The Hungover Gourmet

 

Bars We Love...

What is it that makes a bar lovable? Drinks that are heavy on the sauce? Kitchens that actually know how to cook? Bartenders that can make a drink, not just tilt a tap like any ol' monkey? Each of the bars listed below gets the "Official Hungover Gourmet Endorsement", and we're willing to accept candidates for our 'Bars Our Readers Love' page...

This list has been tragically out of date for some time (see previous posts). Since arriving in Baltimore I've been much more content to hang out at home with my wife and our dog, sipping a beer on the back patio or downing a few while checking out some flicks.

But it's finally time to get around to picking some bars that we like alot here in Baltimore, and one that we might just love.

Frazier's (On The Avenue, Hamden/Baltimore, MD)
I'd been to Frazier's once before for an Atomic Books anniversary event, but that doesn't count as an official sampling. Especially when you get up in the middle of Patton Oswalt's set and leave because you have tickets to a midnight show of EVIL DEAD 2. And before you give me any shit let me just say that I love Oswalt's humor, but we're talking EVIL DEAD 2 here. That and it's not like he's OUT COLD star Zach Galifianakis.

Anyway, it took ever-reliable drinking buddy, SMILE HON editor and THG contributor WP Tandy to get me back to Frazier's and I'm glad he did. Though the place is as smokey as a bar can get and the booths are so small that it's nigh impossible for four grown men to sit in them, Frazier's has a decent selection of beer (including $4 pints of Guinness as well as cans of Natty Boh) and their selection of food is as wide and varied as a bar can possibly muster. Specials last night included Filet Mignon Tips and Liver and Onions (and about a dozen others), alongside pages of more traditional offerings like sandwiches (hot and cold), appetizers (including shrimp and various flavors of wings) and burgers.

In my ever-continuing attempt to satisfy my Double-R-Bar Burger craving I ordered the "Ham" Burger, featuring what was supposed to be deli ham and BBQ sauce on top of a burger. The "deli ham" seemed more like the packaged deli meat I tear up for my dog, but that's what I get for not being more inquisitive. Fresh cut french fries rated above average and the accompanying onion rings were deep fried to the point of desiccation, but I kinda like 'em like that. There's nothing I hate more than chomping through a thick layer of breading and batter only to have my teeth sink into a limp slice of Vidalia that comes out in one long strand.

John Steven (Thames Street, Fells Point/Baltimore, MD)
This is definitely a bar that mainly gets high marks thanks to its culinary offerings. Sure, there's a massive list of beers on tap and in bottles, but it's the food that many – including me – love most. The steamed shrimp are a must any time you venture in, a garlicky, spicy bowl of meaty shrimp that I've desperately tried to recreate at home. I've come close, but they're never quite right. If you get the chance to hit this Fells Point hot spot (which is deceptively hidden behind a nondescript facade) on a nice day, be sure to check out their patio seating and pray that Cream of Trout Soup is on the menu.

Duda's (Fells Point/Baltimore, MD)
My brother-in-law used to live in Baltimore and knows most of the city's good bars and cool haunts well. He'd been raving about this little corner bar for as long as I've known him, so during a recent visit by JT we decided it was time to check it out. Sure enough, it's the kind of bar that I could call home. A good, not overwhelming, beer selection is accompanied by an excellent menu of top-notch bar food. Their legendary chili is deserving of all the accolades while the seafood platter of shrimp, oysters, clams and more was just the thing for two seafood-loving eaters with an appetite. I've also heard raves about their Wednesday night steak dinner special, so you may want to make note of that. The best thing I can say about Duda's is that it's the kind of place where you'd be more than comfortable downing a Natty Boh at the bar and chatting about the day's events.

Bar (Fells Point/Baltimore, MD)
I couldn't tell you where this place is, but I could find it if you dropped me off in Fells Point. SMILE HON editor and THG contributor WP Tandy and I ended up here one night after dinner and drinks at The Red Star, an excellent eatery, though it's not deserving of "Bars We Love" status. WPT had been to Bar before and knew that I'd dig its decidedly down-home atmosphere. As we approached the door I was sure it was closed, and from what I could view from the street looked like it had been so for some time. My partner in crime assured me this was simple camouflage to keep the riff-raff at bay and we entered what could have been some Baltimore resident's dark, dank basement. Vision of Moe's Tavern came immediately to mind, though the bartender was more Selma than Moe. Natty Boh was dispensed to the bar's sole patron in an ice cold can, though I was pleasantly surprised she was able to fish some chilly cider from the cooler before she returned to her game of solitaire. An ancient, water (or something else?) stained pool table sat in a tight alcove where my height and bony elbows put me at a disadvantage. Luckily, for all our combined time spent in bars neither Tandy or me will ever be mistaken for anybody named "Fast Eddie" or "Fats," so the games were decidedly even in their amateurishness. Picture your favorite crazy uncle's musty basement, with a warped pool table and a caustic but funny and oddly pleasant bartender (complete with dog) and you'll have a rough idea of what to expect from Bar. Which, in a town known as Charm City, is one bar I love.


Previous Bars We Love...

The Farmhouse Tavern (Main Street, Doylestown, PA)

I made some disparaging remarks about The Farmhouse (inexplicably referred to as "The Farmer's" by friends that gather there) in an earlier review of Doylestown bars. In fact, I suggested that they seemed "more interested in seating people for food than serving beer after beer after beer to the likes of us." At this point I'd like to throw a little creamy horseradish sauce on my foot 'cause this big ol' size 12 needs something to make it easier to eat!

In the name of good journalism and fairness we've been trying to sample the neighborhood bars. How else am I supposed to deliver an accurate accounting of events to our faithful readers? Some have been fine (B. Maxwell's), some have been fun (Kelly's). And some have been downright throwbacks to our days of old (The Amber Inn). Which, frankly, this aging body sure doesn't need.

What I've discovered over the course of numerous happy hour and post-happy hour visits is that the folks at The Farmer's (now there I go) are quite content to let you sit there and suck back beer after beer after beer, toss money in the juke for a 21-song Madonna and Meatloaf music marathon, and hold the kitchen open for a quick snack after you realize it's been 10 hours and 10 beers since your last friggin' meal!

But, like any great bar bar -- plants and redone bathroom aside -- we've found that The Farmhouse attracts a good class of people. Sure, some families might come in for dinner and sneer at the cigar you've been working over for the last hour, but that's all forgotten when you meet someone like "Bill," the grizzled housepainter-metal-hockey fan we drank the night away with on a recent Friday. How can you not love a guy who: sports a "I'm Not as Think as You Drunk I Am" t-shirt; can hold forth on the musical strengths of Slayer, Led Zep, Cro Mags, GBH, Dead Kennedys, Meatloaf, The Knack and Madonna; and knows the finer points of hockey lore from the days of The Broad Street Bullies, yet mistakes your girlfriend and her married pal for a couple of pinball-playing lesbians! I fear it's a story that will grow legendary like nights spent with Uncle Peg.


The Amber Inn (Doyle Street, Doylestown, PA)

Finding a good bar here in Doylestown has been easier said than done. It seems like most places try and attract a thoroughly upscale crowd, so you end up sucking back brews while a bunch of Yuppie babes on the make munch Potato Skins drowning in a vat of sour cream. We thought that -- despite its name -- Skippy Cilantro's might become our favorite local, but they shut down before we really had time to get to know them. What we needed was a bar bar.

And in stepped The Amber Inn. The kind of bar that toothless senior citizens stagger out of while it's still daylight. The kind of bar where a deep breath knocks three years off your life. In other words, a bar bar.

Our first visit featured all manner of working class dudes seated around the bar, sporting event specials, no menus (just placards on the wall), BIG screen tv and a waitress that poured a mean black & tan! The best part was watching the Middle East Peace Accord press conference while old crones and working class dawgs fell off their bar stools.

On visit #2 we became a main attraction as yours truly had sampled a wee bit too much whiskey. Longtime readers know that this results in the mistaken notion that I can play pool (or stand) and that everything I say or do is comic brilliance. Oh yeah, all that plus a wicked hangover, self-induced vomit, and staying in bed until noon.

Later visits have resulted in the lifting of NASCAR posters and ill-advised stabs at karaoke, including a spoken-word version of "Beth" and the world's worst rendition of "The GREASE Medley."


Blue 52/Roosevelt's (State Street, Doylestown, PA)

This is the kind of bar I would never expect to find myself in. But, surprisingly, my visits there have been hassle-free, and I've even scored some righteous glassware if I'm wearing the right jacket!

Blue 52 is the bar section of Roosevelt's, a popular D'town eatery. Owned by a prominent area lawyer, it's the fave stomping grounds for many of the area mouthpieces after work and on the weekend. During the week, you can usually get a spot right inside the door, but wait too long on a weekend night and you'll be pressed up against the door praying for the end to come. In good weather, the crowd will spill into the courtyard between the two. Blue 52 also features sit-down spots with local jazz upstairs, but I only get a sampling when I have to go upstairs and pee.

The tip we discovered, was to show up at the relatively small Roosevelt's bar late on Friday night. While their last call is around 12:30, they stop seating for dinner around 10:00, and will let you park your martini-guzzling ass at one of the dinner booths as long as you're buying.


The Bloomfield Bridge Tavern (Pittsburgh, PA)

I come from hardcore Polish stock...my Mom's maiden name is a mess of consonants that ends in the prerequisite "ski." Thank god, 'cause my Dad is true Scottish-Irish, right off the boat with a handful of hagis and a sack of spuds...a meat & potatoes guy if ever there was one! Frankly, I'll side with the Warsaw Ghetto side of the family any day, sucking up plenty of noodles, cabbage, sour cream, and cucumbers.

The BBT is easily the 'Burgh's best place for Polish food -- though they'd been bought out off pierogies last time I popped in -- and one of the finest, friendliest bars in the city. Owner Stan Frankowski bought it back when the place wasn't so nice and the drug trade ruled. He cleaned house, brought in his family to help run things, and created one of the best places you'd ever want to hang out.

An evening at the BBT means nothing less than fine, home-cooked food, practically any beer that you could be interested in, and bands every Thursday through Saturday. And, if you're not into the finer points of Polack cuisine like pierogies, hluski, Wedding Soup, or golumpki's, you can always grab a big filling burger, fries drenched in cheese, chili, kilebasa sandwich, or any number of specials!


The Jughandle Inn (Route 73, Pennsauken, NJ)

This place was much more in favor a few years ago, when going there was like a low-rent version of a high school reunion. Girls I knew in grade school were still saying "Hi Danny" (shiver) and sucking face with meatheads they'd later marry and get punched out by.

Lately the Jug (conveniently located across the street from the Riviera Go-Go Lounge) has fallen out of favor with the local crowd. Once unable to score a booth or table, we regularly walk in and grab seating. Go figure.

Though you'd never go there for their winning beer selection, the Jug serves up some of the tastiest Buffalo Wings I've ever had, checking in with everything from Mild to Bald Eagle Red Hot (which make Reps break out into a massive, amusing sweat).



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