I had no idea Howard County was so thirsty.
Only a couple weeks after the new Looney's South opened in Fulton, the Irish pub was absolutely swamped. Advertising? Who needs advertising? The place didn't even have a sign outside yet, and it was still stuffed with people.
Looney's South is the third location of the successful franchise that started in Canton as Looney's Pub. There is also Looney's North in Bel Air, which opened in September 2002. Looney's South opened in Howard County in mid-March. Judging from the size of the crowd last Friday night, it's already a hit.
Looney's South looks like it will appeal to hard partyers in their 20s and 30s. The bar sits in an outdoor shopping plaza with plenty of parking. Even so, the lot near Looney's was jammed with cars the night I went. A handful of smokers stood outside the bar chatting, and one of them spoke in bar voice.
Ever heard someone talk in bar voice? It's a (pretty lame) term I use to describe the obnoxiously loud, often raspy voice that post-college guys use when they have had a few drinks. Looney's was abuzz with bar voice that night.
This particular young fellow outside the place noticed a friend of his, and said, in bar voice, "HEY! WHAT'S UP, DUDE?" His friend, for some unfathomable reason, must not have heard him, and kept walking.
Mr. Bar Voice didn't give up trying. "HEY! HE'S GONNA WALK RIGHT BY ME. LOOK! HEY MAN! HEY!"
Finally, his friend realized what was going on, stopped and said hello. Whew. For a second there, I thought a fight was about to break out. Ignoring anybody who speaks in bar voice is a dangerous idea. You never know what might happen.
Set foot inside Looney's, and you realize right away that the owners spent a lot of money on the place. There is barely a foot of wall space that doesn't have a flat-screen TV on it: big TVs, small TVs, medium-sized TVs, positioned on every wall inside the long, rectangular room. I lost count after the first couple dozen. Its cable bill must be monstrous.
A long bar is opposite the entrance, but at 10 p.m., there were so many people at the bar it would have taken too long to get a drink. Thankfully, the Looney's folks had set up a beer station (read: a plastic tub filled with ice and bottles of domestic beer) by the door. A bottle of Miller Lite cost $4. City drink prices have crept out to the county, I see.
That night, Looney's was charging a $5 cover to support the band Full Effect. It's funny how many Baltimoreans tend to get all bent out of shape when they have to pay a cover charge, but county residents don't seem to care half as much.
Looney's South has a stage and a professional lighting rig set up by one end. The stage is big and the dance floor is small, considering the size of the place. When I was there, the music was kept at a reasonable volume.
Full Effect is a party band that played all covers while I was there, and it did a pretty decent job. The six-piece band cranked out versions of "Are You Gonna Go My Way" by Lenny Kravitz and "Cupid's Chokehold" by Gym Class Heroes (a song which samples a Supertramp tune). The lead singer could scream with the best of them, but had some minor problems with pitch and projection when it came to simpler melodies. But the versatile backing band stayed interesting through straightforward rock grooves and bouncier funk jams.
Judging by how popular Looney's Pub and Looney's North are, it's no surprise to see Looney's South doing well. But this well, this soon? That's shocking - in a good way. From here, it can only get crazier.
It is again legal to smoke cigarettes and cigars inside Ropewalk Tavern (1209 S. Charles St.).
Last month, Ropewalk received an exemption from the statewide smoking ban. It's technically called an economic hardship waiver, and to get it, Ropewalk had to show sales losses of 15 percent over the course of two months.
I went there last month and enjoyed a fine cigar, a fine beer and some fine company - just like the old days. But the McFaul clan, which runs the place, reinstated smoking in a smart way. Instead of allowing people to smoke on the first two floors, where it would stink up the whole place, they are only letting customers smoke on the isolated third floor. I didn't even know Ropewalk had a third floor. Come to find out, it's a pretty nice space, with leather sofas and chairs and Ronald Reagan memorabilia (Ropewalk is a Republican-themed bar).
Oh, and I got a kick out of all the signs on the walls warning patrons about the smoke, too - as if it's some foreign thing.
Ropewalk isn't the first cigar bar to get an exemption. The Havana Club (600 Water St.) received its waiver last June. Max's Taphouse (737 S. Broadway) reopened Max's Tobacco Company so patrons could smoke indoors.
That means there are now about as many cigar bars in Baltimore as before the smoking ban started. Fancy that.
if you go
Looney's South is at 8180 Maple Lawn Blvd. in Fulton. Hours are 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily. Call 301-617-3593 or go to looneyspubmd.com.