A Guy Walks Into a Bar
It all started out simply enough--check out the new and theoretically improved west-side revitalization area downtown. It ended up in a bizarre journey that spanned weeks, and involved a curious stranger, a not-so-wild goose chase, roller girls, and a position change on the nightlife horror show that is Canton. And all because a guy walked into a bar.
A few weeks ago a friend and I wanted to see if there were actual yuppies at the new west-side yuppie bars. I was skeptical. Sure, the Hippodrome Theatre is all shiny now, and there's no end of high-end apartments, but would yuppies really want to live next to Lexington Market? I had heard that Maggie Moore's, an Irish bar across from the theater, was occasionally standing room only, but on my Friday night there, the place was far from packed. It is, however, a great space. The renovation of this old bank building is beautiful, all dark wood and high ceilings.
A guy walked up to us to ask for a cigarette just as the words "speaking of mechanical bulls" were leaving my friend's lips. The stranger took the cigarette, without batting an eyelash, as my friend described her love of watching non-mechanical bull riding. He suggested that if we were into dangerous sports we might want to consider curling.
The man had just moved to town. He lived in one of the apartment buildings I thought no one lived in. And he turned out to be something of an urban legend, a city Sasquatch--everyone knows someone who has seen one, but it's always a cousin's boyfriend's sister--the nice, funny, smart guy who comes up and talks to women at a bar. I considered selling his picture to a magazine, but instead we adopted him and moved on to stop No. 2, Bedrock (401 W. Baltimore St.,  685-7665), a new pool hall that has set up shop in the old Vault space. The renovation job, while not as nice as Maggie Moore's, certainly makes you forget it was ever a rock club. But a nice renovation is pretty much all Bedrock has going for it; $10 for one player for an hour Thursday through Saturday and $20 for four players might be a steal for some, but the way I play, it'd just be one long, expensive, and painfully embarrassing game.
The shortage of patrons suggests Bedrock hasn't taken off yet; in the plush downstairs area, the staff to customer ratio was about 1-1. There we found shuffleboard, also expensive. We did find one affordable game, darts, which cost only $1, though apparently I play darts about as well as I shoot pool. But as we threw the little projectiles, we got to know our stranger better. He had lived in Baltimore for a month but had only actually been in town a week, thanks to a fancy job that takes him around the world doing one of those absurdly specific things that you'd never think was actually someone's career.
As the night wound down--and the beers we drank further eroded our game--my friend and I promised to show the New Guy the real Baltimore sometime, not knowing if we would ever actually see him again.
Two weeks later the same friend and I decided to check out Kolpers (1520 Clipper Road,  467-5657), a new bar near Clipper Mill, another area featuring outrageously expensive condos, and we asked our new friend along. Kolpers is a bit tricky to find--tucked deep in the lower depths of Hampden--but once you get over the Road House feeling, it's pretty tame, a clean TGI Friday's kind of place but without the cloying corporate atmosphere. But if Maggie Moore's and Bedrock were sparsely populated, Kolpers was downright dead. My friend swears she heard a bartender cheer when actual customers came in. And the beer pong, highly touted on Kolpers' web site, was an abandoned folding table in a corner with a couple of plastic cups on it. Still, the food was good and the jukebox was playing cheesy '80s hits, so we stayed.
Our new friend had a BlackBerry--it probably came with the fancy job. He kept getting messages from people who wanted him to abandon us. He'd only been in town for a month and was already far more popular than we are. After a barrage of calls and texts, we decided to head to the Sidebar's mod night to meet New Guy's friend, though I found it kind of weird that New Guy was taking me to one of my old haunts.
I spent a decent chunk of my 20s having my eardrums obliterated at the Sidebar. In fact, I had spent all the time at the Sidebar I was planning to in this lifetime. But someone left a parking space right in front, so I figured it was meant to be. Outside of the bar a group of Charm City Roller Girls--from the Mobtown Mods team, of course--were posing for pictures, while inside a band was playing.
A text message from New Guy's friend revealed that he had already left and was now at a bar in Canton. And since the Sidebar was too loud and I was having flashbacks to the days when I had piercings and made out with guys who played guitar, I was more than ready to go. As we prepared to continue our search for New Guy's mythological friend, my friend had an announcement: She would go to Canton as long as it was understood, in no uncertain terms, that she hates Canton. She said it several times, slowly, for emphasis.
So off we went to the Red House Tavern for another ridiculously sweet parking spot--had Red House been Red Fish, as I mistakenly thought it was. They are actually totally different establishments, as is Red Star. Pick another color, people. But after a brief chat with New Guy's buddy via BlackBerry, in which we were told to turn right on Leakin "like taking a Leakin the alley," we found Red House, as my friend cursed Canton and all the tramp stamps and the drunken yahoos that we had to wade through to get there.
The Red House Tavern is a little dive of a lesbian bar off Boston Street. A later look at its MySpace page reveals that it boasts the most "`pee-shy friendly' bathrooms in Baltimore," which I assume is sarcastic as the bathrooms are right next to the stage. And the hook-and-eye latches on the stall doors are too long, meaning the person who tried to open the door while I was in there probably got to see more of my ass then either of us had planned.
A band was playing covers, folkie stuff that eventually hit the inevitable Indigo Girls track, and suddenly my Canton-hating friend didn't hate Canton so much. She sat entranced by the music and the laid-back vibe as women slow-danced together. Canton may not be her scene, but Red House Tavern certainly was.
New Guy's friend was there as promised, surprisingly, though his short attention span meant that he was gone before we finished our first drink. My friend, New Guy, and I stayed, listening to the music and trying to guess the names of the movies on the flat-screen TVs that bars now feel required to stick on every available surface. As 1 a.m. rolled around and my friend's newfound love of this small square of Canton gave way to thoughts of bed, I couldn't help thinking how strange it was that I had promised to show New Guy around Baltimore, but he had actually shown me.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201