Spirits Tavern in Fells Point makes for a great local-bar haunt

ON NIGHTLIFE

August 21, 2008|By SAM SESSA

When Chad Ellis and his father, Dan, bought a Fells Point corner bar a couple of years ago, they didn't change it much.

Instead, they looked back on old-school Baltimore bars for inspiration.

"We noticed the old bars were going away, and we wanted to keep the spirit of the old Baltimore pubs," Chad Ellis said.

But that's only part of the reason they named it Spirits Tavern.

Turns out, this bar was a funeral home during the Civil War, and Ellis thinks some of the spirits stuck around. He says he has seen figures in the mirrors and felt fingers run through his hand when no one else is in the room. Patrons have seen toilet paper spin off the rolls and objects fly off the walls for no reason, he said.

"There's always been these strange occurrences on the premises," he said.

Unfortunately, my friend Joe and I didn't see anything out of the ordinary when we went a couple of weeks ago. But we did decide we'd be back soon.

One of the first things you notice when you walk in is this big painting by local artist Danny Bennett. Almost all of the people depicted in his works look sick, demonic or at least a little demented, and this one's no exception. Like the rest of the bar, it's done in dark tones and has an antiquated feel.

Spirits has 10 beers on tap, ranging from Guinness to local favorites like Clipper City. They also have a solid wine selection. An old-fashioned glass absinthe fountain sits on a counter behind the bar. When we asked the bartender about it, she discouraged us from trying it. The new absinthe isn't the same as the vintage stuff and isn't worth drinking, she said. So we steered clear and stuck to $3 glasses of Clipper City all night.

Since Spirits is surrounded by rowhouses, finding nearby parking after hours can be a pain. We ended up parking at a metered spot near South Broadway, about four blocks away.

There's also a pool table by the front door, and games are free. All the time. I've always thought simple bar games like pool and darts should be free anyway, and I'm tickled when I find a place that agrees with me. Sure, a pool table costs money at first, and most bar owners hope to make that money back by charging a buck a game. But patrons are more likely to play pool if it's free, and they'll probably drink more if they're doing something mindless like playing pool instead of just sitting at the bar. Just a thought.

Spirits has an ornate, carved wood bar back that you could spend an hour admiring. Back in the day, they really made things to last, and it's a shame you don't see more of these in new bars.

Our bartender kept our glasses full and played music from her laptop all night. She had "Theme From Shaft" in heavy rotation (we probably heard it three times in two hours) to honor the late Isaac Hayes, but tossed in some Iggy Pop and The Beatles for good measure.

Come midnight, Joe and I were the only people in the bar besides the bartender. Ellis said business has slowed significantly since the smoking ban took effect, and they're looking into an exemption. But he's not too confident that will help - they've already got the place up for sale.

So get to Spirits before Ellis sells the place. Whether or not you saw something strange, you'd be having good drinks in a great corner bar.

Spirits Tavern is at 1901 Bank St. Hours are 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Mondays-Saturdays. For more information, call 410-563-1612.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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