A steady, chilly rain has been falling on Baltimore all day. It's months into a recession, and no one feels much like spending money. But, as the creators of 600block.com see it, the timing couldn't be better.
By merely dusting his fingers across the touch screen of an iPhone, Vincent Buscemi, one of the company's partners, demonstrates how one can find a pub, Hudson Street Stackhouse, that's literally steps from the Canton office he's in, highly recommended by people he knows and - the kicker - is offering a steak special that night.
There's no wandering around in the rain. The place comes endorsed by people in the city. And he's getting a deal.
The founders of 600block are betting that in times like these, with money tight and people increasingly smitten with social media, they have a niche with their service that aims to connect people with others in the city who are interested in restaurant and bar bargains.
"We feel we have a service that can really help people out," says Tom Poe, an Internet marketing specialist for Constellation Energy who founded the site with his partner, Patti Chan, who teaches Web design at Maryland Institute College of Art.
The site is one of two recently launched, Baltimore-based online services that uses a social media platform to help people make choices before going out on the town. The other, Localist.com, allows people to look at an assortment of things happening in Baltimore and then make plans with their friends.
Neither site offers entertainment or plans events, but the creators of both hope that with enough buzz through word of mouth and a near-constant presence on Twitter, people will soon equate their brands with the city's social scene.
Though online calendars listings, offered through sites including Metromix and the City Paper, are plentiful and numerous Web sites such as Yelp.com, Citysearch.com and Chowhound.com allow people to review restaurants and bars, 600block and Localist think that the social networking aspects of their sites as well as their very Baltimore-ness will help them stand out in the crowd.
"It's meant for this community," says Buscemi, a project manager for Mindgrub. His company designed 600block's iPhone application, which may be available soon. "It really does connect individuals in the community and gets them trying new things."
When Poe, who's 28, recently moved to the city - he grew up in Anne Arundel County - and bought a Canton rowhouse, he wanted to find out where to go and what to do in town. "Being a Web guy," he says, "I tried the Web."
He found the Citysearch listings lacking. He tried Chowhound but felt as if he wasn't foodie enough to get into it.
"I really couldn't find any sort of Web site where people could share and recommend their favorite places," he says.
So, he invented one and named it for the city block he lives on.
Visitors can sign up for free and write reviews and post specials they know of on their profile.
There's no charge for a business to be listed or to list their specials. But a business can pay to be a site sponsor and get a featured position on the home page and other perks.
Poe estimates that he has about 10,000 monthly visitors and the number is increasing about 20 percent a month.
Cameron Barry, a freelance marketing consultant from Rodgers Forge, discovered 600block a few months ago and quickly invited a bunch of her friends to sign up.
"Everyone I know is into food and going out, and this is a great way for us to share information," she says.
Since joining the site, Barry has filled out her profile with reviews of a number of area restaurants, accumulated a list of places offering deals on certain nights of the week and discovered Hamilton Tavern after reading other members' intriguing write-ups.
"A place like 600block is good for introducing people to things like that and giving you an insider's perspective," Barry says. "It lets people communicate information in a way without any gate keeper."
Poe thinks Baltimore has the potential to have a few hundred thousand people on his site. "I think there is a lot of opportunity to grow here," he said. Eventually he would like to expand to the surrounding counties and perhaps to other metro areas like D.C.
The idea for Localist was born on a trip to Los Angeles. Mykel Nahorniak and his partner, Nate Mook, who also founded Betanews.com, wanted to go to a club but being from out of town, they didn't know which one to try.
They went online to get some options and decided on a place highly recommended by Citysearch. They paid their $20 cover, went inside and, as Nahorniak remembers, "There was not one person inside."
"We thought, 'Wouldn't it be great if there was a service that would show where people were actually going in real time?' "
People who go to the site can see which events are the "highest ranked" - those with the most people who say they plan to go.
People can then invite their friends to hot spots or events that sound fun and review them on the site once they've been to them.