Prime Scene Investigation
One week in Baltimore’s fast and cool, hot or not nightlife
Monday: Taxidermy Lodge, Talking Head
You’d think Monday nights are pretty quiet in bars: Who wants to go out for a drink, let alone dance, at the beginning of the work week? Walk into the Talking Head for Taxidermy Lodge—or Tax-Lo, if you’re in the know—before 11:30, and that is the case. Here regular DJs and special guests start spinning 1980s, new wave, and indie rock around 10, but the floor is dead until 11:30. After midnight, though, you can barely make it to the bar. (Latest Baltimore trend note to self: Don’t make an appearance until midnight. Don’t people know that last call is 1:30?) And then it’s wall to wall cool people: tall lanky guys in dark jeans and dark hair, girls in flared miniskirts with short black or bleach-blond hair (one or the other, no natural middle-of-the-road works here), and tattoos are, of course, a must. A few dreadlocked guys, goth girls, peace punks, and baseball-cap dudes round out the mix. If you can’t wait for the weekend to dance, this is it. But remember, you’ll be twirling solo until about midnight. And don’t worry if you’ve got no moves. You’ll fit right in. Mondays at the Talking Head, 203 Davis St., (410) 962-5588, www.talkingheadclub.com, 18 and over, free; Fridays at Sonar Lounge, 407 E. Saratoga St. (410) 337-8327, www.sonarlounge.com, 18 and over, free.
Tuesdays: Just Good Music, Red Maple
Hitting the Red Maple for Just Good Music night is like entering a pseudo chic world. Looping nü-jazz and odd minimalist architecture tries to convince you that you’re in New York or Los Angeles, as do the expensive drinks. You almost expect to spot somebody famous sipping martinis in a corner, or somebody who thinks he or she should be famous, or a doorman dismissing the unfortunately dressed and genetically inferior. The good news is that, in fact, Just Good Music nights at Red Maple are pretty laid back. With a variety of people wearing everything from suits and designer threads to ripped pants and dreads, it’s a vibe void of the social sizing up that happens at other froufrou bars. People just want to chill and have a bevvy.
The bar is dark, lit only by votive candles on short tables surrounded by Asian-inspired stools and booths. (Caution: Don’t get drunk here. The lighting is so low-key moody that tripping over the low furniture or down the numerous stairs is inevitable, and trying to drain your drink while the floor rushes toward you is not a good look.) It’s a great night if you don’t want to deal with a crowd, snobs, or smoke: It’s nonsmoking, so head to the atrium out back to light up. Note: There tend to be a lot more guys than girls, and many of the guys act as if they have money to toss around—great for girls out for free drinks, but responsible for a subtle looking-to-buy-more-than-a-drink undertone. Tuesdays at Red Maple, 930 N. Charles St., (410) 547-0149, www.930redmaple.com, 21 and over, free.
Wednesday: Deuce, Sonar Lounge
If you’re looking for a dark corner to hide in under blaringly loud brain-thump music and some good people watching, check into Deuce, where touring and resident DJs mix and beat-match drum ’n’ bass, reggae, dub, breaks, and 2-step. It’s a busy night, and both of Sonar’s rooms are crowded by 11. Hang out in the lounge area with the old-school ravers sporting glow sticks (and one guy with glow goggles). Or head to the bumping front room and spot people doing some sort of rave dancing (and a couple of curious people doing the robot), though most mingle up front watching the DJs and MCs. These DJs do more than merely spin records, and their eclectic splicing complements the clientele’s unusual mix: skinny white ravers, dreadlocked heads bobbing to the beat, and even a few dark-haired, ghost-complexioned rocker guys. And, girlfriends, the guy-to-gal ratio is almost 5 to 1, making the vibe a little too meat market, but you can work the free drinks score nonetheless. Wednesdays at Sonar Lounge, 407 E. Saratoga St., (410) 327-8333, www.sonarlounge.com, over 21 $2 before 10:30 p.m., $5 after, 18-21 $5.
the Need, Ottobar
Remember those high-school parties where one clique of cool kids all stood around talking to each other and made everybody else feel like they were standing on the softer side of Sears? Well, if you miss those days, hit the Ottobar’s Satiate the Need with DJs Mod Dave and Shakes Davies. It’s like that teenage wasteland, except here the cool people aren’t football players and cheerleaders but musicians and porn-site proprietors. Outsiders aren’t necessarily laughed at, but the regulars eye a newbie right away.
The bar here doesn’t get busy until midnight, when the late-night happy hour kicks at midnight with $2 drinks. And from then until 2, it’s packed with indie-rock nerds, emo kids, and thirtysomethings dressed like they think they’re in a late-’70s glam band. And it’s smoky (and how).
The DJs play danceable ’80s new wave and new dance-rock bands like the Rapture and Gravy Train, and currently it’s also almost guaranteed you’ll hear some version of Jay-Z’s “99 Problems,” the rap song only white indie-rocker guys could love. And some actually dance—typically the same 10 people each week. Thursdays at the Ottobar, 2549 N. Howard St., (410) 662-0069, www.theottobar.com, 21 and over, free.
Friday: Grown and Sexy, Club One
Baltimore isn’t known for its beautiful people, but all the beautiful ones it has seem to be at Club One on Friday nights. This superposh club is packed for Grown and Sexy, its multiethnic cast dressed to impress, styled out, and looking good. It’s where to go to window-shop and pack the fantasy chest.
DJ Tanz spins house, trance, hip-hop, reggae, and Latin music throughout the club’s four floors, and it starts to fill up around 10. One’s tony décor heightens its chic atmosphere, as do the pricey drinks, and the bouncer you expected at Red Maple mans the door here. He maintains the pretty people factor—leave the sneakers and athletic wear at home to meet this dress code, though designer jeans are acceptable. It’s not that the average person with average clothes and an average budget would feel uncomfortable getting Grown and Sexy, but you do want to dress up to feel more Vera Wang and Ferragamo than Hot Topic and Payless. And make sure you know how far you can push the credit card before it gets declined. Fridays at Club One, 300 E. Saratoga St., (410) 230-0049, www.onebaltimore.com, 21 and over, $10-$15.
Saturday: Sonic Soul, Good Love Bar
Give yourself a little extra time if you are planning to go to the Good Love Bar and have never been, because you may just find yourself standing on the corner of Boston and Wagner streets wondering where the hell it is. Too-cool-for-school Good Love doesn’t have a sign; you have to know where you go.
DJs LoveGrove and Adam Auburn spin deep house and nü-jazz for Sonic Soul Saturdays (Sonic Soul also holds court at Red Maple Thursday nights), a smooth backdrop for the dimly lit bar’s three levels that provide ample room for the night’s large crowd of late-20s to late-30s upwardly mobile Baltimoreans. The atmospheric music makes Good Love a great place to hang out and have a drink. (Beware the bathrooms, though: In keeping with the no-sign theme, some aren’t labeled, and others are covered only by a translucent curtain.) The guys and girls alike look well put together, though there are a few too many Ryan Seacrest look-alikes: button-up shirts, jeans, and fauxhawk spiky hair. The mood is casual, the poseur factor minimal, and most people just want to do their own thing and have a good time. Saturdays at Good Love Bar, 2322 Boston St., (410) 558-2347, www.goodlovebar.com, 21 and over, $5.
Black lipstick and Robert Smith hair are no longer ghettoed to the 1980s. This ultra-goth/industrial party is a big night, when black clothes, dark makeup, and combat boots come out and fill both Sonar rooms. And everybody appears to know each other. The DJs mix classics like Siouxsie and the Banshees, Depeche Mode, Suicide Commando, and Rammstein as well as electro-industrial, EBM, and powernoise dance cuts, and they even take requests. But do look the part: If you’re all The O.C. or really casual Fridayed in T and flip-flops, you will be in for some sideways glances and whispers because you’ll be the freak of the week. It’s an in-crowd, so if you’re not down with the scene and you just gotta get a Mussolini head kick from Skinny Puppy or Hanzel und Gretyl, comb through the closet for that The Downward Spiral concert outfit and Docs and tell everybody your name is Azriel. Sundays at Sonar Lounge, 407 E. Saratoga St., (410) 327-8333, www.sonarlounge.com, over 21 $2, under $5.
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