Online, On Tap

A new Web site, coolhappyhours.com, takes the guesswork out of navigating Baltimore's ever-changing bar scene

Tech

September 22, 2005|By Sam Sessa | Sam Sessa,sun reporter

Wednesdays, one day before David Cole's weekly round of bars and restaurants begins, he figures out where he wants to go. Rather than rely on tips for the best bars and clubs from co-workers or friends, he checks his e-mail or hops online and searches coolhappyhours.com. The site lists about 50 of the city's bars and restaurants, their daily happy hour and drink specials, menus and extras such as live music.

Users like Cole can search for bars by name, location or such categories as brewery, fashionable restaurant and college bar. They can sign up to receive e-mail, text message or RSS updates via the site, which launched earlier this year.

Members can send e-vites to other members for weekend or after-work get-togethers. The site also has digital photos of people randomly taken at local bars and clubs by a Cool Happy Hours street team. The snapshots are available for members to download.

"It's a pretty neat little thing," said Cole, a 37-year-old who lives in Fells Point. He said he heard about the site from a friend. "It lets me keep up on what's going on in the neighborhood."

Cole is among the approximately 1,100 users who have signed up for the site since its debut in July. The site gets about 10,000 hits a day, said Gemma Jablonski, president of Cool Happy Hours.

She said she came up with the idea from her own experience.

"Twenty years ago when I was looking for the coolest places in Manhattan to go out after work, it was through word-of-mouth or personal experience," she said. "My system, basically, instead of word-of-mouth is utilizing technology to spread the word."

Baltimore became Jablonski's guinea pig because of its status as an up-and-coming city, she said.

"[Baltimore] has a lot to offer, a lot of great places, great bars, great restaurants, but it's still small enough where I could gather traction and go on to the next city," she said.

Currently, the site lists a couple of bars from the Annapolis area, but Jablonski plans to expand to Washington, Boston, Atlanta and Miami soon. She's also looking for more bars to add to her Baltimore list.

Jablonski knows that 50 bars is only a small slice of Baltimore's scene, but she said she only wants to start adding bars that she thinks are hip enough. She either finds the places herself or checks out referrals from friends.

"Ideally I would like to have all the cool places in the town," she said. "It can be anywhere from a local bar to five-star venue. I just want it to be a place with a cool cachet that goes along with it."

Ryan's Daughter was among the first bars added to Jablonski's list, said general manager Aaron Reinhart. He said signing up for a site like Cool Happy Hours helps him target groups of people he might not have otherwise reached.

"It's awesome," Reinhart said. "It takes care of a lot of stuff for us."

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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