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February 19, 2010

Brannan's Pub is a hidden gem

brannan's pubLast night, me and a posse of Midnight Sons (that's our biker gang name) squealed wheels from downtown up to Hamilton, looking for a little Harford Road bar crawl action.

One of the things I love about Baltimore is, when you start looking for a little craziness, most times you're gonna find it.

We found our craziness at Brannan's Pub (5516 Harford Road).

Sounds Irish, doesn't it? The green sign out front has a four-leaf clover on it, but the Irishness ends at the door. Nothing inside has even the slightest Irish tint. Heck -- Brannan's doesn't even have Guinness on tap. Take that, Lucky! ...

Inside Brannan's, we found a wild smattering of society, from average Joes to same-sex couples and  young and middle-aged white and African-American folks. I can't remember the last time I've seen such a diverse crowd in one spot. It was refreshing.

Brannan's had a big cooler of bottled beers, most -- if not all -- of which were $2, the bartender told me. A few taps offered Yuengling, Budweiser American Ale, Coors Light and such. I was about to order a bottle when the bartender hit me with some knowledge: All the drafts are $1.25. Period. Oh my.

"It's pretty cheap," he said.

The truth never sounded so delicious. I couldn't help but order a draft Yuengling, and my mouth started watering when the bartender whipped out a frozen mug, filled it up and set it on the U-shaped bar in front of me.

I gave the mug a hefty lift, and shockingly, almost splashed beer on my face. The mug was unexpectedly light. Then I realized it was a plastic mug. Brannan's freezes plastic mugs. I love it!

Brannan's is kind of bright inside, due to all the neon lights. Blueish purple neon lights shine down from above the bar, and various neon beer signs adorn the walls. You can get a Dante's pepperoni pizza for $5. There's a full-sized fridge behind the bar (presumably where they keep the pizza), and on it, there's a sticker which reads "If it smells like fish, eat it." No comment.

Perhaps the best part about Brannan's was the karaoke. It was run by Jackie Joyce Glenn, a woman who fronts the hair metal group Scarlet Angel. Jackie can banshee wail with the best of them. What really surprised me was the quality of the other singers. They were great. I mean, really great. I'm not such a bad singer myself, but I wasn't about to go toe-to-toe with some of them. Midnight Son Lieutenant Shankman got up and sang "So Happy Together" by the Turtles, though. It was sweet.

The best part of the best part about Brannan's was when a middle-aged dude in a body-length fur coat, fedora and suit crooned through Engelbert Humperdinck's "After the Loving." He had a wireless mike (why don't more karaoke bars have these?), and strolled around the bar, serenading the crowd. That's what I call a smooooooth operator.

Alas, due to the nature of our expedition, we had to move on to the next spot. But I don't know if any of the other bars we hit lived up to Brannan's. As they might say in "The Big Lebowski":

And they say he ran awaaaaaaay ... BRANNAN'S!

(Photo by me)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:31 AM | | Comments (23)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


" ... I've never seen such a diverse crowd in one spot..."
Welcome to Hamilton Sam. This is why I love living there.

Tell me you finally went to hamilton tavern. on mac and cheese night no less!

It's neighborhood bars like Brannan's that make Baltimore a cool place. I grew up in Hamilton and had been to Brannan's several times prior to moving to DC via Fed Hill. Loved the cheap beers.

When do we hear about the rest of your Harford Rd bar adventures?

I've been going to Brannan's for years. I remember when it was the Wilkins House. Years ago it was a little sketchy (fights, stabbings), but now it's just a comfortable dive.
The only place sketchier was The Hamilton Tavern. When you were barred from every other bar, there was always The Hamilton Tavern. Of course that was a few years ago, before the changes at HamTav.
Sam, you should also include in your Harford Rd crawl: The Shamrock, The Holiday House, Racers.

Nice find!

But did you say "frozen mug".... ?

Uh oh.

I sense Alexander Mitchell sprinting in now...

But in case he's not - frozen mug = condensation = watered down beer! And no one wants that.

Check out the karaoke at Lauraville House too. A lot of the crowd are clearly lifelong choir singers of near pro quality.

RayRay, sounds like that list is a bit short.

Start at Koco's, work you way up to Emeralds. I'm estimating it to be at least 20 bars in that stretch.


Hampden 2.0

Odie B,
My list was in no way comprehensive. I was just listing a few bars that I have frequented over the last 30 yrs or so that have changed little. I know that I could go into any one of those place and recognize someone that I knew from there 20 yrs ago.
Harford Rd. has changed so much over the last few yrs that it would be almost impossible to hit every place in just one night.

...but it's worth a try.

Sam you should let me take you to some African-American, wait this is the Baltimore Sun not CNN- take you to some black bars. The safe ones not the ones you need Ving Rhames and the Rock to go along with you sporting extra bodywear.

I have been going to Brannans for the last several years and it is nice to see that other people are experiencing it for themselves . The beer is always cold and the prices are great and you do come across a wide variety of people from all walks of life . Great place

Brannans Pub,the place where everyone knows everyones NAME...From the old farts,to the hot little chicas,Brannans Pub is the place to be.They have a great staff,cold beer,and and alotta Stories... From my experience I have been going into that bar for the past 7 years..If theres a piece of gossip,Brannans KNOWS! If theres Karaoke, Brannans got it! If theres a Fight, THEY ARE BARRED!!! "SO SAYS THE NIGHT TIME BOUNCER/OWNER DEBBIE the WACK WACKER!!! There is nothing BAD I can say about that bar.I have had good times and bad times,but when I step into that bar during a bad time,.the atmosphere and the alcohol did its purpose to make me have a good time.. HATS OFF TO BRANNANS PUB for you serving the Hamilton communitty and all of its other customers and followers..

Lieutenant!!! Talk about promotion. With great power comes great responsibilty. You can count on me Sam. Now Evan- clean the latrines.

Brannan's if very diverse and always a lot of fun. Cheap drinks and good people. Karaoke on Thursdays hosted by Jacki is unprecedented by the quality of singers in the area.

Whats the deal with the build your own Mac n Cheese at Hamilton?

I could not have said it any better than you did Sam. Thank you for writing about this incredible bar. My husband and I used to live within walking distance of this place (very convenient!). We have since moved to Oklahoma City due to a job offer and miss this place perhaps the most. We got to know the patrons and workers at this bar so well that they felt much like family. It's the atmosphere in places like this that truly hold Baltimore in a unique status. So much culture and diversity - something you don't realize is important until you find it virtually non-existent in other cities.

When we come home to visit, it's like coming home and visiting family - we are truly "welcomed back" and hugged with warmness and a genuine "we miss you guys"

Much love to Debbie, Theresa, Russ and Nancy - we will see you all soon!

Andrea, we DO miss you guys!!

Brad: really?? How much condensation are you really gonna get from a frozen mug?? Surely not enough to sufficiently dilute your beer. And for $1.25, quit your whining and have another!

Condensation diluting your beer just means you aren't drinking it fast enough. haha.

too true, kateebee.

But more and more, I notice that every time i look in the mirror, all these lines on my face getting clearer. the past is gone. it went by ... like dusk to dawn.


You don't know ADM, IV then.

Beer has rules.

Rules were made to be broken.

Here's an obvious solution- If you are concerned about beer being watered down from a frozen mug, ask for one that isn't or a glass. Both are available!

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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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