a Fells Point Ghost Tour, which, I hear, are pretty cool. After the tour, you could stop into one of the many appetizing ale houses in the neighborhood. It also might be fun to go on the Fort Avenue Bar Crawl.

That's all I can think of for the moment. 

Anybody else got some suggestions?

(AP photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:15 PM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

The Captain's Corner: Follow the Hole

capt. larry outside his bar, circa 2000

If you've ever spent much time in Captain Larry's, you've probably heard about the bullet holes in the ceiling.

They're tough to spot, but if you look hard enough, you'll see them.

In this week's column, the now-retired namesake, Capt. Larry Gross, reveals just how those bullet holes got there in the first place. The helm is yours, Captain!

I would close the bar at 2 a.m. My heart being with the cops, they needed a little release, so we would sit in there late at night and play games like Follow the Hole.

I would put a hole in the ceiling with a 40-caliber Glock, and then they would take their service revolvers -- if they wanted to bet -- and bet they could put a hole on top of the hole. This went on for quite a few years. ...

The only thing I can figure is the place had about four or five sub floors. When we fired, nothing would go completely through. Then I started seeing a few indentations in the bathtub (upstairs), and I said, 'Well, I guess we're through and we'd better stop this, because it's going to start going through.'

The apartment upstairs I had just rented to a former city police officer, Ron. He looked just like Doc Holiday in the movies. Ron's a strange sort of guy.

This one particular night -- it was a February night -- and it was about 4 a.m. I had some cops in there after hours. We were half juiced, and decided to play follow the hole. Poor Ron is sitting on the toilet (upstairs).

It's snowing outside. And I get this knock on the door. I'm going 'Jesus Christ, it's got to be the police.' The guys all said, 'Well, we are the police.'

I said, 'Yeah, they'll shut me down for three days, but you guys will all get fired.' I peek out the window, and it's Ron in a bathrobe, with nothing on under it.

I said, 'Jesus,' and opened the door. Ron's barefoot. It's snowing. He walks inside. I said, 'Ron, what are you doing? Are you all right? Christ, close that bathrobe. What's the matter?'

He said, 'Captain, who in the (bleep) is shootin'?'

I said, 'Well, we're playing Folllow the Hole, Ron. What's the matter?'

He pulls his robe back, and he's got a bullet graze up the back of his (buttocks).

He said, 'You sons of (bleeps) almost killed me.'

That was the last time we played Follow the Hole.

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:52 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Bar stories

Dru Hill reunites, plans new album, reality TV show and tour


Baltimore R&B sensation Dru Hill has reunited, officials announced today.

After an eight-year hiatus from recording, the multi-platinum group has inked a deal with label Kedar Entertainment, and plans to release an album, "InDRUPendence," on April 13, followed by an international tour and a role in the reality TV show "Sweat's Platinum House."

Their first new single, "Love M.D.," hits radio Jan. 26, according to publicist Gwendolyn Quinn.

"It's going to be big," Quinn said. "It's going to be huge." ...

Noticeably absent from this incarnation of Dru Hill is original member Woody, who began working on gospel music after the group split. Woody briefly rejoined Dru Hill in 2008 for a tour, but quit during a live interview with 92Q.

Woody has been replaced by a new singer Tao, who won a contest to become a member of the group.

"(Woody) decided he didn't want to do it," Quinn said.

"InDRUPendence" will be Dru Hill's fourth studio album. Their first three spawned seven Top 40 hits, including "Never Make a Promise," "In My Bed" and "How Deep Is Your Love."

In 1999, Dru Hill member Sisqo released the smash hit album "Unleash the Dragon." He currently appears in the British TV show "Celebrity Big Brother."

(Photo courtesy of Dru Hill's Web site)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:26 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Local music

Introducing Tragedy, the all-metal Bee Gees tribute band

tragedy, the all metal bee gees tributeGet ready, gang.

Get ready for Tragedy.

Ever heard of Tragedy? No? Well, that's a ... heh, do I need to say it?

Tragedy is the world's premiere all-metal Bee Gees tribute band. They are quite awesome. And tomorrow, they're coming to Rams Head Live.

Look at those outfits! Listen to their music! It's like Judas Priest meets the brothers Gibb.

Why the Bee Gees? Lead singer Robin Gibbens (the dude in the middle of the photo) explains:

"It's the best material to work with," Gibbens said. "The melodies were phenomenal. They just needed some crunch. They needed some distortion pedal."

I couldn't agree more.

Here's a link to a piece I did on the band, which ran in today's paper.

(Photo courtesy of the band)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:21 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Random stuff

City Tap House to open in Harbor East

various tap handlesThe City Tap House, a spacious restaurant and bar with more than 100 craft American and European draft beers, plans to open by late August in Harbor East.

A new concept being rolled out by restaurant developer/chain Public House (which also runs the new Field House in Canton), the City Tap House will have a beer sommelier, private tasting lounge, open kitchen and wood-burning pizza oven, according to owner Brian Harrington.

The Tap House, which will occupy the space next to RA Sushi near the intersection of South Eden and Lancaster streets, will seat 175 in the dining areas as well as 60 around the island bar. ...

"Baltimore's going to get a kick out of this one," said Harrington, who went to college at Loyola.

"This is not a knock on Max's. They have an extensive selection. But this is a different animal."

Harrington plans to bring in local and national brewers for tastings, and have the kitchen staff create four- and five-course meals around the beers. 

(Baltimore Sun archive photo by Barbara Haddock Taylor)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:11 AM | | Comments (32)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

January 20, 2010

The five best new bars of 2009

Recession be damned, a bunch of new bars opened in and around Baltimore last year.

Though it might be 2010, there's still time to look back at the area's best new spots. Thanks for all your suggestions and nominations. I thought long and hard about this one, and have come up with the five best new bars of 2009.

Here they are ...

turp's1. Turp's (pictured), 1317 N. Charles St.

Location, location, location. Mount Vernon needed a sports bar like whoa. We said that last March. But Turp's manager (and namesake) John Turpin has thought the same thing for years. Turp's fills a void like few bars can. Finally, Mount Vernon has a proper sports bar. I couldn't think of a better one for the neighborhood than Turp's.

2. Banner's, 1401 Decatur St.

Banner's has everything you'd look for in a neighborhood sports bar: Delicious, cheap drinks, snappy service and colorful decor. I just hope it bounces back from the fire soon.

3. Azul 17, 9400 Snowden River Parkway, Suite 127, Columbia

Who would have thought a chic tequila bar and lounge would take off ... in Columbia? The owners of Azul 17 knew just how to angle it, too: A ton of high-end tequilas and cocktails, including one of the best margaritas I've ever had. And you never see this place coming: In classic suburban style, it's in a strip mall. I love it.

4. B&O American Brasserie, 2 N. Charles St.

Mixologist Brendan Dorr's inventive, seasonal drink lists never cease to impress. Hotel bars aren't known for being adventurous, but the B&O bucks that trend. Not only is it one of the best new bars, it's one of the city's best hotel bars, period.

5. Looney's South, 8180 Maple Lawn Blvd, Maple Lawn

Say what you will about Looney's -- this bar has been a smash hit since it opened early last year. It's clear the area was thirsty for as many flat screen TVs and domestic bottles as possible, and Looney's South delivers. Plus, there's regular live music. Score!

(Photo by Karl Merton Ferron)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:09 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

And the winner is ...

Dave F. who guessed the mystery bar, Ellicott Mills in Ellicott City. If you haven't visited their Web site, it's pretty intense. Witness.

Dave, shoot me an e-mail ( to claim your prize. And as always, thanks, everybody, for playing.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:41 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Name That Bar

Name That Bar, Vol. 16

namethisbarohyeahohyeah.JPGBROTHERS AND SISTERS ARE YOU READY?!?!?!


Ok, cool.

Name this bar and win a prize.

Do it. 

You know you want to.

But can you?

We'll see.

(Photo by Alexander D. Mitchell IV)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:30 AM | | Comments (28)
Categories: Name That Bar

January 19, 2010

A close encounter with Bud Light girl. Then, beers at The Hill

bud light beer canI have developed a new strategy for finding the best bar to watch the Ravens game.

It's only taken me five years, but I have it: Pick a neighborhood and scout all of the bars one by one at least 90 minutes before the game starts. Very scientific, I know. But it works. At least, it worked last Saturday.

Our party of game watchers started at Ropewalk Tavern, which had no open tables. Then a friend and I went to Mad River (Mother's looked wall-to-wall packed). Mad River had more elbow room, but still no tables.

As I was walking out of Mad River, I spotted someone familiar. She was wearing Bud Light apparel. It was my arch-nemesis -- Bud Light Girl.


I tried to avoid her. I tried to stride past her at a brisk pace. No luck -- she saw me anyway.

Her eyes briefly widened, and she turned to her friends (also Bud Light girls, I believe) and said, "THAT'S HIM!" ...

What happened next?

I was not about to stick around and find out. I could see the headlines: "Bud Light Mafia pummels local nightlife columnist in South Baltimore bar."

So I blew past Bud Light Girl, bee-lined out the door and never looked back.

Several minutes later, when my heart finally stopped racing, I hit up The Hill. It was half-empty at 6:45 p.m. Sweeeeeeeet!

The staff was accommodating; they pushed together two tables and moved one of the flat screen TVs. Since our waitress took a while between visits (she was stretched thin covering a bunch of tables), we began ordering two beers each at the same time.

Soon after, the table was covered in full glasses of Garde Dog, a lip-smacking French biere de garde made by Flying Dog. The more Indy stomped the Ravens, the more we drank to console ourselves. We were feeling pretty warm and fuzzy by the end of the game.

(AP photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:34 PM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Employee: Friends to close

friendsFriends, the Fells Point neighborhood dive at 1634 Aliceanna St., will most likely close in the coming weeks, according to a longtime employee.

Ben Naas, who has worked at Friends for about 10 years, said he expects Asian restaurant Sticky Rice to take over the building in the near future.

"It's still at the handshake stage, but I think both parties are pursuing it," Naas said.

From the black-and-white tiled floor to the small plaque affixed to the middle of the bar, bearing a quote from Charles Bukowski, Friends was a one-of-a-kind joint. When it closes, it will be sorely missed indeed.

"We still came from an older school of Fells Point bars -- an older mold," Naas said.

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:32 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Our triumphant return to Down the Hatch

down the hatchWith such warm weather last night, my pal Crazy Joe and I couldn't help but go for a stroll. And that stroll took us to one of my favorite Locust Point bars: Down the Hatch (1157 Haubert St.).

I wanted to see if Down the Hatch still had those mind-bogglingly cheap drafts.

We half-expected the place to be closed, or the drafts to have dried up -- like Down the Hatch was some mirage we'd stumbled onto months ago but would never find again.

We took a few wrong turns before we both realized we both had high-falutin phones with GPS on them. Better drinking through technology!

And, after a few blocks, there it was, the green and orange-red neon lights, the Formstone exterior. Down the Hatch -- the quintessential Baltimore corner bar -- was still there, in all its glory ...

As we walked in, the folks inside started clapping. I'm not sure why. Maybe they wanted the company? I've never been applauded for walking in a bar, but I'll take it.

We sat down in the high-backed bar stools and scanned the tap handles. Sure enough, there were still Clipper City Gold and Magic Hat #9 on tap. Whew! The bartender pulled two icy glass mugs from the freezer, filled 'em with Clipper City and plunked 'em down in front of us. Ahh.

Not a minute later, we were chatting up the regulars about the Ravens' numbing loss to Indy. All of Down the Hatch's charm was still there. I noticed a few new flat screen TVs, which normally might seem out of place in a corner bar like this one, but somehow they were a random but welcome addition to Down the Hatch.

Crazy Joe and I sat there for a couple hours, talking to the regulars and amongst ourselves. When it came time to leave, I held my breath, anxious to see if the beers were still as cheap as they used to be. They were. Each draft of ice cold Clipper City Gold was $1.25. My God.

Down the Hatch is everything I want in a Baltimore corner bar. It's comforting, cheap and full of welcoming regulars. 

(Photo by me)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:29 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

January 18, 2010

Introducing Back Alley Jazz

the alley of back alley jazz

If all goes as planned, this trash-strewn West Baltimore alley will look completely different in a few weeks.

This will be the official entrance to Back Alley Jazz, an upscale live music club on the 1100 block of West Baltimore Street. 

The owners, Daniel Chreky and Errez Segman, have been rehabbing the building for about two years, and aim to open the club sometime next month.

Here is a link (for real) to a piece I did on the club, which ran in yesterday's paper.

According to liquor board records, they invested more than $400,000 renovating the space, which will have a 1920s feel, they said.

It's a risky move -- but one they think will pay off.

(Photo by me)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:37 AM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Local music

January 15, 2010

Milan doesn't take Euros, but it might

Milan's menu might list prices in Euros, but the Little Italy restaurant/lounge doesn't accept European currency -- yet.

According to general manager Peter Mooradian, Milan is looking into it, and could possibly begin accepting Euros as early as next week.

I'll keep you posted.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:26 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

The review: Milan

milan baltimoreMilan, Little Italy's new high-end restaurant and lounge, has a certain vibe that's hard to put a finger on.

I was there for almost an hour last night before I realized: The body-length arched windows, sparkling chandeliers and plush white leather furniture give Milan the feel of a McMansion in the suburbs of Miami -- like the house of someone who had a boatload of money and couldn't help but show it off. It's very fancy.

Where Red Maple, with its exposed brick and fire pits is dark and exotic, Milan is bright and so clean it almost seems sterile. Is this a bad thing? Not necessarily.

There are plenty of people who love lounges like Milan. (I overheard someone who appeared to be one of the owners talking about how Milan has a Miami/Washington feel.)

But after years of watching clubs like Milan open then close a year or two later, I can't help but worry it won't take hold here. Red Maple is small by comparison, which is one of the reasons it's lasted so long. ...

Though Milan is smartly divided into smaller spaces (the downstairs bar and lounge, enclosed patio, multi-level wraparound deck, upstairs bar and dining area, to name a few), all in all, it's a huge building, with, presumably, a large overhead.

Around 9:45 p.m. yesterday, the downstairs bar and lounge was about half full, which is a good sign, considering Milan's grand opening isn't even until tonight.

When I walked in, the hostess politely asked me to remove my hat. I've never been asked to do that before, but didn't mind. It was a nice touch.

milan baltimoreI sat at the bar in a high-backed white leather chair, next to a few well-dressed businessmen, and studied the space. Milan's color scheme is full of bright whites, light gray tiles and deep reds. A few white lamps shaped like giant cream puffs hung above the bar. I wanted to take a bite out of them.

The nearby lounge has a gas fireplace; a gas fire also flickered in a free-standing decorative box by the hostess stand. House music played at the perfect level overhead, and small, marble-topped tables stood near the bar.

It took a few minutes for one of the several bartenders to notice me, but once they did, the service was kind and quick.

Most of the martinis and cocktails on the drink list hovered around $10, and were made with top-shelf liquors. I was pleasantly surprised to see a section of classic beverages such as the Sidecar, Tom Collins, Gimlet and Manhattan.

I ordered a Gin Plush ($9), a mixture of Tanqueray, guava nectar, pineapple and orange juice with a splash of club soda, served in a wide, round rocks glass. The citrus notes from the juices took the edge off the gin without overpowering it.

I doubt if Little Italy has ever seen anything quite like Milan before. It's clear the owners have invested an incredible amount of time and money in Milan. Since there are so few places like this in Baltimore, it's certainly worth exploring.

As someone who has covered nightlife here for almost five years, I have my reservations about Milan, though. I can see it doing well for the next several months. I just wonder what will happen when the shine wears off.

(Baltimore Sun photos by Algerina Perna)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:46 AM | | Comments (29)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

January 14, 2010

Milan has officially crossed the (intercontinental) line

euros and dollarsAre you ready for something ridiculous?

OK, here goes: Milan, the uber-swanky new restaurant/lounge in Little Italy, lists most of its menu prices in both dollars and Euros.

How silly is that?

I assume they're catering to jet-setting Europeans who are in town for business but don't have time to hit up Western Union and have all those Euros changed into greenbacks.

If there is one thing Baltimore hates, it's pretentiousness. And even the Charleston/Bin 604/Cinghiale/Pazo group doesn't go this far.

Thanks to Owl Meat for the tip.

(AP photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 5:09 PM | | Comments (45)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Introducing ... The Captain's Corner

capt. larryLadies and gentlemen, a warm round of applause, please, for Midnight Sun's new guest columnist, Capt. Larry (pictured)!

That's right -- Capt. Larry, the namesake of Capt. Larry's. His real name is Capt. Larry Gross, but let's just call him Capt. Larry or The Captain from now on.

This is the first in a four- or five-part series of weekly essays from The Captain, who sold his bar several years ago (the new owners kept the name).

After abdicating Baltimore for sunny Key West, Fla., Capt. Larry packed up and moved to the hills of West Virginia, where he currently resides. He is 64, a Vietnam veteran and former private detective, government operative and member of the Baltimore Police.

In the coming weeks, Capt. Larry will share some of the wild and crazy stuff that went on at his bar back in the day (aka, the '90s). They include (but are not limited to) the in-house ear-piercings, drunk cage and the true story behind all the bullet holes in the ceiling.

And now, let's turn it over to The Captain, who will give us a little background on the bar. The helm is yours, Captain ...


Capt. Larry's used to be called Pete's American Bar. That particular building was built sometime in the late 1800s. It opened as a candy store, and carries three addresses. It was a little corner store and then two apartments. Pete and his brother bought it and opened it right after Prohibition ended.

I found it unusual, because when I researched it at the liquor board when I applied for my license, I found it was opened on Oct. 10. My birthday's on Oct. 10 -- of course not that same year.

Anyway, when I was a child, my parents would dress up to go to mass every Sunday. After mass, they would go to Pete's American Bar. All us kids would go there, and we'd be in the back room and miss Edna (Pete's wife) would fix us french fries and gravy.

Then, Pete died. The place stayed vacant for about eight years. I was a Baltimore City police officer when he died, I think. Then I had a detective agency, and did a few things after that. I broke up with the second wife and gave her the business I had then. I had to do something, so I went and saw Miss Edna -- Mr. Pete's widow -- and said, 'What the hell are you going to do with the place?'  She said, 'Well, I've got it up for sale.'

To make a long story short, I bought the place.

That bar had the wackiest (bleep) you ever wanted to see. My past is as a government operator and Baltimore City cop and private detective, so those types came into the bar. It was a mixture of Navy Seals, FBI, CIA -- it went from the bottom to the top. It got kind of crazy. It was a release for those kinds of people.

The typical life of a cop is, you're hated at home, the department hates you and the public hates you. You need a release. It's kind of wacky, but that's how that place went.

Stay tuned for next week's column, when Capt. Larry will tell us why there are bullet holes in the ceiling.

(Photo courtesy of The Captain)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:58 PM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Bar stories

Midnight Sun is also in the motel business

midnight sun motelSleepy?

Well, Midnight Sun's got what you need: Comfy beds, a sauna, pool, laundry services and more. And by "more," we mean "laundry."

Hee hee.

Midnight Sunner Shankman spotted this awesome business while on vacation in sunny Florida. 

I'm still trying to get the Midnight Sun Brewery in Alaska to send me merchandise/suds. So far, I've had no luck. I blame Sarah Palin.

Midnight Sun Brewery, if you're reading this, I formally request as much Midnight Sun apparel/beer as possible.

(Photo by Shankman)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:47 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Random stuff

Who has the most expensive Miller Lites in town?

IT'S MILLER TIME, BABY!Midnight Sunner Jason e-mailed me a great idea for a blog post at 5 a.m. today. You always know if it's someone in the service industry by the time stamp.

Queen Colleen, is, of course, the Queen of Late Night, One Eye Closed To Prevent Double Vision Commenting.

Jason had this question: What Baltimore bar/club/lounge has the most expensive Miller Lite bottles in town? Strip clubs and ball parks don't count, because they would automatically win.

I'm trying to think of the last time I was charged a ton of money for Miller Lite, but honestly, I can't remember the last time I ordered a Miller Lite at a bar. Does that make me a snob?

I don't think so -- I just haven't binge drank at any bar recently. When you're on a tear, drinking seven or eight Resurrections can tear a hole in your wallet (and your liver). That's when $2 bottles of beer sound the most appetizing.

That's when ... IT'S MILLER TIME, BABY! ...

I'm going to make some calls today, to various bars and fancy restaurants like the Prime Rib. Feel free to offer suggestions, and place your bets on who will have the most expensive Miller Lite, and how much it will cost.

Jason said in 2000, he paid $7 for a Corona in Miami.

"I bought two, threw down a $20 and drank water for the rest of the night," he wrote.


(Photo courtesy of

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:34 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

January 13, 2010

Sources: Friends in Fells Point to change hands

FriendsI've heard several unconfirmed reports that Friends, 1634 Aliceanna St. in Fells Point, will be trading hands in the coming weeks.

I tried calling the bar, but no one's there yet.

Anybody know more about this?

UPDATE: I heard that the Richmond-based restaurant Sticky Rice is considering opening a Baltimore location at Friends.

I called the Sticky Rice in Washington and spoke with co-owner Jason Martin, who said they're looking to open somewhere in Fells Point -- ideally by the summertime -- but wouldn't say exactly where in the neighborhood.

I'll keep you posted.

(Baltimore sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:01 PM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Changing your plans to see the Ravens on Saturday? E-mail me.

Here at Midnight Sun, it's all Ravens, all the time.

As such, I need a helping hand. Did you or anyone you know cancel plans to watch the Ravens-Indy game this Saturday? If you dropped everything and booked a bus or flight to Indy, all the better. Are you going to be sneaking your headphones and a small TV into the opera? Awesome.

Really, we're looking for anybody who is changing their plans to accommodate the game. 

E-mail me at Make haste!

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:42 AM | | Comments (8)

January 12, 2010

And the winner is ...


That's right folks, this week's Name That Bar was of Pub Dog in Federal Hill.

Silly me, thinking I could stump the Midnight Sunners. Alessandro, e-mail me at and we'll coordinate your prize pick-up.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:31 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Name That Bar

The recession hits the Bud Light rep girls


There is no such thing as coincidence, grasshopper.

Sunday, I got to Ropewalk Tavern at the exact same time as a few Bud Light rep girls.

You've seen their type before: A pack of 20-something women sporting tons of INSERT BEER NAME HERE gear, buying free drinks for guys at the bar to help pump up the brand.

I've heard of PBR reps lining up pitchers of suds on the bar and serving it to anyone who had a glass. Now that's American.

Being a thirsty Ravens fan in the right place at the right time, I was ready and willing to slam back a few free Bud Lights Sunday.

What actually happened shocked and appalled me ...

Midnight Sunner jmgiordano and I were sitting at the bar, sipping $2.50 Peroni drafts when one of the Bud Light girls approached us.

"What are you guys drinking?" she asked.

"Peronis. But it's been a while since we've tried a cold, delicious Bud Light," we said.

"You should be drinking Stella (Artois)," she said. If you didn't know, Budweiser and Stella are joined at the hip.

"Sounds tempting," we said. "Will you buy us one?"

"Why don't you guys buy me one?," she said.

That's when an imaginary record scratched, and my face convulsed in a mixture of shock/horror/confusion. She was serious. The Bud Light girl wanted us to buy a beer for her. Does not compute. DOES NOT COMPUTE.

When she realized we were not about to pay American money to purchase crappy domestic beer (or crisp but ultimately thin and disappointing Stella Artois), for anyone -- especially a rep -- the Bud Light girl meandered down the bar, distributing purple beads to other patrons.

They weren't giving out free Bud Light. They. Weren't. Giving. Out. Free. Bud. Light.

Has the whole world gone crazy? Has the recession struck so deep that even corporate mega-giant beer conglomerates can't afford a few pints on the house? That is just un-American. There, I said it.

And now, I don't know if I'll ever drink Bud Light again. I just don't know.

(AP photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:24 AM | | Comments (53)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: Breaking up at a restaurant/bar

breaking up in public can be messy businessI've never actually ended a relationship in a public place. I hate the idea of sitting down at a table and going through the motions with someone while all the time I know I want to call it off. In today's column, Owl Meat meditates on the idea of breaking up at a restaurant or bar.

We need to talk.

It's the linguistic four horsemen of relationships. The sadistic slow burn that often precedes the swirly-gurgly rending of your heart in the InSinkErator of love. "We need to talk at dinner," is even more ominous.

Breaking up in a bar or restaurant is a high-wire act. It's commonplace in movies and on TV, but does it occur in real life that often?

I'm not talking about the spontaneous rift or drunken squall. I mean the polite, premeditated relationship conclusion. ...

I've never been part of something so well-planned and civilized. Then again, people on TV and film "date" in a manner that seems alien to me.

I suppose that the idea behind breaking up in pubic is to minimize the possibility of an ugly extended scene. The risk is that if such a scene does happen in public, it would be more embarrassing. The breakup is a key plot device on Seinfeld. Nobody had more funny and dysfunctional breakups.

I now offer some real world suggestions for those who want to slaughter Cupid in public. In the human equation, all variables should be considered for your own well-being. Change the genders to suit your needs.

please, sofia, i didn't mean to choose my Miller Lite over you!1) Don't do it where your friends hang out. She might embarrass you in very personal ways. Nobody wants a new nickname given by an angry para-no-mour.

2) Don't go to places where her friends gather. Duh.

3) Meet there. Make sure you have your own transportation home.

4) Don't wear anything you care about. Red wine can fly.

5) No sizzling plates or fondue. You don't want to spend the night in the ER with third degree Asiago burns and a long fork in your thigh.

6) No steakhouses – knives.

7) Nothing fancy. Don't waste an expensive dinner on a walk out.

8) Don't wait until you are filled to the gills to spill. Stay in control.

9) Don't go to any place that you ever want to go back to.

10) After dessert just tell the truth: "It's not me. It's you."

I'm sure that every bar and restaurant owner and employee would prefer that you handle these situations privately. Watching other people fight in public is not fun at all.

Someone once said that all relationships end in breakups or death. I believe in something more romantic and beautiful ... arbitration. Actually, I always believe that things will work out, which makes me ... an optimist? You didn't see that coming, did you?

As always, I humbly solicit your stories of personal or observed comedy and tragedy involving public breakups. Oh, and Jennifer, meet me at Birches tonight at eight. We need to talk.

(Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:52 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays

Name That Bar, vol. 15

nameitnameitnameit.JPGLet's crank it up a notch.

Let's take it to the next level.

Since you guys seem to guess every bar we toss up here in less than a half hour, I've decided to make it extra tough.

Name this bar and win a prize.

(Photo by Alexander D. Mitchell IV)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:20 AM | | Comments (18)
Categories: Name That Bar

January 11, 2010

The Situation from 'Jersey Shore' to guest bartend at Mad River

jersey shore style

The Situation from "Jersey Shore" will be guest bartending at Mad River Feb. 11.

All the details about the show and The Situation can be found right here

Get ready for some six-pack abs IN YOUR FACE!

(AP photo)


Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:07 PM | | Comments (13)
Categories: Random stuff

Why I love/hate Blenheim Ginger Ale

blenheim ginger aleYou've never had Blenheim Ginger Ale?, my friend Will asked me.

Nope, I said. Never.

You've got to try some. I've got a whole case! 

Of ginger ale? 

Yeah. It's that good.

That's how we ended up at Idle Hour the other night, with a cardboard box full of bottles of Blenheim Old No. 3 Hot Ginger Ale.

Will popped the top on one, and I took a swig and rolled it around in my mouth for a second. I've never had a more full-bodied ginger ale.

Then I swallowed it. That's when the fire started in my throat.

The "Hot" part of Old No. 3 Hot Ginger Ale sets in as the ginger ale hits the back of your throat. For a second, I thought I'd developed acid reflux. Then I realized it was the ginger ale. It flamed up like a lit matchstick ...

The best way to drink Blenheim Old No. 3 Hot Ginger Ale is in a mixed drink, Will told me. That makes sense. After all, you need something to take the edge off.

I tried it two ways -- mixed with whiskey, and in a Dark 'n' Stormy, with some dark rum. I liked it best in the Dark 'N' Stormy. The back-throat burn was still there, just not quite as biting. I can't remember the last time I had a better Dark 'N' Stormy.

You can't buy Blenheim through the company Web site or in Maryland stores yet, but I believe you can get it at I highly suggest you try some of this stuff. Just be careful you don't catch fire.

(Photo courtesy of Blenheim's Flickr site.)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:10 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Drink-ology

Nissan Pavilion renamed Jiffy Lube Live

nissan pavilion circa 1995In what can only be described as a slick move, Live Nation has signed a seven-year partnership with Jiffy Lube which will rename the Nissan Pavilion (pictured) Jiffy Lube Live.

Live Nation officials confirmed this is not a joke.

Effective immediately, the Virginia amphitheater will be known as Jiffy Lube Live.

"Brands like Jiffy Lube realize that an association with live music is a very impactful way to drive their business, and Live Nation offers an unparalleled platform to reach music fans, Live Nation spokesman Robert Muller wrote in an e-mail.

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:11 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Local music

Were most bars semi-empty yesterday?

ropewalk tavern baltimoreSince it's so much cheaper to watch Ravens games at my friend's place (he has a giant flat screen), I don't usually go out to bars during the regular season.

But yesterday, I wanted to be surrounded by fellow Ravens fans, cheering on our team as they took on the Patriots. 

A couple friends and I decided to meet at Ropewalk Tavern around noon. I got there first, and didn't believe what I saw: The bar was less than a quarter full, an hour before the game.

I thought it would have been packed by then. ...

We claimed three seats at the bar in the McFaul's room, no problem, and started knocking back beers. All drafts except for Arrogant Bastard were $2.50, and a few cold Peronis were just what the doctor ordered.

By halftime, Ropewalk had filled up some, but not much. The upstairs was closed, and while the tables and bar seats were full, there weren't many people standing around. I didn't even see anybody in the pool room at all.

I heard from a friend that Little Havana was offering $15 for all-you-can-drink, which included an entree. I'm not sure if that was true or not, but I'm not surprised.

In yesterday's paper, I helped out with a story about how expectations were low in Baltimore going into yesterday's game. There aren't as many purple lights or Ravens flags around, and people seemed pessimistic about the game.

Needless to say, this weekend's game is going to be outrageous.

But I wonder -- were most bars as semi-empty as Ropewalk yesterday?

(Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:09 AM | | Comments (31)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

January 8, 2010

Cosmopolitan in Canton is sold

cosmopolitanLiberatore's Cosmopolitan, a long-standing martini bar on O'Donnell Square, has been sold, according to previous owner Dante Liberatore.

Liberatore, who opened Cosmopolitan about 10 years ago, said the lounge closed at the end of last month. He's not sure what the new owners will do with the space.

"It was just the right time to sell," Liberatore said. "Business was fine. It had faltered a little bit towards the latter part. We came to the end of the lease and we had the right buyer, so we sold it."

Thanks to jmgiordano for the tip.

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:01 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Liquor board finds Bourbon Street not guilty after 'Girls Gone Wild' incident

bourbon street baltimoreThe liquor board found Bourbon Street not guilty yesterday of disturbing the peace -- a charge stemming from a "Girls Gone Wild" incident at the Baltimore megaclub.

In September, Bourbon Street invited promoters from the X-rated video series "Girls Gone Wild" to throw a party at the downtown club. According to their contract, the camera crews were only supposed to be filming on the "Girls Gone Wild" bus, which was parked outside, club owner James Temple said.

But early in the night, "Girls Gone Wild" cameramen entered Bourbon Street and solicited female patrons to expose their breasts.

When they heard cameramen were shooting inside Bourbon Street, Temple and general manager Sam Chaney rounded up the videographers and kicked them out of the club.

The liquor board ruled that Chaney and Temple acted appropriately, chairman Stephan Fogleman said.

"We decided the actions of Temple and Chaney were such that they tried to avoid a disturbance of the peace." Fogleman said. "They did what they should have." ...

Bourbon Street hosted "Girls Gone Wild" once before, last May, and had no problems, Temple said. After this last incident, "Girls Gone Wild" won't be invited back to the club.

"They were doing activities they were not supposed to," Temple said. "I advised them that if they didn't leave the premises, I was going to have them removed and charge them with trespassing."

Liquor board inspectors collected photos and video from the incident, but Fogleman declined to watch the tape.

"I didn't feel comfortable watching it," he said. "It put me in such a weird position."

Bourbon Street was fined $1,600 at yesterday's hearing for underage drinking from a separate incident which occurred on Oct. 1.

(Photo from the club's MySpace page)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:06 PM | | Comments (11)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

One more delicious-sounding winter drink

I've gotten a good deal of feedback on my winter drink roundup from a couple days ago. Most of it was positive. Several readers scolded me for misspelling the Polish way to say "Cheers." Apparently, I was off by a couple letters, and ended up with the Czech way to say "Cheers" instead. Oops.

A reader named D. Lutz sent me a delightful-sounding recipe for a drink called the Hot Buttered Grand Marnier. It's apparently served at The Globe Theater in Berlin (near Ocean City). Here are the instructions for the drink, which D. Lutz promises "will knock your socks off." ...

Cocktail Ingredients:

1 dollop of The Globe's Homemade Grand Marnier Butter

2 oz Grand Marnier

6 oz hot water

1 cinnamon stick with an orange peel wrapped around it


Wipe the rim of a glass coffee mug with the meat of an orange. Dip the rim in cinnamon (I used cinnamon + sugar). Pour the Grand Marnier in the glass. Place a dollop of the Grand Marnier butter in the glass (I just rolled a ball of sweet butter in a little brown sugar).

Top with the steaming hot water and stir until frothy (I personally couldn't get it to froth). Garnish with the cinnamon stick and orange peel.

I had it again recently on a bitterly cold day and it was the perfect antidote! Because it was $8.00 I decided to try my hand making it at home and it was equally delicious, much better than Hot Buttered Rum.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:26 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

January 7, 2010

Do you doubt the Ravens?

I need some help here, gang. I'm looking for people who are Ravens pessimists. Doubting Thomases, if you will.

I need to talk to folks who didn't think the Ravens would get this far -- who think they're going to get stomped in Sunday's playoff game against the Patriots. This is for a story which could run in tomorrow's paper, so the sooner, the better.

E-mail me at or call me at 410.332.6689. 

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:40 AM | | Comments (15)

Where to watch Sunday's game

ravens fans at padonia stationSunday afternoon, the Ravens will take on the Patriots in a playoff smackdown.

I can watch regular season games in the comfort of my own home. When it's playoff time, I've got to get up, get out and go to a sports bar. Or any bar. I look for somepleace with good deals and a whole bunch of fellow Ravens fans. 

In today's paper, I did a big roundup of some of the best places to watch the game.

Check it out.

Luckie's Tavern in Power Plant Live is offering one of the best deals: One lucky fan will win a seat on a VIP couch in front of a 15-foot HD screen, along with free beer and wings during the game. Snap! ...

Padonia Station (pictured), which is the go-to spot for many Ravens fans up in the county, expects to tear through 1,600 pounds of buffalo wings. Think about that for a second. 1,600 pounds. 

And, of course, the roundup wouldn't be complete without the other side: Don't Know Tavern, a Patriots bar, is giving out free shots to any Pats fans when the Patriots score a touchdown.

Win or lose, I'm just glad we get to see the Ravens play again.

If you've got any other great game day specials that aren't in my list, bring 'em on!

(Baltimore Sun photo by Elizabeth Malby)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:34 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

January 6, 2010

Dixon not mayor at Baltimore City Hall ... on Foursquare

Baltimore City HallMidnight Sun King Sam Sessa isn't on Foursquare -- a growing social networking site where users can "check in" at bars, restaurants and the like, letting their friends know where they are eating and drinking. But I (guest poster and Community Coordinator Carla) am, and when news came down via an e-mail from Marc Steiner that Mayor Sheila Dixon would be resigning, there was a mad rush for Foursquarers to check in at, you guessed it, City Hall.

See, the person who's checked in the most at a place becomes the "mayor." For example, I'm the mayor of The Reserve in South Baltimore. And, sometimes, mayors get perks. I hear the mayor of Teavolve gets a free entree. Pretty neat? Some of you think so (others will make fun of Foursquare in the comments, I'm sure).

So, people began to check in at City Hall, joking that they had to become the mayor before Stephanie Rawlings-Blake steps in. But who is the mayor of City Hall on Foursquare? That would be Steve Kruskamp Jr., who says his first order of business will be "appointing the entire cast of Jersey Shore as my staff."

Sounds like a fabulous plan to me.

Baltimore Sun photo by Jed Kirschbaum


Posted by Carla Correa at 4:32 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Random stuff

Why should you tip your bartender? Here's why.

I love it when people -- especially bar owners and bartenders -- post comments in the middle of the night. Around 3:30 a.m. today, a bartender named Kelli left an epic screed about tipping under this old post.

Instead of publishing her comment outright, I thought it deserved its own post. We hear so much from patrons, yet so little from service industry employees. It's time for Kelli to share her side of the story. ...

I've been searching the internet to find something I could quote on "how to tip a bartender" but just come up with a lot of crap about 10%, 20%, etc. Here's how I feel:

To start with, most people assume that not only are we getting tipped but we are also getting a check. Not necessarily true.

In at least Texas & Oklahoma if a percentage of your sales (between 8-15%) for the week average minimum wage or higher then the employer does not have to give you additional compensation. So, if in a week I run about $2,100 in sales then based on a percentage of my sales my employer says I made in tips at least minimum wage ($7.25/hr.) so they don't have to pay me. It does not matter what I actually made in tips. (fyi- federal law requires I claim 100% of the tips I earn). And i am taxed on this amount. This is pretty standard for large employers.

If I receive a 20% tip on every sale I make then I actually make $420. Oh, but lets not forget the barback, I have to give him a percentage of my tips based on sales too. So lets knock off about 50-60 bucks on that. So that leaves $360. Now, I run more than $2100 in a week, and i make more than $360 and i tip the barback more than 50-60/week. But what I'm getting at is I don't get a check, we work under 40 hrs a week (36-39) so no benefits (insurance, 401k, sick time, paid holidays etc). I work for tips!

Your service is not just popping a top on a beer or pouring liquor and soda in a glass, it's keeping that beer stocked, knowing how much ice to put in the glass so you taste the liquor in the drink, keeping the bar wiped down so your arms don't stick to the bar when you walk up there, emptying the ash trays, cutting the fruit, and a lot more that goes in to making your few seconds or few hours at my bar is a good experience.

Tipping is standard, expect to do it when you are being served. When you plan to go out, work a tip into that night out budget. Everything here is going to be based on good service. If you get crappy service, a rude bartender, or a bartender that doesn't know wtf they are doing (there's plenty of those out there) adjust your tip as you see fit. Not everyone can be a bartender, there's more to it than knowing the ingredients to a drink. Personality (all different kinds), memory, math skills, multi-tasking abilities, and just basic good customer service skills.

For one drink, AT LEAST leave a buck, preferably more. It's pretty standard. Don't leave me a quarter, it's insulting. I don't care if you get something on special for $1.75. If I tell you something about a drink that saves you money you could make it up in the tip at least the first time you get that savings.

If you plan to give all the change from whatever bill you gave the bartender, tell them, you can walk away and it saves several steps for the bartender. You don't have to physically put the tip in the jar.

If the bartender has to do something special for your drink(ie., chilled, multi-liquor drinks etc.), leave a little more.

If you're buying a round, and I have to make 5-6 drinks, think about it, if I sold that to each person individually and each tipped a buck that's 5-6 dollars. Now I'm not asking u to tip that but tip appropriately.

If you get great service show it by tipping. Remember, if you tip well I'm going to remember you and you're going to get faster, better service.

If you tip great, I'm going to tell the other bartenders and they'll be giving you faster, better service too. Example: Customer last night ran a tab, just beer. His total was $11 and when he closed his tab he left a $10 tip.  After he left my bar I constantly kept an eye out for his return and also told the other bartenders, so if he walked back up you can bet he would have gotten fast service.

If you sit at my bar and I have time to visit with you, remember, although I may like you, I'm not there to make friends, if you enjoyed my company, service and conversation, show it in your tip.

Although I personally can't give someone bad service because they don't tip or don't tip well, there are plenty of bartenders who can and do. We are in control. If you don't tip or tip poorly we might wait on others before you. I've seen bartenders say a customer has had too much to drink and cut them off because they weren't tipping. Again, we are in control.

Oh yeah, for those customers in casinos who sit at my bar and either drink or not drink, if you are winning and drinking, tip well, many do. if you are not drinking and win big, if we have been nice to you, engaged you in conversation, offered you our service, tip the bartender, it's good karma.

I guess I'm done rambling on this subject for now. There's a lot more I could say on the subject.  Feel free to comment.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:19 PM | | Comments (47)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

Which bars will close this year? Cast your votes

duclaw in fells pointStep right up, ladies and gentlemen, and cast your vote: Which bar do you think will close in 2010?

So many bars and clubs went under last year, due to a myriad of reasons, including but not limited to: The recession, the smoking ban, poor management, a terrible location and violence.

DuClaw, which shuttered its Fells Point locale (pictured) last month, was one of the more prominent city bars to go dark.

Who will be next?

(Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina Perna)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:35 AM | | Comments (45)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

7 Winter Tummy Warmers

woodberry kitchen's mulled ciderI came. I saw. I sipped.

Last week, while most people were still in a post-Christmas daze, I was dashing around town, trying winter drinks for this roundup, which ran in today's Taste section.

Since I ended up sampling seven different drinks, from Irish coffees to hot toddys, it was hard to compare them all. But I did end up picking an overall winner: the mulled cider from Woodberry Kitchen.

Like many dishes at Woodberry Kitchen, it involved several complicated yet delicious ingredients, and, at $10, was kind of expensive. But it was simply fab. Also, this is the last time I will use the word "fab" on Midnight Sun. Promise.

Possibly the greatest discovery was that the bartenders at Metropolitan Coffeehouse and Wine Bar will slip a little something-something in your latte and not charge you much extra for it. I got a gingerbread latte, made with Hiram Walker Liqueur, for $3.25. Score! ...

I ended up making three trips to Mama's on the Half Shell in Canton because they were so packed the first two times, I couldn't even get a seat at the bar. What is it about that place? It's pretty much eternally busy. They don't even have a Web site!

Mama's makes their hot toddys with Jack Daniels, honey, hot water and a slice of lemon. I lamented the lack of cloves, but whatever -- it still got the job done. After a few sips, I started sweating. Success. Bonus points for serving it in a regular old mug.

Oh, and thanks, Babs, for suggesting the traditional Polish cocktail at Ze Mean Bean Cafe. It's called Krupnik, which apparently is Polish for "fire vodka." As my pal jmgiordano said, they can't be accused of false advertising. Whew.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Gene Sweeney Jr.)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:06 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

January 5, 2010

Milan's grand opening set for Jan. 15

MIDNIGHT SUN EXCLUSIVE*: Milan, the upscale restaurant and lounge in Little Italy, will have its grand opening Jan. 15.

It's a large space, with three levels, a U-shaped bar which seats 30 and an outdoor patio, according to a press release. The goal is to create a vibe that's similar to Pazo. Milan's catchphrase is, "Where food meets fashion." Translation: Where jet-setters spill pasta sauce on their fancy shirts.

Hee hee. ...

I'm not going to get into the menu, which involves steaks, hand-made pastas and Italian sushi (don't ask). I'll leave that up to Elizabeth Large. I do want to share some of the more scrumptious-sounding cocktails, though.

First, the martinis.

1) Dolce & Gabbana, $11, made with Godiva Milk Chocolate Liqueur, Stoli Razberi, a splash of club soda and fresh raspberries. 

2) Gucci Envy, $10, made with Absolut Apple, sour apple liqueur and a splash of Midori and pineapple juice.

Now, the cocktails.

1) Passion of Milan, $8, made with Captain Morgan Parrot Bay Passion Fruit Rum, ice tea and a splash of lime juice.

2) Various mojitos, $10-$12. Mmm ... mojitos.

Management is still working on a Web site, but here is the URL.

Stay tuned. I'm sure there is more to come.

*I couldn't resist the all-caps. They're big, bold, brash ... and beautiful.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 2:30 PM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

The Top 30 Local Songs of 2009

It might be 2010 already, but I'm still in looking-back mode.

A ton of great music came out of the region in 2009, and I want to give it all its proper due. Here are the Top 30 Local Songs of 2009, according to myself and the rest of the Baltimore Unsigned crew ...

30. SoulStice – “Bird’s Eye View”
29. John Mancini Band – “Don’t Go Easy”
28. Earthtone – “Old Manhattan”
27. Shook – “Feel Alright”
26. Jah Works – “Twisted”
25. DNA – “Take Your Time”
24. Can’t Hang – “Strangers at Your Funeral”
23. Paul Masson – “My Girl Baltimore”
22. The Seldon Plan – “Lost and Found and Lost”
21. Jagged Hearts – “Merlequin”
20. Dan Deacon – “Get Older”
19. Jason Dove – “Big Red Truck”
18. Ms. Sara and the Help – “Try”
17. Caleb Stine – “Comes From the West”
16. ellen cherry – “1864: A Civil War Bride”
15. Laura Brino – “The Biggest Meteor I've Ever Seen”
14. Young Sir Jim – “Stick Shift”
13. Nelly’s Echo – “Young Man”
12. Sticky Mulligan – “Recipe”
11. Justin Jones And The Driving Rain – “California”
10. Arty Hill and the Long Gone Daddys – “ Church on Saturday Night”
9. Title Tracks – “Every Little Bit Hurts”
8. The Everlove – “You’re the Sun”
7. Double Dagger – “No Allies”
6. Middle Distance Runner – “The Unbeliever”
5. The Oranges Band – “Ottobar After Hours”
4. Beach House – “Norway”
3. Wye Oak - “Dance My Pain Away”
2. Tommy Tucker – “Keep Good Time”
1. Vandaveer – “Divide & Conquer”

Posted by Sam Sessa at 10:52 AM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Local music

Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays: The road map to first dates

first date! first date! I hope, for the sake of the people involved, that the conversation near the end of Owl Meat's column didn't actually happen. But knowing this city, I have a feeling it did. Which makes it pretty freaking awesome. Read on, Midnight Sunners:

First dates are a cauldron of prospects that include the good, the bad, and the fugly.

The tentacles of expectation grip the throat of possibility as hormones, alcohol and anxiety bubble up in this awkward stew. They are also entertaining to watch in a bar or restaurant. Tragedy is when you fall down a manhole. Comedy is when someone else does.

These days people meet online through Facebook, Twitter, dating sites, or even a blog like this. It's high-tech retro Victorian. People get to know each other through writing like characters in a Jane Austen novel ...

Editor's note: It's funny -- I've often thought of Midnight Sun as a long-running, free-form Jane Austen novel.

Eventually you have to pull the trigger and meet in person. That first date determines if you have that je ne sais quoi –  chemistry. Here are ten things that I have observed to be date poison.

1) Using a coupon at a restaurant. Yeesh.
2) Texting on your date.
3) Talking about how much money you make.
4) Work talk – Nobody cares what Smithers in accounting did today.
5) Ex talk – Leave your former relationships in the dustbin of history.
6) Doing shots of Jägermeister while your date sips Pinot Grigio.
7) Expensive, formal restaurants.
8) Don't take her to the joint where your bro-hams hang.
9) Dial down the crazy. I saw someone make his date switch chairs, because he wanted the gunfighter seat.
10) The interview – Mutual Q&A that sounds like a job interview.

I saw a classic bad first date last year. Here are some highlights:

Chip: Gulps from a heady pint of Moretti La Rossa. "You're part Polish? Do you know where the term 'dumb Pollock' comes from?"

Chip recounts the history of the Poles' resistance to Nazi mechanized cavalry (tanks) with horse cavalry.

Ashley: "Oh," and sips her bottle of Michelob Ultra.

Chip: "The girl I'm gonna marry is 13 years old right now."

Ashley: Icy Michelob Ultra silence.

What? Back pedaling, Chip explains that he doesn't want to get married for at least ten years, but ew. He orders a shot of Corazón tequila to add some luster to his pervy patina.

Chip: "For a first date I like to take a girl out for wings. If she can pick a chicken wing clean, then she passes about eight different tests."

Ashley: "That's smart."

Nooooooo ... Ladies? Does the chicken wing test sound like something that would work for you?
Ashley: On her phone checking on her girl's fantasy volleyball league.

Chip: "You gotta really be into that to know anything. Uh, I just know those two chicks from the Olympics."

That's bikini beach volleyball, Chipwich.

Ashley: On volleyball tournament rules, "Because it's totally unfair to use the 1989 rule book just because no one has the current rule book. It's just not fair!"

Chip: "We like to keep the bottle caps from beer in our pockets to show how much we drank last night. Sometimes I pick them up from the street to cheat."

Chip is now talking directly to me ... as I'm typing his words.

Chip: "I heard that Mr. Rogers was a trained assassin and ex-Special Forces marine in Vietnam, who killed a lot of dudes, man. He wore cardigans to hide the sick tattoos that covered his arms."

Ashley: Not listening. Peeling the label from her beer bottle and thinking about fantasy volleyball.

Chip: "You ready to roll, baby?"

Ashley: "Uh huh."

Whether you have a personal experience or witnessed a funny train wreck, please share them with the rest of the class. Nothing warms me up on a cold January day like dating schadenfreude.

(Getty Images)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:00 AM | | Comments (16)
Categories: Owl Meat's Tipsy Tuesdays

January 4, 2010

And the winner is ...


John guessed our mystery bar (it was Dougherty's, 223 W. Chase St.) in a mere 15 minutes. So much for trying to stump the Midnight Sunners again.

Congrats, John. E-mail me at to claim your prize.

Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:39 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Name That Bar

1st Mariner named best arena of its size in the U.S.

1st mariner arenaThe 1st Mariner Arena is the top arena of its size in the U.S., according to industry publications Billboard Magazine and Venues Today.

After a star-studded year which included performances from Bruce Springsteen, Beyonce and Jay-Z, the aging venue took the No. 1 spot for arenas with capacities from 10,001 to 15,000.

The results were based on the number of tickets sold and gross revenue, according to Frank Remesch, 1st Mariner's general manager.

"We had a heck of a run this year," Remesch said. "I wouldn't say I'm surprised, but I'm proud. ... This is a neat feeling." ...

Last year, Billboard Magazine named 1st Mariner No. 3, behind Boardwalk Hall Arena in Atlantic City and the MGM Grand's Garden Arena in Las Vegas. This year's award shows that Baltimore is finally coming out of Washington's shadow and establishing itself as a legitimate market for A-list bands, Remesch said.

"It says more about Baltimore than it does about the arena," Remesch said. "If people from Baltimore and the surrounding area keep supporting the events, I can keep bringing better events. It's an endless good cycle."

(Photo courtesy of Jamie Curtis)
Posted by Sam Sessa at 4:29 PM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Local music

Name That Bar, Vol. 14

what is this bar? can you name it? HMMM?What better way to kick off 2010 than with a Name That Bar?

You know how this goes: The first person to leave a comment with the correct name of this Baltimore watering hole wins a prize.


(Photo by Alexander D. Mitchell IV)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:17 PM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Name That Bar

The review: Q Tonic

q tonicI did it.

I, Sam Sessa, tried Q Tonic

And, if I may say so myself, it was good. Great, even.

A couple weeks ago, I was a doubter. I thought artisanal tonic water was a silly notion, bought into by silly people. Q Tonic founder Jordan Silbert read my post and sent me a couple 6.8-ounce glass bottles of the stuff.

That's right -- glass bottles. Plastic is for pedestrian tonics.

After trying Q tonic -- both chilled in a glass by itself and in a gin and tonic with a lime wedge, I have to say, this is some top notch tonic water.

An incredibly smooth sipper, Q Tonic had none of the artificial aftertaste you get with typical tonics ...

That's probably because Q Tonic is made with all natural ingredients, including hand-picked quinine from the Peruvian Andes. It sounds so far-fetched. But when you think about it, there are plenty of super high-end liquors.

Dan Aykroyd markets a vodka that is filtered through diamonds. Why can't there be a high-end tonic too?

Though Q Tonic may go down easy, it's far from bland. At first sip, it's crisp with a slight bite. It also has a subtle sweetness that gradually sets in. Oh, and for the health-conscious, Q Tonic has less than half the calories of, say Schweppes, according to its Web site.

Can I see myself spending a few bucks more to pick up Q Tonic the next time I'm at the liquor store? Depends. If I'm sipping high-end gin with a couple close friends, yes. But not for parties, because that can get expensive quick.

One thing's for sure: The next time I'm out and about and see a cocktail made with Q Tonic, I'm ordering it. I'm looking at you, Mr. Rain's Fun House.

When it comes to sheer taste, Q Tonic easily bests any other tonic water I've ever tried. Q Tonic made my gin and tonic noticeably better, and I was tempted to drink Q Tonic in a glass by itself. It's that good.

(Photo of me trying Q Tonic by Midnight Sun aide Teresa)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:26 PM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Bars & Clubs

More on Josh Dibb, aka Deacon from Animal Collective

josh dibb of animal collectiveLast week, I posted about how Josh Dibb, aka Deacon from Animal Collective, was raising money for charity.

There's actually much more to it than that. 

I wrote a piece which appeared in yesterday's paper about Dibb's decision to take a leave of absence from the band after his father died a couple years ago.

Dibb removed himself from the daily business of the band, and worked on several projects that had nothing to do with music.

This gig at the Festival au Desert in Africa is the beginnig of Dibb's return to music ...

"I feel like I'm 18 again," he said. "I don't feel like I've been doing this for 10 years. ... I'm on totally uncharted territory."

Dibb is sad that he missed out on "Merriweather Post Pavilion," the album that established Animal Collective as a force to be reckoned with on the indie scene. But he stands behind his decision to go on hiatus.

"There are definitely moments where I'm really sad," he said. "I've missed a lot of things that have happened in the past few years. But I knew there was no way I could have done that. There were too many things going on in my life that I had to take care of."

Now that Dibb has taken care of those things, he feels ready to return to music. He's working on a solo album, which should be released this year.

(Baltimore Sun photo by Amy Davis)

Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:58 AM | | Comments (1)
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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