Cordial Affairs

Once a month, members of the Grand Marnier Club at One-Eyed Mike's get together to toast the liqueur.

February 05, 2004|By Athima Chansanchai | Athima Chansanchai,SUN STAFF

Passers-by on Bond Street in Fells Point notice the Christmas tree still lit in the window of One-Eyed Mike's, but not because it's been so long since the holiday passed.

They stop to take pictures of a tree made of 121 Grand Marnier bottles. What they don't see is the nearly 3,000 shots that were poured from them.

At One-Eyed Mike's, Grand Marnier - the heady cognac redolent of oranges and amber in hue - is the house specialty, not just a choice on the shelf. There's a club of Grand Marnier aficionados, 60 members strong, who pay $125 to belong. Membership buys them their own bottle at the bar and the chance to socialize with fellow lovers of the liqueur. (Renewing a membership costs $75, which buys another bottle.)

Theme bars are nothing new - there are sports bars, single-malt-scotch bars, bars that feature 100 varieties of draft beer - but a bar whose specialty is Grand Marnier, with a club for drinkers, may be a first.

"As far as we know, it is the only Grand Marnier club," says Wendy Scherr, a spokeswoman for the drink's maker, Marnier-Lapostolle, in New York. "We think it's wonderful."

Grand Marnier has "always been my drink of choice," says bar owner Michael T. Maraziti. "It warms you up all the way down. ... I wish I could remember who turned me on to it, because God bless them."

Maraziti's partner, Shane Fullerton, doesn't recall a time when Maraziti didn't drink Grand Marnier, but he says they got the idea for their club while at a Federal Hill pub last summer.

"They had these plaques on the wall commemorating 100-pint, 200-pint Guinness drinkers," Fullerton says. "We thought we could do that with a Grand Marnier membership."

Since the grand opening of One-Eyed Mike's in September, the duo has sold about 40 cases of Grand Marnier - almost 500 bottles, more than some bars sell in a year.

"That's insane," says Tom Creegan, an owner of Brewer's Art in Mount Vernon. "We're selling more of it in the last couple of months than we did at this time last year, but that's still maybe 10 or 12 bottles. No one's going to come close to the kind of numbers they're doing."

Bottles of Grand Marnier Cordon Rouge sell for about $40 in liquor stores, while the 150th- anniversary edition can run as high as $170. Shots at One-Eyed Mike's cost $6 each, which runs to $144 for an entire bottle.

The bar's name is not only an allusion to the pirate themes of the past - One-Eyed Mike's predecessor was the Seafarer for three decades - but also to Maraziti's first year in Baltimore. A mugging left him wearing an eye-patch for two months. Besides posters of Pirates of the Caribbean and skull and crossbones flags, there are other signs of the pirate motif.

Newcomers to Grand Marnier are encouraged to "walk the plank." The plank might not send you literally to the murky depths, but it does allow you to sample a "flight" of Grand Marnier, from the Cordon Rouge to the 100th anniversary edition to, finally, the 150th-year anniversary edition, at a cost of $30. (The anniversary versions mark milestones of the Marnier-Lapostolle company, not the drink's.)

Maraziti, a Rhode Island native, celebrated his 42nd birthday recently by puffing on a stogie at his namesake establishment and holding court with friends he's made in his nearly four years in Baltimore.

Deni Tabor, who was one of the club's 32 charter members, walked in, her teeth chattering. Mike Zabora - known as Mike 3 because he's one of five bartenders there named Mike - asked, "Which one are you, Deni?"

"C-1," she mouthed, and Zabora retrieved her bottle from the members' glass cabinet. There, bottles of Grand Marnier are categorized by letter and number. As more club members streamed in, the process was repeated - with many shots stacked on top of one another as members treated each other. Less than six months after the club began, one member is already on her 25th bottle.

A Grand Marnier banner takes up nearly an entire wall in the game room, and Grand Marnier shakers and snifters adorn the main room.

"I was not into Grand Marnier before I met Mike," said Tabor, 49, who moved down the street in June with her husband Neil. "Then I decided to try it, and tonight I'm probably going to open bottle No. 5 ... and I'm not even a drinker. You almost never pour one drink. You share."

Like any good club, there are rules:

Members meet once a month.

A shot must be done once a month on a non-meeting night.

Grand Marnier must never, ever be served on the rocks.

And club tradition suggests that you clink glasses with your friends, then tap the bar once with the bottom of the glass before shooting or sipping.

Tabor has become such an enthusiast that she even dressed as a Grand Marnier bottle for Halloween. The life-size cutout hangs proudly in the game room.

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