May 24, 2011

Shamrock Inn named among America's 169 best bars

Congrats are due to the Shamrock Inn in Hamilton. In a just released list of the 169 best bars in the country, Esquire magazine has voted it 78th best.

The magazine comes out with the list every year, and this year, it focused on bars that are two years old or younger, the authors write in an introduction. 

Shamrock has been around for at least that long if not longer. A couple of years ago, Esquire's readers voted it, with Brewer's Art, to the same list.

At the time, John Waters praised it in an accompanying blurb.

In Esquire's most recent, traffic-baiting reader poll, Brewer's is still in the No. 2 spot.

The magazine's official cut did not include any other Maryland bars. But, there are a few regional bars that were included: Dead Presidents Pub & Eatery in Wilmington (#39), The Tune Inn in Washington (#40) and Helen Back Cafe (#41).

Posted by Erik Maza at 7:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Bar stories, Bars & Clubs

December 14, 2010

Update on Midnight Sun Mix-off: announcing the Midnight Sun Mixer

The Midnight Sun Mix-off is this week! Or was, actually. Since blogging about the mix-off last month, I've been looking for volunteers to play for both the Skeptics of Bartending School, or BS team, and for the Believers of Bartending School team. 

But I haven't found enough of them.

After I wrote about Glen Burnie's bartending academy, some readers suggested these schools are a waste of money, and challenged the owner of the school to a contest, a mix-off really, to see who are the best bartenders. Brendan Dorr offered to participate! Jason Zink volunteered Don't Know tavern! It was very exciting. 

Originally, Mark Russell, the owner of the Bartending School Academy, was going to provide the players for the Believers team, but he got cold feet, or whatever this comment was. And while several people volunteered for the BS team, only one kind volunteer stepped up (cheers Danny!) for the other.

A three against one, UFC-style contest might have been fun, but not fair.  Ergo, change of plans!

I still think a mix-off is a great idea, if only to gather a lot of local talent under one roof, and to introduce myself to readers. So, instead of a mix-off we will have a Midnight Sun mixer in January. Sam Sessa used to do these often, and it's time to revive it.

We can all even take the circulator  sparkulator there. Mark the date: January 20, 7 p.m. at Don't Know Tavern.

Here's the Facebook event listing.

Posted by Erik Maza at 12:53 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Bar stories

December 10, 2010

The Charm City Circulator bar crawl

PX00239_9.JPGI barhopped on the Charm City Circulator. Nevin's Cross Street Station, The Hill, Peter's Pour House. I was supposed to have gone to two more bars, but by the time I left my third, the circulator was approaching its curfew.

So, yes, it is possible to barhop on it, you just have to limit yourself to one drink a bar if you want to actually make it to more than three in one night.

That was my original plan anyway. And it was in the crapper pretty much as soon as I stepped inside Nevin's, where I did a quick succession of Blue Moons, Irish car bombs, and Lithuanian liqueurs.

But I knew that was going to happen. For one, passengers and transportation activists had complained about the short hours in Monday's story about the circulator.

And two of my fellow passengers further underscored the complaint when we got off the bus at Cross Street Station. Their exchange: 

Lady 1: "All right, that was awesome."

Lady 2: "Maybe we take it back?"

Lady 1: "Yeah, maybe. If we can get wasted before 12 a.m."

So what else did I learn during my bar crawl? The Hill is about as authentic as a vintage armoire at Restoration Hardware. Go to Peter's Pour House to see suburban dad garage bands do R.E.M. covers.

And Nevin's is for lovers. At least lovers of karoeke, Irish car bombs, and barbacks who look like Grandmother Willow. (Read: me). 

The full dispatch is here. A stop-by-stop guide to barhopping on the purple and orange circulator follows:

Continue reading "The Charm City Circulator bar crawl" »

Posted by Erik Maza at 4:16 PM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Bar stories

December 6, 2010

Barhopping on the Charm City Circulator: the official numbers

Does anyone use the circulator to barhop?

When I asked a couple of weeks ago, a few of you said it stopped working too early, and then others said some South Baltimore people already refer to the purple line as the “Brewer’s Art Shuttle.”

Take a look at my story this morning. The Baltimore Department of Transportation tells me there actually are a small fraction of circulator riders who use it after 6 p.m.

On Fridays and Saturdays, they are 26 percent of total ridership for the day. In the story, several riders talked about the circulator’s benefits (it’s free!) and their frustrations with the service (we can't get drunk by midnight!), and how sometimes, if you leave early enough, they can take it to hit 12 different bars in one night and call it the “sparkulator,” like some locals did back in January.

DOT officials like Jamie Kendrick and Barry Robinson also commented. And Nate Payer, director of the Transit Riders Action Council, spoke about the importance of expanding the circulator's hours because it would help the city's nightlife industry, especially in neighborhoods like South Baltimore.

The circulator would take out the need for more parking there, he said.

“It will get more business that you otherwise would because there’s only so much space that can be allocated for parking,” he said, in a quote that didn’t make it to print. “It is about the environment to a degree, but what it’s really about is increasing economic viability.”

The full story is here.

My column about my recent bar crawl using just the circulator (stops included Nevin's, and Peters pour house, among others) is in the paper this Friday.

The Department of Transportation’s breakdown of ridership is after the jump:

Continue reading "Barhopping on the Charm City Circulator: the official numbers" »

Posted by Erik Maza at 11:32 AM | | Comments (6)
Categories: Bar stories

November 12, 2010

I went to bartending school and all I got was a fuzzy navel recipe

watkins.JPGThe customer’s order was simple: “I’d like a fuzzy navel, please.”

Simple for anyone with even a passing familiarity of a home bar kit. Simple, in other words, for anyone but the guy behind the bar: me.

“Uh, what’s in that again? Vermouth?” I asked.

I was sitting in on a course at the Maryland Bartending Academy, where, as part of the first day’s lecture, students make drinks for their classmates.

No notes or recipe books — just novices and lots of booze. My customer was Katie Vachon, a 22-year-old from Anne Arundel County, who was also on her first day.

When she ordered, I had a bar behind me stacked with dozens of bottles, lined up like a boys choir in a United Colors of Benetton ad. I didn’t know what a fuzzy navel was (A highball? manhattan? Chick’s drink? What’s a highball, anyway?), what was in it or where to find the ingredients if I did manage to figure them out. I might be a prodigious consumer of drinks. But I’m a shoddy bartender. Why try, when there are Brendan Dorrs out there whose concoctions are alcoholic Sistine Chapels?

But I am alone in this. When I sat in on the academy’s two-week course, the 11 students there were of all ages — as young as 18 and as old as 57 — and backgrounds. There was a go-go singer, a suburban mom, a couple of 20-year-old guys, several young women in ponytails and a grandmother recuperating from a March heart surgery.

They’re taking the class for as many different reasons as there are whiskeys — bucket lists, first and second careers, fun. But they were all there with hopes of landing a job.

Continue reading "I went to bartending school and all I got was a fuzzy navel recipe" »

Posted by Erik Maza at 11:56 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Bar stories

November 11, 2010

Maryland Bartending Academy on the most common mistakes of first-time bartenders

PX00194_9.JPGEarlier this week, I sat in on a class at the Maryland Bartending Academy, the 20-year-old Glen Burnie school that offers a $540 two-week bartending course.

I'll tell that story tomorrow, but for now, I asked Rose Kaspar, one of the instructors there, to itemize the most common mistakes of first-time bartenders and how to avoid them.

Most home bartenders are used to learning drinks from watching "Mad Men" or from hearing more experienced drinkers order fancy cocktails at bars.

"Most people don't know what's in the drink they're drinking," she said. But, the bartender also doesn't need to know that much.

His or her goals are simple: Make nice tasting cocktails to entertain, or better yet, impress. This is how to do it.

For starters, forget tasting every drink on the bar. “You don’t have to know what all of these are,” Kaspar said, pointing to the dozens of bottles behind her bar. “You just have to know the ratios.”

Mistake 1: Remembering ingredients. While hi-balls are relatively easy to make, when you get into manhattans and things called “millennium martinis,” the ingredients pile up.

How to avoid: Kaspar recommends making flashcards, just as if you were trying to remember Spanish verb conjugations.

Continue reading "Maryland Bartending Academy on the most common mistakes of first-time bartenders" »

Posted by Erik Maza at 4:02 PM | | Comments (60)
Categories: Bar stories

November 9, 2010

Review: Mt. Vernon's Leon's of Baltimore

Reader Joshua Reynolds loves gay bars. Except he's straight. This makes him an oddity.Here he explains his obsession.

 When I first moved to Baltimore I didn't really set out to just go to gay bars. It just sort of happened. How? It went something like this : I live in Mount Vernon. I like to go to bars. Mount Vernon has a lot of gay bars, ergo, I go to a lot of gay bars.

My favorite gay bar to go to in Baltimore used to be The Drinkery. It will always have a place in my heart. It's not every day you see a someone who is a dead ringer for Santa Claus sitting at the bar drinking Coors Light.

But the best gay bar in Baltimore that I've been to has to be Leon's, a bar with lots of history that may be the oldest gay bar in the city.

Continue reading "Review: Mt. Vernon's Leon's of Baltimore" »

Posted by Erik Maza at 8:00 AM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Bar stories

October 15, 2010

How long do you give Alewife?

In today's Live! Midnight Sun reviews Alewife, the new beer hall on the West side.

Despite its big suds selection, the bar hasn't pulled in the crowds since it opened in September, suggesting it may go the way of previous bars that opened and quickly closed on that very spot, like Maggie Moore's.

From the review: "Alewife's size is working against it. While 21 N. Eutaw St. has dignified architecture, the building is a hulking monolith with high ceilings that retains much of the coldness of a bank lobby.

"Though it's been repainted in a warm red, and dark-wood paneling covers the bar and tables, it still looks like the Treasury Department after a Pottery Barn makeover.

"While owner Daniel Lanigan can be commended for eschewing the long banquettes of most beer halls — or the spilled brewskis on the floor — maybe Alewife would benefit from a more rustic aesthetic. Empty as it is now, it's too forlorn, like a jungle gym without kids."

The bar's challenge will be getting patrons to go weekdays, not just on weekends and during the Hippodrome's season. 

Without weekday crowds, for how long can it stay open?

Continue reading "How long do you give Alewife?" »

Posted by Erik Maza at 1:19 PM | | Comments (72)
Categories: Bar stories

October 1, 2010

Burning Mom, Victoria Legrand, Miami vs. Baltimore, and other things I learned my first two weeks writing about nightlife

It was early September, and I had come to the Annex Theater for a party called Burning Mom, named after the tired hippie extravaganza Burning Man.

At 2 a.m., the party was my penultimate stop of the night. Ah, the life of the nightlife writer. When I got there, the somewhat dilapidated building was flanked by no less than five police cars, with cops completing reports on the party they had just broken up.

A few hundred people had all come to watch super under-the-radar local acts like Dazzlestorm, Talk to Animals and Gravebangers at an event thrown by a small nonprofit theater.

In Miami, where I moved from, this would have been unthinkable. In my two weeks exploring Baltimore's nightlife, I've learned that residents have no aspirations to be a sixth New York City borough like Philadelphia, or a hipster bug zapper like Brooklyn.

The rest of my first nightlife column is here

Photo: Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun

Posted by Erik Maza at 10:30 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Bar stories

September 29, 2010

What are Baltimore's top 25 bars?

Readers, we're working on a list of the best bars in the city. Not strictly sports bars, which Midnight Sun ranked last weekend. Just best bars.

Rankings are subjective and arbitrary, but like the old TV Guide or the a farmer's almanac they help us organize our increasingly chaotic lives.

So, best bars? What makes it the best is not just price, or its menu. It should also be character, history, and its customers. 

Write your suggestions in the comments. 

Posted by Erik Maza at 9:43 AM | | Comments (125)
Categories: Bar stories

September 28, 2010

Congress Hotel, home to legendary Marble Bar, auctioned today

At 2:30 p.m Tuesday, in a drab room of the Circuit Court of Baltimore City, a piece of city history will be auctioned off.

The property is the Congress Hotel, a mostly forgotten 36-unit apartment building on the 300 block of West Franklin street in Mt. Vernon that, for a brief period in the late 70s and early 80s, housed Baltimore's CBGB.

Just eight granite steps below Franklin is the Marble Bar, the kind of watering hole that looms large enough in the local punk consciousness that  even if you weren't there in its heyday, you might claim you were.

 Though the hotel first opened 107 years ago -- over the years, it hosted Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers in its basement bar, once known as the Rathskeller -- it only started hosting provocative music acts in 1978, when the Marble Bar opened.

R.E.M, X and the Slickee Boys, the Psychedelic Furs, Talking Heads, all played there. 

Continue reading "Congress Hotel, home to legendary Marble Bar, auctioned today" »

Posted by Erik Maza at 9:18 AM | | Comments (25)
Categories: Bar stories

September 13, 2010

Schaefer's Bar & Restaurant in South Baltimore still accepting your dollar bills

0912001400.jpgBaltimore bars come and go. Just last week, Midnight Sun reported that Tyson's Tavern, a 3-year-old bar on the Canton and Fells Point border was up for sale.

But some have been around for what feels like forever. Take Schaefer's Bar & Restaurant in South Baltimore. 

One of the distinguishing characteristics of Tyson's is the history of the building where it's located. Owner Dean Zlomke says it might have been the home of the original National Brewing Company. And underneath the bar, there are still tunnels that lead to Patterson Park that were supposedly used in the War of 1812. But if the sale says anything - other than this is a crapshoot of an economy - it's that locals like character along with their history.

Schaefer's in South Baltimore has character up the wazoo.

Continue reading "Schaefer's Bar & Restaurant in South Baltimore still accepting your dollar bills" »

Posted by Erik Maza at 8:57 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Bar stories

March 4, 2010

The Captain's Corner: Drinking tequila in the buff

capt. larry outside his bar, circa 2000

Who's been waiting all week for the next edition of the Captain's Corner? I know I have. 

If you're still new to the Captain's Corner (shame on you), here's what you need to know: It's a series of columns by Capt. Larry Gross, the former owner of Captain Larry's in South Baltimore. Read his past columns here.

OK, we're locked, loaded and ready for some action. Captain! Come on, buddy!

After the third wife, I had this girlfriend, Donna. We went to Mexico -- we took a week and went to Cancun or someplace.

I come back with three or four bottles of Mexican tequila -- two bottles of the expensive (bleep) and two bottles of the nasty (bleep) and two of these bandaleros like Pancho Villa would wear.

One night, I'm tending bar, and I've got about 20 people in the bar, and it's getting like I've got to do something to liven the place up ...

Continue reading "The Captain's Corner: Drinking tequila in the buff" »

Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:06 PM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Bar stories

February 25, 2010

The Captain's Corner: Ear piercings

capt. larry outside his bar, circa 2000

Of all the stories Capt. Larry Gross told me, this one was the most outrageous. Keep in mind -- he's already told us about Joe the Parrot, the in-bar drunk cage and shooting holes in the ceiling.

Capt. Larry, the namesake of Captain Larry's, retired from the bar business several years ago. But I heard rumors about people getting their ears pierced, and had to ask the Captain. This is what he told me:

SEAL team four's logo was the skull and bones. So I went and had jewelers make me 40 of these little skull-and-bones earrings.

The deal was, if you wanted to get your ear pierced in the bar, it was a neat thing to get a Capt. Larry's skull-and-bones earring ...

Continue reading "The Captain's Corner: Ear piercings" »

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:31 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Bar stories

February 4, 2010

The Captain's Corner: Taking the cage

capt. larry outside his bar, circa 2000

We've heard about the bullet holes in the ceiling and Joe the parrot.

In this week's column, Capt. Larry Gross, the former owner and namesake of Captain Larry's, dishes about the ultimate drunk tank. The helm is yours, Captain:

We had a cage near the pole in the center of the bar, made out of stainless steel. It was about three foot by three foot by about eight foot tall. It was made out of stainless steel. It was a rectifier cage.

Now, a rectifier cage in the Navy is something they would have in a radio room where they would put equipment in they didn't want anybody to touch, and lock it up. ...

Continue reading "The Captain's Corner: Taking the cage" »

Posted by Sam Sessa at 8:30 AM | | Comments (3)
Categories: Bar stories

January 28, 2010

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. ...

Continue reading "The Captain's Corner: Joe the parrot" »

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

January 21, 2010

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. ...

Continue reading "The Captain's Corner: Follow the Hole" »

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

January 14, 2010

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 ...

Continue reading "Introducing ... The Captain's Corner" »

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