Mardi Gras beads were on the bars and pulsing beats were in the air Friday night at the new Bourbon Street super-club.
It was Ladies Night, which meant women got in and drank for free. Bourbon Street was primed for partying; all that was missing were the people.
At 11 p.m., Baltimore's newest mega-club was less than a third full. I scratched my head and hoped it was a fluke, because Bourbon Street has a lot going for it.
True to its history, the building (which formerly housed Hammerjack's) has a warehouse vibe. But wood floors, hanging lamps and other renovations add plenty of warmth to the space. We certainly felt safe: Last weekend, enough security guards to keep half the clubs in this city locked down stood watch outside.
On Ladies Night, cover for guys is $10, and a Coors Light bottle is $4.50. Guess the club has to make up for free admissions and drinks somewhere.
The lower level is divided into several areas, which helps a big building (it holds about 2,500) feel more intimate. To get to the main dance floor, you walk through a large, ornate, circular entranceway.
We saw small piles of green beads lying on the bars and the occasional bargoer with one around his neck. Though Bourbon Street wants to tap into the New Orleans party vibe, I didn't see any of the bead-swapping shenanigans for which New Orleans is known.
Getting a drink was no problem - I counted at least five bars on the first floor alone - and the beers came quick. The women can pick up red plastic cups (like the ones you'd get at a college party) near the door and get free beers and rail drinks. My fiancee, Amie, had a gin and tonic (light on the gin), and our friend Marianne had a disgustingly sweet Sex on the Beach, which she later traded for a beer.
Bourbon Street is the brainchild of Jim Temple, a lawyer who represented the original Hammerjack's and helped run Iguana Cantina for about three years. He hopes to bring live bands to Bourbon Street on a regular basis starting in a couple of months.
All told, renovations cost about $1 million, Temple said. One of Bourbon Street's biggest selling points is its wooden rooftop deck, complete with palm trees. Patrons can use the deck to catch some fresh air without leaving the club, and smokers can get their fix with drinks in hand. There aren't too many Baltimore bars with decks like Bourbon Street's.
"We spent a lot of money in decorations," Temple said. "It's become its own advertisement. People see it from I-83, and it really catches their eye."
I was excited to see this deck for myself last weekend, but the second and third levels were closed off. There must not have been enough people to justify opening them. Sigh.
Since the dance floor was mostly empty, we hung out in a side room. The Mel Gibson flick What Women Want was being played on one of the flat-screen TVs by the bar. I wondered why, then I realized, duh, it was Ladies Night. Nice touch, Bourbon Street.
Images from both vintage and new music videos and films were projected onto the brick wall above the bar. Bourbon Street must have a video DJ, because the clips were in sync with the beats. It was pretty hilarious to watch.
Just like at the Virgin Mobile Festival, you can whip out your cell phone and text a message to a phone number displayed on the wall, and, in time, the message will scroll across the wall. We got to see some real gems.
Bourbon Street opened in mid-September but held its grand-opening party at the tail end of that month. Judging from Friday, it looks like the buzz has died down. Now comes the real test: Can Bourbon Street sustain itself?
I like Ladies Night and the Saturday night special, during which cover is free before 11 p.m. and $5 afterward, and it looks like Temple is trying to draw the 18-and-older college crowd Thursdays.
Temple thinks he can make Bourbon Street stick. I believe him.
"We feel very confident about what we're going to do," Temple said. "Like any club, it's going to take some time. But we're familiar with Baltimore. We're not coming from another jurisdiction and starting here. You have to know Baltimore."
I hope Temple's plan pays off. It would be a shame to see a space like Bourbon Street sit idle.
The Metropolitan Coffeehouse and Wine Bar is back in business at 902 S. Charles St. After closing for several months because of an electrical fire, the Metro has the same inviting atmosphere and easygoing service. The dark wood shelves behind the bar looked new, as did the tables and chairs in the first-floor dining room. The beer and wine list appeared to be as long as ever.
The espresso martinis (one of the Metro's selling points) are still tasty but come in significantly smaller portions. I blame the recession.
Suddenly, it's cool to be a Baltimore musician.
The Baltimore-based experimental group Human Host recently learned while on tour that people in some cities came to its gigs just because its members are from Baltimore, whose experimental music scene is exploding.
One concertgoer went up to band member Mike Apichella and said, "I heard if you go to Baltimore, your childhood never ends."
Apichella was a little stunned but thought about it for a minute and kind of understood what the person meant.
"Somebody that didn't know anything about Baltimore and made all their judgments about Baltimore from being exposed to [experimental arts and music collective] Wham City would think Baltimore must be this day care center on acid - the entire city," Apichella said.
(Un)fortunately, it is not.
if you go
316 Guilford Ave.
Open Thursdays-Saturdays. Call 410-528-8377 or go to bourbonstreetbaltimore.com.