Singer-songwriters' creativity flows, as does the beer, at Red House Tavern

On Nightlife

April 17, 2008|By Sam Sessa

Baltimore needs more Red House Taverns.

You may not have heard of the Canton corner bar because it's semi-small and tucked away from the neighborhood's busier sections.

As far as bars go, Red House Tavern is pretty nondescript. A few people usually stand outside the brick building puffing on cigarettes, and inside, the usual tchotchkes clutter the walls. But a small, barely elevated stage sits in the back right corner. Open mikes and jam sessions happen three times a week, and local bands play most Friday and Saturday nights. There's never a cover charge.

In the past couple of years, Red House has made a name for itself in the local singer-songwriter community as a place where aspiring musicians can go to work out kinks in their songs.

At Red House, musicians can test original tunes and perform a few covers for a small but supportive audience. There aren't enough bars like it in this city, which is a shame.

I was pleasantly surprised by the service a couple of weeks ago.

When I ordered a Yuengling ($4), the bartender carded me, read my license, handed it back to me and said, "Here you go, Sam."

Then, about a half-hour later when I walked out, he said, "Goodbye, Sam."

That doesn't happen much at the bars I normally visit. And I'm sure it doesn't happen Friday and Saturday nights when the place is jammed. But it definitely makes me want to go back.

I was there on a Tuesday, which is the weekly acoustic open-mike night. For the average drinker, open-mike nights can be brutal. Sometimes a performer is so bad you can't help but cover your ears and chuckle.

Every once in a while, a band can blow you away. But most of the time, they're not good enough to impress you but not bad enough to laugh at. Those can be the worst acts to watch.

That night, one guy was sitting on stage warbling '90s covers and playing an acoustic guitar, while another acoustic guitarist stood near him and played lead.

They were nothing particularly memorable, but I'm sure they were nervous before getting on stage, and I'm sure they enjoyed themselves up there. That's what open-mike nights at a place like this are all about.

A couple dozen people in their 20s, 30s and 40s made up the crowd. They weren't captivated by the performers but supported the musicians with claps and cheers when they finished a song.

I only wish the bartender would have turned down the music just a little bit. Even in the far corner of the bar - away from the stage - it could be hard to hold a conversation. Cranking it up Fridays and Saturdays is fine by me, but acoustic open-mike nights shouldn't be quite so loud.

Parking right near Red House can be hard to find most nights. Chances are, you'll have to park on Boston Street and walk a couple of blocks. But if you're a local music lover looking for free live shows or if you're a singer-songwriter looking for a place to play, Red House is worth stopping by.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

Red House Tavern is at 2239 Essex St. Hours are 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. Call 410-522-3220 or go to myspace.com/redhousetavern.

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