Racers Cafe on Harford Road in Parkville is one stop along the… (Baltimore Sun photo by Lloyd…)
Harford Road has long been home to a bevy of colorful bars.
But in recent years, gentrification has left its mark on the two-mile stretch from Baltimore's Hamilton/Lauraville neighborhood to Parkville. This mix of newer, high-end watering holes and bizarre hometown bars makes Harford Road a prime destination for a bar crawl, where a group of adventurous drinkers hits up several spots in one night. Since each bar is one stop on a larger trek, the trick is to have a drink, then move on to the next destination.
One night last week, a few friends and I set out to sample the scene and see how Harford Road stacks up against some of the city's more popular bar crawls. Though there weren't as many new bars on Harford Road as on, say, Fort Avenue, Harford Road had more charmingly eccentric spots, from beer havens to killer karaoke.
Our first stop was the Hamilton Tavern (5517 Harford Road, 410-426-6365). Since opening in 2008, this homey watering hole seems perpetually packed, regardless of the night.
Saws, scythes and other farm tools adorn the walls, and a felt curtain hangs just beyond the front door. Stepping through has the same effect as poking your head through the stage curtain in your high school auditorium - a sense of mystery and discovery. Now that's the way to make an entrance.
Since the Hamilton Tavern is more about quality than quantity, there are precious few wines and beers on tap. But it's hard to go wrong, even with such a limited selection. I ordered a glass of Wolaver's Oatmeal Stout ($4.50), a creamy brew that went down way too quickly.
After about a half-hour, we wandered across the street to Brannan's Pub (5516 Harford Road), where we found our craziness. The name sounds Irish, doesn't it? The green sign out front may have a couple of four-leaf clovers on it, but the brogue stops at the door. Nothing inside has even the slightest Irish tint. Brannan's doesn't even have Guinness on tap.
Brannan's had a big cooler of bottled beers, most of which were $2, the bartender told me. A few taps offered Yuengling, Budweiser American Ale, Coors Light and such. I was about to order a bottle when the bartender hit me with some knowledge: All the drafts are $1.25, period. Oh, my.
I couldn't help but order a draft Yuengling, and my mouth started watering when the bartender whipped out a frozen mug, filled it and set it on the U-shaped bar in front of me. I gave the mug a lift and, shockingly, almost splashed beer in my face. The mug was unexpectedly light. Then I realized it was a plastic mug. Brannan's freezes plastic mugs!
Perhaps the best part about Brannan's was the karaoke, run by Jackie Joyce Glenn, a woman who fronts the hair metal group Scarlet Angel. Jackie can banshee wail with the best of them, but the quality of the other singers was almost intimidating.
Alas, because of the nature of our expedition, we had to move on to the next spot, Dead Freddie's (7209 Harford Road, Parkville, 410-254-8373). Dead Freddie's doesn't make any pretenses - it's a post-college party zone, through and through. TVs are everywhere, the walls are littered with signs, bumper stickers, memorabilia and even a rack of football helmets.
Dead Freddie's has an impressive roster of 19 draft beers and 12 bottled beers, most for $3 or $4. A pint of Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA, a hoppy regional brew, was $4. Dead Freddie's also has some worthwhile specials: Mini-pitchers, which hold about 2 1/2 beers, of domestics are $3.80 during happy hour. "Happy hour" is a little misleading, though. It should really be called "happy day," since the special runs 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Mondays through Fridays.
Our glasses empty, we hit the road. Fortunately, we didn't have to go far: Racers Cafe (7732 Harford Road, Parkville, 410-882-5212) is only a few blocks down Harford Road. The floors and curtains are black-and-white checked, and patrons are encouraged to scoop bowls of peanuts from a big barrel in the middle of the room. And the happy hour at Racers runs 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Take that, Dead Freddie's.
Racers was one of the first Baltimore bars to jump on the microbrew bandwagon, as far back as 20 years ago, according to owner Richard Osenburg. The night we went, Racers didn't disappoint. We sipped pints of Saranac ($3.50) and looked back on our adventure.
Fells Point, Fort Avenue and Dundalk have always offered solid bar crawls. I think it's time to officially add Harford Road to the list.