Dundalk's bar scene never ceases to amaze me.
Last year, when some friends and I explored the scruffy town's bars and clubs, we were stunned by the cheap prices and friendly folks we encountered. But was our night there a fluke? Or were there more dive bars and colorful characters waiting to be discovered?
Itching to answer the question (and see more of the low-key county watering holes we'd come to love), a pack of us city folk set out to Dundalk on a second blue-collar bar crawl.
Last Friday, we plunged headfirst into Dundalk's rich dive bar scene, starting with Gattus' Bar (617 S. North Point Road, Dundalk). Gattus' is straight-up old school - wood paneling lines the walls inside, and the sign out front still has Baltimore Colts horseshoes on it.
After going out in Baltimore, we thought the prices at Gattus' seem like a throwback, too: Five Budweiser bottles cost $7.50. These weren't happy hour prices, either - this was 9 p.m. on a Friday.
The bartender asked us all for our IDs, which would be a recurring theme for the night. Just about everywhere we went, servers thought we were a pack of underage police cadets looking to bust them for serving alcohol to minors. Being 25 (and one of the youngest guys in the group), I couldn't help but chuckle.
Another recurring theme: At just about all our stops, the regulars were warm and welcoming. A few times, they came over, shook our hands, introduced themselves and struck up conversations with us. Still, yet another recurring theme: Just about every bar had a horseshoe-shaped bar, which I love. They're so much more inviting than a long, narrow rowhouse bar.
Our second stop was the Gray Manor Inn - perhaps the least inviting spot on our tour. It wasn't like a record scratched and everybody turned to look at us when we walked in, but we just got the feeling that we weren't welcome there.
We asked for two pitchers of beer, and (surprise) the bartender asked us all for our IDs. Then he served us two of the smallest pitchers I've ever seen. Each one came with a few eight-ounce beer glasses, like the ones you see in black-and-white movies. The only other place I've seen such small cups is at the Venice Tavern in Highlandtown. Sure, each "pitcher" cost only $4. But when we looked around the room, we were the only suckers with teeny glasses. Everybody else had normal-sized pint glasses. Hmm.
The Gray Manor has one of the largest shuffleboard tables I've ever seen. It looked old but was well-maintained. In order to get the pucks, we had to give an ID to the bartender as a deposit. We did, but we weren't there long. After downing our two tiny pitchers (it didn't take long), we hit the road.
Then it was on to Pop's Tavern (4343 North Point Blvd.), a mainstay for local fans of live country music. Pop's feels like an old roadhouse that's been untouched by time. Beer is served in glass mugs, and during happy hour, which is noon to 6 p.m. Mondays-Fridays, a can of beer is $1.25. Not bad.
Every Friday and Saturday night, Pop's hosts live country bands from around the area, and I wouldn't be surprised if that's been going on for the past 50 years or more.
From the looks of it, Pop's has a loyal troop of regulars. Most were middle-age or older, but that didn't stop them from hitting the dance floor.
I must admit, it was funny to watch the back-and-forth: When the band would start a song, a bunch of couples would walk onto the floor and start dancing. When the song ended, they would all head back for their chairs. Then a new song would begin, and they'd do it all over again.
Just like last time, we finished the night with a greasy-spoon breakfast at Denny's, chatting about the best and worst parts of the night. Turns out, there was no need for me to worry about exhausting Dundalk's charms on the first bar crawl. We had a blast bouncing from dive bar to dive bar.
Is there enough to justify an Epic Dundalk Blue Collar Bar Crawl III? Without a doubt.