No Idea turns out to be a good idea for a tavern


April 20, 2006|By SAM SESSA

Sometimes you need a hideout.

Sometimes you need a comfortable duck-and-cover bar where you can lay low and have a drink but not feel like you're going out. For yuppies, there aren't too many places like this in Federal Hill. Fort Avenue still has a lot of natives-only pubs, and some of the newly revitalized bars there are too trendy or upscale to classify as neighborhood bars. But No Idea Tavern on South Hanover Street caters to young professionals while keeping a laid-back local feel.

Co-owners Jason Zink and Stephen "Pipes" Gronowski renovated and opened No Idea about a year ago where an old bar named Covahey's used to sit. Earlier this week, they temporarily closed it again for more construction. It should reopen today with a few improvements - a sign that they're already making enough money to put some back into the building.

"I never thought we'd do this well," Gronowski said. "I didn't know what to expect. ... We definitely hold our own."

No Idea is an oasis compared with the screaming, freak dancing, beer-swilling and -spilling superjocks on Cross and South Charles streets. At No Idea, you can turn to the person sitting next to you and introduce yourself even if you aren't hitting on them (gasp!). Conversation last Saturday covered everything from the possible city schools takeover to a group of yuppies brawling with Federal Hill locals on Fort Avenue (pow!).

All the drafts come in 20-ounce glasses and cost about $4-$5. You can get a huge Hoegaarden Belgian white beer served with an orange slice for $5. Spirits (not shots or shooters) come in 14-ounce glasses. That's a bargain, and the specials are even better. On Mondays, it's $10 all-you-can-drink Coronas and Red Stripes. Fridays 4 p.m.-8 p.m., it's all-you-can-drink Yuenglings and Miller Lites for $1. That's a recipe for disaster.

You'll want some nosh to keep the alcohol from going straight to your head, but the food department is where No Idea disappoints. A year after opening, they still offer only simple Mexican fare like nachos, chips and salsa, chili and quesadillas. While Gronowski said they're going for a short, Thirsty Dog-like menu, No Idea's grub doesn't sound nearly as salivating as a fresh-baked Thirsty Dog pan pizza.

But No Idea more than makes up for it in the gaming and decor departments. There's pool, foosball, shuffleboard and Golden Tee on one side and an old worn wooden bar on the other. A wall with one main doorway separated the two until this latest set of renovations, when they planned to tear out sections of the brick. It's a good move - before, the place seemed a little cramped, and the extra space will really open it up inside. Signs with sayings like "Beer is the answer, but I can't remember the question" hang on the exposed brick and painted wood-panel walls. Whether you're sitting at the bar or on one of the sofas in the lounge area, it's impossible not to relax.

"No Idea" is the morning-after answer to the question "Dude, where did you go to drink last night?"

It's easy to get the name right, but let's hope you remember the address - after one visit you'll definitely want to go there again.

No Idea Tavern is at 1649 S. Hanover St. Hours are 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Fridays and noon-2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays. Call 410-685-4332 or visit

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