New bar -- Don't Know -- is instantly comfortable

ON NIGHTLIFE

May 31, 2007

It's tough to tastefully turn a local dive into a laid-back party spot for the post-college crowd.

Something usually gets lost along the way.

When I first heard Single Fin's, a low, low-key watering hole on the 1400 block of Light Street, had been taken over by new owners, I was a little disappointed. I'd been there only a couple of times, but I liked the $2 beers and the deer bust and Ravens jerseys on the walls.

I felt better after finding out the new bosses were Stephen "Pipes" Gronowski and Jason Zink, who also run No Idea Tavern a few blocks away on South Hanover Street. With the pool table, shuffleboard, couches and Golden Tee, No Idea feels like your cool friend's basement bar -- only filled with a few dozen random people.

Pipes and Zink used the same mold for the old Single Fin's space, which they slightly revamped and renamed Don't Know Tavern. Both bar names are the answer to the question "Where were you last night?" Don't Know opened earlier this month, and already I'm sensing the duo has another hit.

My friend Mike and I went last Saturday night, and we were shocked to find the place comfortably full. It's been open only a couple of weeks, but word must have spread fast.

Location-wise, Don't Know has a few obstacles to overcome, including a few boarded-up buildings nearby. It's hard to imagine people walking to this part of Light Street. But the Bicycle, an upscale bistro right across the street, draws plenty of patrons, so why not Don't Know? If you build it, they might come. If you build it and run it well, they will.

A handful of large leather sofas and chairs sit near the windows at the front of the building. Walk in and the bar is an island in the middle of the fairly wide space. The deer head is still on the wall, though now it rocks sunglasses and has a cigarette dangling from its mouth (recent additions, I believe). A pool table is in back, as well as a long shuffleboard table and a couple of arcade games. Don't Know is also smoke-free, which is fine by me.

The music selection was surprising: the Beatles, the Beach Boys and Sublime were all on the play list. I haven't heard many Beatles songs at bars, and hearing some Beach Boys was also a treat.

Don't Know has about a dozen beers on tap, including Magic Hat #9 and Sierra Nevada. The beers cost about $5 and come in 20-ounce glasses. It's no $2, but it's not too bad either.

Spotty service is to be expected, considering Don't Know just opened, and this is Baltimore. Last week, the two bartenders were definitely overwhelmed by the number of people at the bar. It took a while to get a couple of beers, which was a little frustrating.

Later on, when I was sitting at a table, a guy walked up and asked if I wanted a refill. I said sure, and he brought me another beer, which he said was on the house, since he was having a good night. Then he said something I couldn't understand and walked off. I go to great pains to make sure people don't know what I look like, and I don't think he recognized me as a nightlife reporter. So I'll give Don't Know's staff serious extra points for the free beer.

While we did see some meatheads, most of Don't Know's patrons were average twentysomethings looking for a fun evening out. You can have a conversation, which isn't possible at MaGerk's or Mother's on Friday and Saturday nights.

Pipes and Zink have good things going with No Idea and the nearby Don't Know. I don't know what their plans are, but I'd like to see them expand to other spots in the neighborhood. Can we get a Not Sure Pub or a Beats Me Bar?

Single Fin's transformation into Don't Know Tavern was bad for the natives who used to sip $2 drafts there but good for post-college yuppies who needed a place to hang out at this end of Light Street. Hey, Pipes and Zink -- keep 'em coming.

Don't Know Tavern is at 1453 Light St.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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