Highlandtown bar upgrades without chasing off the neighborhood regulars


November 09, 2006|By SAM SESSA

As the city's neighborhoods transition from blue collar to young professional, corner bars are usually revamped to suit the new residents.

Flat-screen TVs and local artwork replace beer logos and sports memorabilia, microbrews take over taps once dominated by Budweiser, and prices go up a couple of bucks. But it's really tough to drastically change a bar without driving off its old clientele.

When Shannon Cassidy bought an old Highlandtown corner pub called Casey's, she wanted to find that middle ground.

"I loved the area, I loved what was happening with the area, and I went for it," Cassidy said.

Seven weeks after Cassidy re-opened the bar as the Laughing Pint, both Highlandtown old-timers and newer neighborhood residents comfortably mingle inside. She made some alterations but kept enough of the old atmosphere to make both groups happy.

"The neighborhood, I know, is definitely changing," Cassidy said. "I don't want to take away from the people that have already been there and what's already there."

Casey's, named after a previous owner, was dark and brown and had no working taps, Cassidy said. She kept the ancient shuffleboard table and electric scoreboard -- probably dating back to the 1940s, she said -- and the pool table. Fresh coats of red and gray paint were added inside, and some artwork went up, but the bar is sparsely decorated otherwise.

The video poker machines were scrapped in favor of a Multicade game. Cassidy also discarded the old broken tap system and installed four new taps, serving Guinness, Clipper City Loose Cannon IPA, McHenry and Yuengling -- far from the usual big-name domestic brands. You can get Budweiser, Miller, Coors and the others in cans or bottles, or, you can go for a glass of Australian chardonnay or shiraz.

Highlandtown isn't exactly known for its wine connoisseurs, but the regulars really took to the stuff, Cassidy said. She's surprised at how much she's sold already.

"It's just off the wall," Cassidy said. "I'm selling like crazy. It's unbelievable."

Most of the drafts are $3 (glasses of Guinness are $4) and the wines are $4. But tax is not included, which means you wind up with handfuls of coins at the end of the night. Cassidy might have picked up this annoying practice at Club Charles, where she used to tend bar. She also managed the bar at Gardel's before opening the Laughing Pint.

Though she gets help bartending every once in a while from a friend, Cassidy is the main bartender at the Laughing Pint. She's there pretty much every day it's open. Considering how well Cassidy runs the place, it's not surprising how everyone feels at ease there. She's warm and friendly, and, in turn, so are her customers.

"They're wonderful people, and they're excited that these things are happening in their neighborhood," Cassidy said. "They're the reason I'm able to function. Without them, we would have no bar."

The Laughing Pint is at 3531 Gough St. It's open 3 p.m.-1 a.m. Mondays-Fridays and 2 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturdays. Call 410-342-6544.


Listen to my new podcast, the first in a three-part Fort Avenue bar crawl series, at baltimoresun.com/sessa.


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