Daniel Barrett, the curly haired singer and guitarist from Austin band porterdavis, finishes a set and sidles up to the long wooden bar at Mojo Side Stage in Canton. The 29-year-old hipster is tall and friendly and wears the perfect pair of funky yellow plastic glasses.
"We like playing at places like this because we can talk to people," says Barrett. He becomes fast friends with members of the kickball team who wandered into the bar after losing their game. The evening has a feel of serendipitous fun. And as the night goes on, the bar fills up.
Mojo Side Stage opened a little over a month ago in the space that used to be Cardwell's Tavern. The new management hasn't had time to put up a proper sign, but it's been booking bands. This weekend, it features two Baltimore-based bands. Tomorrow night, '80s tribute band Happy Ending plays, and on Saturday June Star, an alternative country band, is featured. Both acts go on at 10 p.m.
The bar is owned and operated by Andy Bopp, who also runs the Mojo Room and Lounge on Belair Road.
Bopp, 43, wants his venue to be an intimate neighborhood bar where people go to hear quality live music. "I noticed that Canton doesn't have an original music venue," Bopp said in his cluttered office above the bar. "Our demographic down here is a 30-something crowd. We're not going for the 18-year-olds at Recher Theatre or Ottobar crowd."
The bar is tiny, but there is enough space for the two-person band to set up. It's big enough for a few people to start dancing. And the band breaks for long enough for people to start flirting.
The walls are blood red, and the floors are dark hard wood. Several tall circular tables are set up in front of the bar and TVs, a video game and a comfy-looking couch are in the corner. Bopp hopes to add a pool tables above the bar, but he says that will wait until next year.
Mojo Side Stage offers a full bar menu. Two beers, mussels and a hamburger cost less than $15, and there was no cover charge to hear the band. Bopp said the music here will always be free.
And, on this night, the closet-sized kitchen was going full tilt. Cook Dave Schaum, 33, sliced a potato into strips and threw them into hot oil while he talked about the new bar.
"Neighborhood people are hearing about what we're doing by word of mouth, and they're coming back," he said.
Schaum thinks the live music, and the emphasis on original music, will bring people in. This is the way to go, he said. "Why would you want to hear someone do a cover and ruin your favorite song?" he asks.
People listening to the night's music agreed.
"It is definitely a good place to go out and chill and listen to some great bands," said Karen Garalde, 26, who plays second base for the kickball team and lives nearby. "They serve good food and play live music. It is a cozy bar where you feel comfortable."
Bopp is a busy man. In addition to running two local bars, he teaches music and gym at an elementary school, and he plays and tours in his own band - Myracle Brah. Inconveniently, the band is best known in Europe, and Bopp crosses the Atlantic regularly to tour with them.
"There aren't that many musicians that run music venues," he said. But he's dedicated to running a musicians' bar: a place that supports small touring bands and a place that has an easy, laid-back atmosphere.
He extends the hospitality beyond the bar. The band, as it turns out, crashed at Bopp's house that night.
Mojo Side Stage is at 2239 Essex St. Call 410-372-0260. Hours are 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Saturdays; 1 p.m.-2 a.m. Sundays. On Mondays, burgers are half price, Tuesdays are live jazz nights, Wednesdays are open-mike nights, Thursdays are singer/songwriter nights, and Fridays and Saturdays feature rock-a-billy, blues and old country bands.
For more club events, see Page 35.