Elsewhere in Baltimore, it's a bustling late summer Saturday night. At 11 p.m., it's prime time and the throngs have doubtlessly started filling Cross and Light streets; a crowd stands under a cloud of cigarette smoke outside the Brewer's Art; a herd makes its way across the street from the Charles Theatre to Club Charles. But the last block of Union Avenue, right before you cross over the concrete-channeled Falls Creek and pass under I-83, is quiet; the mammoth stone mill building looms, a failed corner bar sits locked and empty, and in front of a red, heavy steel door is an ashtray and a sandwich board advertising a few booze specials.
Behind the bombproof door is a bar known to its regulars as the Bloody Bucket, and to those of us combing old phone books, as the Clipper Mill Inn. And believe you me, the Bucket is a regulars bar of the purest kind. A friendly study of old-school Hampden, the crowd is blue-collar, folks that build and fix things, fought in wars, and bought houses in the neighborhood when they were cheap--not to make a bunch of money but because, well, they were cheap. And the Bucket is far more than where they come to drink. It's where they come to sing.
Every Saturday night, Jason--a longtime fan of karaoke at the Bloody Bucket who eventually took over KJ duties--totes his rig into the bar, an understated spot with bowls of peanuts on the bar, candy-tasting test tube shots for a buck, and Bohs for $1.50. Little stacks of karaoke request slips sit behind his table in neat piles, while a group of 20 or so congregate around a large central table, most of them throughout the night taking at least one turn with one of a half dozen or so thick books of songs. There's a few younger, new-school locals that pop in and out, but most of the folks singing are old-timers. Some Carly Simon is unleashed, and then a little Creed. Hey, why not? Turns out, it's fun as hell to sing along to.
Why is this the best? Soul, man. Folks here do this every week. The Bloody Bucket is more than a bar with a great selection of songs and dangerously cheap drinks, it's a neighborhood meeting place. Doing karaoke at Rainbow Studios in a private room with a dozen or so friends is a blast and Nevins--with its own crew of awesome neighborhood cats--is fun, too, but belting 'em out here feels like a moment in implacable history. Whatever happens to old Hampden up Union Avenue hill, the Bucket below will always be around. Also worth mentioning: the locals here can take your vocal skills, or lack thereof, to school and back.