Baja Beach Club
Where: 55 Market Place.
Hours: 4 p.m. to 2 a.m., Tuesday through Friday, 7 p.m. to 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday; closed Monday.
Menu: pizza, salads, raw bar, burgers. Happy hour, Tuesday to Friday from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m., features two-for-one drinks and a buffet including shrimp and roast beef.
Credit cards: All major cards accepted.
Call: 727-0468. Summer is still weeks away, but you wouldn't know it from a visit to the Baja Beach Club. There it seems like an endless summer -- and the place just opened.
No doubt about it, Baja Beach Club is the club of the moment in Baltimore. My first attempted visit was stymied by a line of would-be patrons so long it seemed like one of those miles-long Bay Bridge backups. Once you do get into the place, there is so much funky beach energy that Ocean City suddenly seems like a meditative retreat.
Although the only water the Baja Beach Club can call its own is the stagnant lower Jones Falls, the theme mania has to make you a convert to its beach philosophy. As the much-needed replacement tenant for Chi Chi's Mexican restaurant next to the Movies at Harbor Park, Baja Beach Club has become an instant people magnet.
Sure, there is a calculated formula to the place, but that's not to complain. Part of a Chicago-based chain with clubs in Detroit, Chicago, Miami and Arlington, Texas, it knows exactly how to apply suntan lotion to the libido. And if the get-happy hedonism of the decor and staff remind you more than a little of Surfside Sally's, the raucous Fells Point nightclub that closed in 1990, there is an ownership connection between that club and this.
The basic look here is of a pleasure palace (pleasure shack?) so casually decorated with dried out thatch and palm fronds that it seems like Gilligan had a hand in it. Of course, it's far funkier than he ever was, what with day-glo greens and yellows painted on the wall-mounted surfboards and life preservers, lifeguard chairs that make perfect perches for security guards, video screens on which surfing seems the only sport in existence, bucket car seats in the booths, and surfboard tables with auto wheel rim bases.
And then there is the wait staff, dressed (or nearly undressed) for beach action. If the cocktail waitresses were any more skimpily garbed they'd have to go around the corner to the Block. These have got to be the hardest working bar staffers in show biz, too, because they like nothing more than to do bartop dance routines or otherwise join in the high energy frenzy on the dance floor.
You'd think that would be enough activity, but no, there's more. Sporting games ranging from a mini-putting green to pool tables may not intimidate the Baltimore Original Sports Bar on the other side of the plaza, but by almost any other standard they constitute a sports complex.
Top it all off with pizza, burgers and a raw bar and you know we're talking serious sensory overload here. Quick, somebody toss me one of those life preservers.