Every night the Birds are roosting at Oriole Park is a winner for bars and nightclubs around the stadium. In fact, just about the only place you can't buy a beer is in the stretch of outfield where Babe Ruth's father once ran a tavern.
Probably the best gauge of how thirsty fans get is to stand on the stubby block of Washington Boulevard directly across from Camden Yards as a game lets out and then brace yourself as many of those 45,000 fans head toward you. Anyway, that's the vantage point for the barkeeps at Pickles Pub (520 Washington Blvd., 752-1784) and Sliders Bar & Grill (504-506 Washington Blvd., 547-8891), which are about as close as you can get to the stadium without a ticket.
"The increase in business has been threefold on game days," says Pickles' owner Vince Poist. Obviously, fans come before and after games, but they also come during games. He explains: "There have been so many sold-out games that people who weren't able to buy tickets outside before the game come over to hear the crowd and share in the excitement."
Since opening four years ago, Pickles has been relished by a collegiate crowd that is sporting even without baseball. Truth be told, the real sporting activity here is trying to squeeze through the wall-to-wall people swaying to the loud recorded rock. I can attest to the fact that the decor relies on old Baltimore photos, not sporting memorabilia, because my face was pressed up against a turn-of-the-century harbor view. The menu here -- nachos, wings, burgers, pizza, sandwiches -- is typical of the stadium-oriented bars.
On the same short block, Sliders' co-owner Mike Taylor concurs that "every game we're pretty much filled to capacity." He's noticed, though, that when games run late or the O's lose, fans tend to head home without a nightcap. More overtly sporting, Sliders has a mural of a sliding Oriole, photos of Babe Ruth and modern day O's, and major league team ball caps topping the knotty pine bar retained from the days when this was a blue-collar bar in a warehouse district.
Both snug Pickles and even snugger Sliders are considering opening their second floors; they may also seek city permits for ++ sidewalk usage to accommodate all the thirsty fans.
For intense sidewalk action, it's just a short walk over to the side-by-side operations the Wharf Rat Camden Yards (206 W. Pratt St., 244-8900) and Balls (200 W. Pratt St., 659-5844), which both do mucho business inside and out on game days.
The big news is that the Wharf Rat Camden Yards -- with its double-decker name so awkwardly evocative of Oriole Park at Camden Yards -- is a new operation taking the place of the 12-year-old restaurant fixture P.J. Cricketts. Bought out by Fells Point's atmospheric-as-fog Wharf Rat Bar, you can expect lots of changes at the former Cricketts: nautical decor, a brew pub with up to 27 beers on tap, a seafood menu. Already, on game days you can hear live music outside by the likes of Mama Jama and Rhumba Club. Says Wharf Rat co-owner Jane Oliver of her offshoot operation and its next door neighbor: "Balls has beer drinkers before a game and we go for dinner trade from people who are not into stadium food."
The 5-year-old Balls does indeed sell a lot of beer. The sidewalk holding-pen for fans does a brisk business with pit beef and beer in plastic mugs. The 30 TV screens spread around the three-level interior also aren't hurting for patrons, and the bands playing inside can expect applause. Of the upsurge in baseball traffic, general manager Jim Kolmansberger notes: "We went from being an all-around sports bar to being an Orioles bar. We're only putting Orioles memorabilia up now."
Also cashing in on the scene is the year-old Bleachers Bar & Cafe (10 S. Eutaw St., 539-1733). The sporting mania here encompasses a large mural of old-time ballplayers standing in a cornfield of dreams (though one figure looks suspiciously like a former employee), a live radio call-in show Tuesday nights with Stan "The Fan" Charles and O's great Boog Powell, a couple of pool tables, and a batting order-style menu featuring a "Homer Dog." This crowd is a bit older and more restrained than at the hormonal Pickles or Balls, so expect both preps and potbellies.
The Camden Pub (647 W. Pratt St., 547-1280) will be familiar to many as a reincarnation of the Campus Inn, where generations of University of Maryland at Baltimore students and staff discussed X-rays over a beer. Though run by the same ownership, the pub felt it was the right time to trade in its cap and gown for a baseball mitt. Now the place is filled with O's pix and pennants, balls, jackets and other stuff. The building's once-boarded up front windows have been opened up -- hurrah! -- and the freshly painted exterior is handsomely illuminated at night. Best of all, there are plenty of tables inside this light-fare pub, making it a relaxing alternative to the stand-up conditions at most stadium bars.