Few bars get such a drastic makeover in such a short time.
The Wharf Rat, a longtime staple in the city's downtown bar scene, closed for renovations in late January. When it opened early this month as the Pratt Street Ale House, the difference was stunning.
Gone was the dark, amicably cluttered Wharf Rat, with its wood floors stained from countless pints of spilled beer. In its place was an immaculately clean (though I'm sure that will change with time), open pub, fully stocked with flat-screen TVs and surround-sound speakers.
Owner Justin Dvorkin and general manager Justin Damadio must have invested a ton of time and money into the renovations. I dropped by on a weekday around dinnertime and was dumbfounded at how different the place looked. There is now an upstairs bar and a rustic-looking dining room, as well as what appear to be brand-new bathrooms.
But for all that has changed, the most important part has stayed the same: The place is still a brew pub. Dvorkin and Damadio kept all of the old beer recipes and retained the services of brewmaster Steve Jones. Fans of the old Oliver Ales (which are slowly being changed over to Pratt Street Ales, the bartender told me) will be relieved.
I had an Oliver Blonde Ale ($4.50), which was a tasty sip on an uncommonly warm winter evening. I sat in the downstairs bar, where a dozen or so lamps hung from a gray-painted pressed tin ceiling. The floor - wood with patches of black and white tiling - looked to be new. And by my count, this one room had eight flat-screen TVs and 10 speakers.
This might get me in trouble, but I'm going to put it out there anyway: I think too many flat-screen TVs in a bar like this one can be a bad thing. I know Dvorkin and Damadio are trying to make the Ale House into a place where you can watch any game your heart desires. I respect that. But eight big TVs in one room is a little over the top.
Keep in mind, this is just my opinion. I know there are plenty of people who say "the more flat screens, the better." So I understand where Dvorkin and Damadio are coming from.
The renovations turned the charming Wharf Rat into the streamlined Pratt Street Ale House. Plenty of character was lost in the process, but I think the Ale House will appeal to a much wider audience. The evening I was there - a non-Orioles, non-Ravens night, mind you - the place was full of customers.
Dvorkin and Damadio deserve plenty of credit for turning the Wharf Rat into the Ale House so quickly. Fans of the old Wharf Rat (myself included) might not love the Ale House right away, but I'm sure it will be a hit with sports fans and convention-goers. And as long as they keep brewing good ales, the old Wharf Rat crew will come around soon enough.
The Quarter opens
The Quarter, a live music venue located inside Bourbon Street (316 Guilford Ave.), recently made its debut.
It's kind of in Bourbon Street and kind of not, actually. The Quarter has a separate entrance, lighting rig, ticket booth, bathrooms and its own access to the rooftop deck, said Sam Chaney, general manager of Bourbon Street, in an e-mail. Paul Manna of 24-7 Entertainment (it books the Recher Theatre, among others) will be scheduling national, regional and local bands at The Quarter on a regular basis. The Quarter holds about 500 people, which only takes up one-third of Bourbon Street's space.
A new bar and restaurant called The Reserve is coming to the space at 1542 Light St. where Charlotte's used to be. The Reserve will feature upscale pub food, outdoor seating and occasionally some low-key live music, according to co-owner Andrew Dunlap.
Dunlap wants The Reserve to have a good wine list and a great selection of beers on tap. He said there are plans to give the building a massive face lift. Dunlap seemed to be aware of the building's rocky history when it comes to live music. He doesn't want to rock the boat with the neighborhood association by having full bands play there.
"If anything, we'll do a couple acoustic bands in there and keep the noise down," he said. "We want to be friendly to our neighborhood."
if you go
The Pratt Street Ale House is at 206 W. Pratt St. Hours are 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. Call 410-244-
8900 or go to prattstreet