Friends is a welcome stop, whether you're just starting out or heading back home

ON NIGHTLIFE

February 15, 2007|By SAM SESSA

Friends can be either a launching pad or rip cord for a night out in Fells Point.

If it's early, you can go there to have a couple of beers and warm up for the bigger, crazier bars like Max's Taphouse, Leadbetter's or downstairs at the Waterfront Hotel. Or, if you're exhausted from a night of loud noise and big crowds, you can head to Friends to cool down. Though decent-sized, Friends is an intimate place with a friendly, interesting crowd.

It's refreshing to find a bar just off Broadway where the Friday-night focus is conversation and good beer. While Friends can get semifull from time to time, I've never seen it stuffed.

Friends' decor adds to its warm, inviting atmosphere. The floor is done in classic black-and-white tiling, and the pressed tin ceiling has a pretty pattern. A good portion of the wall opposite the bar has several large murals done in what looks like chalk. Drinks and menu items are written next to detailed scenes of people hanging out and drinking at - of all places - Friends. It's much cooler than the usual corkboard of random patron photographs you see in most bars.

Hipsters, indie kids and art fans flock to Friends. On any given night, you'll see some tattooed punksters at the bar and post-college partyers shooting pool in the back. When Reptilian Records was in Fells Point, owner Chris Xavier and some of his patrons would drop by now and then.

Friends also has one of the best jukeboxes in Fells Point. It's loaded with tasty selections - everything from the Beach Boys to Led Zeppelin to the MC5 to Wilco. Usually, the crowd knows how to pick a solid play list. One recent night, we heard Van Morrison's "Jackie Wilson Said (I'm In Heaven When You Smile)," Zeppelin's "Moby Dick" and Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run" in a row. The music can get loud, but it never overpowers the crowd. You don't have to scream to be heard.

There's only one major drawback to Friends as far as I'm concerned - the temperature of the men's room this time of year. When you walk down the short, narrow hallway to get to it, you can start to feel a cold front setting in.

Step inside the bathroom, and the chill hits you like a slap in the face. One time, I think I actually saw my breath in there. I'm not sure whether the radiator is broken or what, but the problem definitely needs to be fixed.

Beer-wise, Friends is right on point. The list of about 15 drafts includes Brewer's Art Resurrection, Magic Hat #9 and Yuengling. When you walk up to the bar to order drinks, look for a little metal plaque on the edge of the bar. It reads "To All My Friends" - a quote from Barfly.

Written by novelist and poet Charles Bukowski, Barfly portrays a slice of his life in the slums of Los Angeles. In one scene in the '80s movie version, Mickey Rourke blows a bunch of cash by ordering round after round for the whole bar. He toasts the crowd by saying "To All My Frieeeeends." He's a crazy, carefree bum showing some love to fellows in an L.A. dive.

Though they're not constantly ordering drinks for the whole bar, most of the folks at Friends share that sentiment.

Friends is at 1634 Aliceanna St. For more information, call 410-732-3885.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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