Where to find free happy-hour buffets

ON NIGHTLIFE

September 14, 2006|By SAM SESSA

There are few better cures for a horrendous day at work than a free happy-hour buffet. But "free" doesn't always mean "good" when it comes to bar food. Here are three city bars with solid buffets and drink specials.

Kooper's Tavern

From 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. every Friday, Kooper's Tavern (1702 Thames St., 410-563-5423, koopers. com) produces this glorious spread of crab dip with pita chips, mussels and make-your-own fajitas. All drafts except for Black and Tan and Guinness are $2.50 (the two exceptions are $4) and rails are $3.

Last Friday, I asked for a glass of Kooper's Yellow Fin (which the bartender said was actually Clipper City Gold Ale with a different sticker on the tap), but the keg was kicked. So much for the house brew. Still, the free buffet was more than worth the trip to Fells Point.

Though the crab dip didn't have many lumps, I've definitely paid for worse. All-you-can-eat crab dip just for walking in the door? We're talking 9 out of 10 on the free food-o-meter, folks.

The best part was, virtually no one was in the place. I counted something like 10 people at the bar and another five or six at tables. The buffet was all mine! Of course, I ate too much, but the pain in my stomach was the price of victory.

Mt. Washington Tavern

Every weekday, Mt. Washington Tavern (5700 Newbury St., 410-367-6903, mtwashington tavern.com) has a free happy-hour buffet. Mondays are whatever the kitchen staff feels like (crackers, cheese, fruit, etc.), Tuesdays are buffalo wings, Wednesdays are quesadillas, Thursdays are oysters and Fridays are steamed shrimp.

The bar area has a cozy interior with a turn-of-the-century feel. There's wood everywhere and what look like wrought metal chandeliers with circular bulbs hanging from the ceiling.

When I went on a Tuesday a couple of weeks ago, the crowd was the oldest of the three bars. Most of the people there were in their 30s, 40s and 50s. There weren't many people, either, which meant a good number of decent-sized buffalo wings remained. The sauce was spicy, the service was friendly and quick and the crowd didn't hog the buffet. Satisfaction.

Rams Head Live

The tavern at Rams Head Live (20 Market Place in Power Plant Live, 410-244-8854, ramshead live.com) lays out happy-hour buffets five days a week. Drink specials run 4 p.m.-7 p.m. and include $2 Fordham drafts, $2.50 house wines and rails and a rotating list of drink specials.

Food is served 5 p.m.-7 p.m. The weekly lineup is: fajitas on Mondays, oysters or mussels and shrimp on Tuesdays, carved beef on Wednesdays, ahi tuna, egg rolls and edamame on Thursdays and wings on Fridays.

The place is only a couple of years old, and with all the nice brick and wood decor, it still looks a little too polished. An old-school Baltimore bar owner once told me the key to building a pub's character is to wipe, not scrub, and Rams Head Live could definitely benefit from the advice.

At both the other bars I went to, the food was in the background - something people munched on while having drinks and talking. But here, people lined up for the buffet like it was the main attraction.

When I went on mussel-and-shrimp night several weeks ago, it worked like this: Servers brought out new plates of food every 15 minutes or so, and the patrons picked them clean in five. If you wanted any shrimp, you had to be on your game and spot the wait staff as they walked out of the kitchen with the trays. Then you had to dash straight for the buffet tables. If you hesitated, you'd be at the back of the buffet line watching the dozen people ahead of you ravage the shrimp. The passive-aggressive food competition was fierce.

The shrimp were somewhere between small- and medium-sized, but they were free, and free shrimp almost always taste good. The mussels, cooked in an oil and garlic sauce, were also small but tasty.

The crowd ranged from people in their 20s up to people in their 30s and 40s. Service was slow, and ordering drinks from the bar turned into a longer ordeal than it should have been. But the food was free, and we put down our share and then some. I'll be going back for more.

Podcast

Sorry for the super-long break - I've been on vacation for a good chunk of the past couple weeks. There's a new podcast on hookah bars at baltimoresun.com/sessa.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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