H is for Happy Hour
The Brewer's Art · Mick O'Shea's · Brass Elephant · Speakeasy Saloon · Calvert House · Nick's Inner Harbor Seafood Co.
Maybe it's the sprightly interplay of fiddle and guitar. Maybe it's the lyrics about things like losin' yer love or yearnin' for old Dublin or getting crushed by the goddamn English, words that make your life not seem so bad. Whatever it is, Irish music--as played in raucous pubs, anyway--sure makes us feel better. Mick O'Shea's (328 N. Charles St.,  539-7504) offers up copious doses of the stuff, from stalwart locals like Donegal Xpress and O'Malley's March or the occasional national act (erstwhile MTV faves Black 47 show up now and again), along with one of the smoothest pints o' Guinness in town.
Before they became legends, Dorothy Parker, Robert Benchley, and their gang liked to gather in the high-class restaurant of the Algonquin Hotel, pool their money, and split a couple of orders of eggs. They needed to save the rest of their money for the accompanying libations, which they wanted to enjoy in a classy place. In Baltimore, the Algonquinites would have come to the Brass Elephant (924 N. Charles St.,  547-8480). Best known for its pricey and pretentious food, this Mount Vernon institution also has a wonderful upstairs bar where the less-than-loaded can toss back a few in the presence of dark, polished wood and hushed conversation.
The faux nostalgia of the Speakeasy Saloon (2840 O'Donnell St.,  276-2977) might inspire you to dress like a flapper, but the drink prices will whip you back to this decade. Whoa, daddy-o! Still, we've had a couple of near-perfect martinis at this Canton joint, and those are priceless. Keep the Speakeasy in reserve for those special-occasion happy hours--you'll likely find yourself dining there as well, feasting on daring pasta combinations and eclectic interpretations of meat and seafood.
The theater crowd likes to dine at the Calvert House (347 N. Calvert St.,  539-3627), two blocks south of Center Stage; the rest of us crowd into the bar, where we can sit at the counter and watch the corner television, or squeeze into a booth for more privacy. During happy hour, most drinks are full price, but they always have a dollar draft and the popcorn's free and unlimited.
Nick's Inner Harbor Seafood Co. (Cross Street Market,  685-2020] is an anomaly. How and why the young-professional set came to embrace a beery raw bar within a workaday city market as a happy-hour hot spot is a mystery. But embrace it they have. And Nick's has hugged the flush white-collar mob right back. Over the years the venerable fishmonger has reduced its display of iced fish and increased its display of iced beer. Nick's even added a wine bar, for chrissakes. Of course, you can still slurp down plump fresh-shucked raw oysters and clams. And it's still a long way from genteel: The cement floor's puddles of dirty water haven't gone anywhere. Wear appropriate shoes and plunge in.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201