There are so many miles of shoreline in southeastern Baltimore County that it's only natural for some of the local bars to pick up on nautical motifs. The Islander Cafe in Essex doesn't just draw its inspiration from local waters, though. It's got semi-tropical waters in mind.
By the standards of mega-investment theme bars, this place would only merit a sneer. The fish net strung above the bar, the tropical fish tank at the center of the bar island, the fake palm trees planted around the room, and the mounted game fish hanging high overhead are a kitschy design mishmash that seems improvised rather than planned.
The kinda sorta balmy look of this place was improvised. In fact, nearly all this stuff is on loan from bar regulars, according to general manager George Liller. So a first-time visitor's initial sneer is readily transformed into an easy smile when The Islander Cafe is instead rated by the unpretentious standards of the land of pleasant living. Besides, after driving down a desolate stretch of Back River Neck Road, you'll be happy enough to see decor of any kind.
There is another sort of pool that also serves as a major lure at The Islander Cafe, namely the pool table located in a brightly lit front alcove. It sees a lot of pool league use Monday, Tuesday and Thursday nights. The illumination is such that if you miss a shot it's not for lack of light.
And there are night-by-night attractions at this bar that aim to attract various constituencies. A Sunday oldies night has a DJ hosting lip-sync and trivia contests, as well as occasional appearances by a group of dirty dancers, The Greasers, to show you how it's really done.
Monday is shrimp night, when people of any height can buy shrimp for $5.95 a pound. Tuesday is men's night with two-for-one drinks for the gents -- as if most guys need an incentive to order another drink. The other gender gets its due on Wednesday night, when ladies only pay a $5 cover for all their drinks.
The Islander Cafe may not appear very large from the road, but the dance floor to the rear of the building verges on the cavernous. A DJ spins records in the back every night except Friday and Saturday. Weekends are given over to live bands including the likes of Hectic Red, Never Never and Poison Whiskey, with cover charges in the paltry $2 to $3 range.
The Islander Cafe
Where: 214 Back River Neck Road, Essex.
Hours: Open 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.
Menu: seafood, sandwiches, pizza, chili.
Credit cards: AE, MC, V.
Call: (410) 391-2066.