Abbey Burger isn't rare, but it's well done

ON NIGHTLIFE

November 20, 2008|By SAM SESSA | SAM SESSA,sam.sessa@baltsun.com

Federal Hill isn't exactly starved for pubs.

There's MaGerk's and Muggsy's and Crazy Lil's and Dog Pub and ... well, you get the picture.

So I have to admit, when I heard a new brick-and-wood bar called the Abbey Burger Bistro had replaced Sky Lounge Tango Tapas in the South Baltimore neighborhood, I wasn't that pumped. But after visiting the Abbey twice in two weeks, I think it won't have too much trouble distinguishing itself from the neighborhood's many other pubs.

The first time I stopped by was Nov. 7 - the Abbey's opening night. As a rule, I never review a place the day it debuts (that would be incredibly unfair). But I did get to see the drastic changes owner Russell Miller made to the place.

Miller spearheaded a thorough renovation, which included tearing out all the drywall to reveal the exposed brick, opening up a couple of bricked-in windows and installing a wood floor and bar upstairs.

"It turned out nice," said Miller, a former manager of the neighboring Ryleigh's Oyster.

"It's got an older feel, with a little more character," he said.

The exposed brick walls really open up the space, and Miller's decision to put the bathrooms along the far back wall was a good one. The men's and women's bathrooms are right across from each other, and share two communal sinks in the middle. This sounds weird and takes some getting used to, but it works.

Miller has big plans for the drink list. It will eventually include six to eight beers on tap and 60 or 70 bottles. He wants the bottled selection to focus primarily on Belgian beers and others such as Merry Monks' Ale. Oh, and let's not forget Federal Hill favorites Miller Lite, Coors and Budweiser. Yum.

The Abbey will also offer about 30 wines, ranging from $6 a glass to $40 to $50 a bottle.

Though the Abbey's drink list isn't quite that long yet, it's well on its way. That first night, I had a delicious bottle of Duvel, and my friend Greg had a micro-brew with a funky name I can't remember. Our tab came to $13, which is acceptable for two fancy beers.

The bartender didn't know much about the beers they had, but that's OK, considering the bar wasn't even fully stocked yet.

Last Friday night, my fiancee, Amie, a couple of friends and I returned to the Abbey for dinner and drinks. We ended up getting dinner and drinks - just not in that order.

When we got there about 7:30 p.m., the downstairs was packed. The only open seats were a couple bar stools, which we claimed. We waved down a bartender and ordered drinks: Amie had the house pinot noir, which was served in a stubby, stemless glass. I had a light, wheaty Reading draft.

Seating is on a first-come, first-serve basis at the Abbey, and the upstairs dining room wasn't ready for people yet the night we were there. So we camped out at the bar and waited for a table to open up. After about 20 minutes, one did. But a couple who had arrived after us swooped in and sat down at the thick wood table before we could.

When we told the couple we were there first, they said the server sat them, and if we have a problem with that, talk to the server. We did have a problem with that, and when we confronted the server about it, he reluctantly made the couple move. We apologized for the confusion as he was seating us, and he mumbled something to the effect of, "Well, you're the ones doing the review, so ... "

Now, I don't exactly keep my identity a secret. If you've seen the photo of me that accompanies this column, you already know that. But this was the first time I've been out for a nightlife column and a bar has not only spotted me but told me they know I'm there for a review. It was awkward and unnecessary. Whether or not we were there to review the place, we still deserved that table. That server can mutter all he wants - we waited our turn just like everybody else.

As the name suggests, the Abbey specializes in high-end burgers. But the kitchen is still getting up to speed - it took about 90 minutes for our four burgers to arrive. No biggie, though. When you're in a bar with a big drink list, it's easy to kill time.

Did Federal Hill really need a place like the Abbey? That's hard to say. But I think it's a much better fit than Sky Lounge. I went back to the Abbey for seconds, and I'll bet other people will, too.

Double Dagger signing

Last week, the Baltimore punk trio Double Dagger was signed to Chicago-based indie label Thrill Jockey Records.

Double Dagger is recording a new album, which Thrill Jockey could release next year, according to the label's press agent, David Halstead.

"We're super-excited to have them with us," Halstead said. "I think we've signed half of Baltimore now."

Halstead isn't too far from the truth - Daniel Higgs, Arbouretum, Thank You and a number of other Charm City acts are on Thrill Jockey.

Congrats, fellas! You can see Double Dagger live when the Baltimore Round Robin Tour comes to Sonar on Dec. 19.

Timberlake at Power Plant

Justin Timberlake was in town Nov. 10 for a tour of Power Plant Live, sources tell me.

Not much is open at Power Plant Live on Mondays, which makes me wonder why he dropped by. Maybe he's thinking about making an investment in the entertainment district or doing a free show there. Maybe he will bring sexy back to Power Plant Live. I'm not sure.

if you go

The Abbey is at 1041 Marshall St. It's open for dinner seven days a week. Hours are 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Tuesdays-Sundays. Call 443-453-9698.

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