It's the same bar scene - just in a different city.
In the past few years, a handful of Baltimore bars have opened sister locations or moved to Bel Air. There, Sean Bolan's Irish Pub, Looney's Pub, Ropewalk Tavern and MaGerk's Pub and Grill are all within walking distance of one another. Now it's possible to do a Baltimore bar crawl in Bel Air.
Last weekend, I went to Ropewalk and MaGerk's in Bel Air and felt as if I were in Federal Hill. Though they're almost a 45-minute drive from the city, both of these Bel Air bars have the same atmosphere and draw the same crowd as their downtown counterparts.
The Bel Air Ropewalk (117 S. Main St., Bel Air, 410-420-1392), which throws its second anniversary party Tuesday, is huge. It has two stories with multiple seating areas, several bars and a rooftop deck. Last weekend, a live band played cover songs on a small stage downstairs while a DJ spun upstairs.
Just like the Baltimore location, life-size statues of former President Ronald Reagan and Native Americans keep watch throughout the place. My friends and I hung out upstairs where it was less crowded. Then the DJ turned on this cheesy spinning light, which drove us downstairs.
The service at Bel Air's Ropewalk was much quicker than at Baltimore's. Two tasty McHenry drafts cost about $8 and came in no time - despite the sizable crowd. The bartenders were really on their game.
MaGerk's (120 S. Bond St., Bel Air, 410-638-7701) is housed in a long, one-story building which looks as if it was once a pancake house. The main bar stretches down the left side as you walk in. It was packed by 11 p.m. last weekend, so my friends and I kept walking until we hit the end.
A second bar in back was much less crowded. The walls and ceiling were wood paneling, which gave the place a '70s ski lodge feel. We scored three barstools and hung out away from much of the fuss.
A loud crowd of twentysomethings peppered with meatheads is usually a constant at both Ropewalk and MaGerk's locations. But MaGerk's patrons are always rowdier.
One of MaGerk's house specialties, called Trash Can Punch, helped fuel the fun. The bartenders add blue curacao to a Long Island iced tea, fill the glass most of the way and set a full, open can of Red Bull upside down on the top. It's served with three straws and costs $9.
Unwilling to fork over that much money for a mixed drink, we stuck to draft beers, which were $3.50 to $4.50. The back bar at MaGerk's had only four or five beers on tap, and it was out of Yuengling, so we drank Bass.
Spending a night inside both bars brought on some serious deja vu. I was surprised at how big they both were, and I didn't expect to see so many people inside.
I liked Ropewalk better, because you could see a live band for free downstairs or go upstairs and talk in relative peace. MaGerk's had some quieter spots, but they got louder as the night went on. Also, MaGerk's has a jukebox only and was much smokier inside.
Bar-wise, Bel Air is becoming a mini-Baltimore. It's great to see well-known Baltimore party spots like Ropewalk, MaGerk's and Looney's expand there. But let's pause this trend for a little while and let more Bel Air-based bars like DuClaw Brewing Co. open.
More Ropewalk news
The downtown Ropewalk Tavern is growing. Marc McFaul, who opened Ropewalk Tavern in Federal Hill with his brother Bill and owns the Bel Air location, said they plan to start an Irish pub called McFaul's in the building next to Ropewalk. Work starts on the new space - which will be connected to Ropewalk - in the coming weeks, he said.
"We've always wanted to open an Irish pub," he said. "This is our chance."
Ropewalk Tavern in Bel Air throws its two-year anniversary party at 5 p.m. Tuesday. There is a free dinner buffet and dollar drinks until 8 p.m. After 8 p.m. select drinks are $2. Party proceeds go to the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Foundation.