Bar has king-size mattresses for lounging, sipping, etc.

A visit to Baltimore's Club Bed

September 16, 2006|By Abigail Tucker | Abigail Tucker,Sun reporter

It's only 9:20 p.m., and already someone is passed out on one of the beds at the Den, a new Charles Village bar. Upon closer inspection, the person appears to be a waitress. She's sprawled in the posture of utter exhaustion: flat on her stomach, legs splayed, one arm tossed theatrically across the mounded pillows. People walk by, but she doesn't move.

On the other side of the dimly lit, microsuede-swaddled room, bartender Eric VandeLinde regards his collapsed server with sympathy. Happy hour was busy, and the present lull won't last.

"Let her sleep," the 26-year-old says. "We're only paying her, like, $2.18 an hour."

In which case her catnaps are worth much more than her salary. By the end of the night, revelers will be shelling out up to $300 for the privilege of reclining/smoking/canoodling/chugging/somersaulting on that king-size bed and three others like it, each surrounded by gleaming ice buckets and illuminated by little spotlights on the ceiling.

Inspired by bed bars and restaurants in cities such as Miami, New York and (in the Den's case) Beijing, the boudoir theme is becoming popular in some of the slinkier local nightclubs.

The Aqua Lounge created a Canton sensation last summer by setting up futons around a health club swimming pool. Brooklyn's new Club Mate features a room with two super-sized beds and filmy curtains, a setup that might tempt guests to live up to the venue's name.

Over the course of a night, these beds become whole social worlds, cushioned nooks that are exposed to the public gaze but feel private.

"Whatever happens in the beds, stays in the beds," says Andy Tran, a part-owner of Club Mate.

Officially, at least, the beds have more to do with status than sex. Monopolizing Club Mate's two beds for a night costs $1,500, a price that includes a personal bartender and security guard.

To claim a pallet at the Den, which opened just this summer, a party must purchase an expensive bottle of alcohol, be it $49 Louis Roederer Estate champagne or $295 Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

Securing a bed is therefore an impressive feat for a guy on a first date, or even for the groups of three or four who typically congregate on the Den's freshly laundered sheets (which are black, and hide even red wine stains).

"Beds are a really simple way to make a VIP lounge," VandeLinde explains.

Long division

Of course, the cachet diminishes when inebriated tribes of Hopkins students descend on a single bed, splitting the price 10 ways so everyone gets just a few sips of champagne and a square foot of mattress. This often happens on a weekend evening - "We're the last stop of the night for the entire senior class," VandeLinde warns. But the beds can definitely bear the weight, having been carefully tested.

"We've jumped on them," VandeLinde says, "really hard."

It's true, says Dave Weishaus, the bar's 25-year-old assistant manager. "You can dance on these beds."

Frequently, people do. They also eat filet mignon kabobs and crab spring rolls on them, administer massages, and cuddle.

But not Dennis Kim and Pete Hussey, two 30-year-old Hopkins graduates who are among the first post-happy-hour patrons to arrive. In the midst of a nostalgic pub crawl through their old stomping grounds, they're expecting the Den to be just another Charles Village bar, with beer scum on the floor and maybe a table or two.

Then they catch sight of the beds and the waitress, who's still not moving much. They stare.

"At first, I was like, `Are those couches?'" Kim says a few minutes later, from the safety of a barstool. "And then I saw somebody lying there."

The waitress presently resurrects herself and starts to serve drinks. A DJ uncoils his equipment in the corner, and new linens arrive from the laundry. As the crowd grows, the staff makes the beds.

"Whoa, this neighborhood has changed," Kim says.

"I still don't know if I'm in a swingers club or if someone just made a bad interior design choice," Hussey says.

Actually, drinking beds are staples of aristocratic decor, dating back to the ancient Romans, who liked to recline with their wine, or at least to that now ancient-seeming Season Six episode of Sex and the City, where Carrie and her crew hit a new restaurant with bunks instead of booths.

The Den's look is based on a bar in Beijing that a member of the management visited once, Weishaus says. At some point this fall, in fact, the regular beds will be swapped for antique-looking opium beds, which are now being custom-built - in Toronto, of all places.

The supposed appeal of bar beds is obvious: they combine two of man's favorite pleasures, lazing and boozing, and suggest a smooth transition to a third (although the Den beds, huge, candle-lit and piled high with pillows, are a far cry from the average college student's wretched single.)

Why, then, at 11 p.m. are all four still empty?

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