A sure-fire way to warm up a cold night


November 02, 2006|By SAM SESSA

As fall settles into Fells Point and chilly nights numb fingers, Bertha's has the ultimate cure for cold snaps.

Hot buttered rum.

A mug filled with the homemade concoction is almost worth the misery of colder months.

When the weather turns brisk, the Bertha's crew starts rolling brown sugar and butter into lumps. They almost look like little cookies, said general manager Andy Norris.

"I think if you would bake it, it would kind of come out like a ginger snap," he said.

Bertha's autumn elves add the doughy balls to a mug of hot water, pour in a shot of Gosling's dark rum and stir it with a cinnamon stick. For $4.75, you get a steaming mug of delicious hot buttered rum.

"It's hard to go wrong with it," Norris said. "It really is. It's just tasty."

We're about three weeks into hot buttered rum season. The warmth starts in your belly and spreads, thawing your freezing fingertips before you're through the mug. The atmosphere helps.

"On a cold day, something about stepping into that small, cozy [place] ... it really warms you up," Norris said.

Most of the narrow bar is lit by red string lights and lanterns. A host of odd trinkets, dolls, figurines and decals fill the place. Norris' father, Tony, who started Bertha's in the early '70s, loves to collect such tchotchkes. Tony's house is decorated a lot like Bertha's, Andy said.

"It's not just the bar -- it's him," Andy said. "He finds things, he picks them up, puts them in a corner. The more dust they collect, the more he starts to like it."

A chunk of one wall is a shrine to the famous bright green "Eat Bertha's Mussels" bumper sticker. Tony helped come up with the idea shortly after he and his wife, Laura, opened Bertha's.

"He chose purposefully not to put location or address or any kind of stuff like that on there to pique people's curiosity," the younger Norris said of his father.

On the wall, customers have chopped up the bumper sticker to make new slogans. "Eat Bart's Shorts," "Eat Bertha's Beehive," "Heat Dante's Inferno" and "Bernard Is On A Pottie" are some of the ones PC enough to print. Most others would color your cheeks as much as the hot buttered rum.

The house ale is Bertha's Best Bitter. Oliver Breweries Ltd. at the Wharf Rat on Pratt Street makes the smooth, noncarbonated beer from Tony's recipe, Norris said. The late-night menu includes a cheap and tasty shepherd's pie ($4.25) and a Scotch egg. The latter consists of a hard-boiled egg covered in sausage and fried the way Norris' grandmother used to make them.

Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday nights, local musicians set up in the nook by the Broadway entrance and roll through jazz, roots rock and blues jams. There's never a cover charge -- on live music nights, the bar adds 50 cents to drink prices instead.

Considering the way the musicians are tucked into this corner of Bertha's, the music should end up sounding like a muffled, garbled mess. But every band I've heard play there sounds good.

The only way I can explain it is, the older a bar gets and the more live music that's played there, the better it gets. Most places steeped in great live blues and jazz long enough will eventually sound good. Other places in Fells Point are like this -- especially the Full Moon Saloon. Call it sonic aging.

"That's the thing," Norris said. "Let it go and take it from there."

With a solid jazz band playing, a bowl of shepherd's pie on the table and a mug of hot buttered rum in hand, the chill melts right away.

Bertha's, at South Broadway and Lancaster Street in Fells Point, is open 11:30 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. Live music starts about 9:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. Call 410-327-5795 or go to berthas.com.


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