American revolution at Tyson's Tavern is paying off

On Nightlife

November 08, 2007|By Sam Sessa

Tyson's Tavern makes much more sense as a Baltimore-centric bar.

Until recently, it was a British pub, serving foreign food and suds. The new owners have swapped the U.K. beer for microbrews and a bigger wine list; local artwork now hangs in the dining room where British pieces once were.

Since Dean Zlomke and Tom Dinsmore took over in May, they have injected some hometown pride into Tyson's, and also helped strengthen the bar's connection to its storied past.

"Neither Tom nor I are British," Zlomke said. "We want to go more toward the history of the building. We want to make it a neighborhood place where people feel comfortable coming."

They're succeeding. On a recent Thursday night, electric guitarist Abe Reid ground out dirty Piedmont blues from his seat by the door while patrons mostly sat and drank at the bar. Some watched TV, others talked. My friend Justin and I claimed one of the booths across from the bar. The dining room in back was empty.

Oliver Ironman Pale Ale and Sam Adams Oktoberfest were two of the six beers on tap. Each costs $4, and the bar also stocks about 30 microbrews and imports.

Zlomke, a former wine manager at Fleming's Prime Steakhouse and Wine Bar in Harbor East, has expanded the wine list. Though the list rotates regularly, you can pick from about 20 wines. They range from $5 to $7 per glass.

You can't smoke inside Tyson's Tavern, but if you want to fire up a cigar or cigarette, you can sit at one of the wooden tables outside.

The service is sharp and attentive -- whether you're inside or out. The staff was quick to offer refills and help us decide what we wanted to order. Granted, the place wasn't packed when we were there, but you still don't see that level of service in many Baltimore bars.

A brief history of Tyson's Tavern is printed on the back of the menus. There is a tunnel underneath the bar that stretches back near Patterson Park and dates to the early 1800s, Zlomke said. He thinks it was used to get supplies from the waterfront to the area near the park during the War of 1812. Later, it may have been used to smuggle slaves.

In the 1800s, brewers used the natural stream that runs under Tyson's to help make beer. According to Zlomke and Dinsmore -- who have definitely done their homework -- Tyson's was the original site of the National Brewing Co. As such, Natty Bohs are always $1.

A wooden sign that reads "Baltimore" hangs on the wall behind the bar. It's another piece of Baltimore heritage -- a decoration from the Charter House, one of the first restaurants to open in the revamped Inner Harbor in the late 1970s, Zlomke said.

Zlomke and Dinsmore bring in local musicians a few nights a week from 8 p.m. to midnight. Most are either acoustic singer/songwriters playing alone, but some bring a friend or two. For a bar, the space has a pretty good sound.

"Every musician that's played here loves the acoustics here," Zlomke said. "This is a great place to hear wonderful musicians."

Tyson's is also a great place for a pint. You can lay low there on a weeknight or make it a stop on a neighborhood bar tour on a Friday or Saturday night. Kisling's Tavern is nearby if you want to crank it up a notch. Either way, Tyson's is worth a visit.

Tyson's Tavern is at 2112 Fleet St. Hours are 4 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Saturdays and noon-2 a.m. Sundays. Live music starts at 8 p.m. most nights. Call 410-342-2112 or go to

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