Where to get down in Baltimore

Always Dope, Reaction and Save Your Soul are some of the city’s best dance nights

April 09, 2010|By Sam Sessa | Baltimore Sun

It's practically like clockwork: Every couple of months, someone e-mails me, asking for bars and clubs where they can go dancing.

I wish it were that simple. As it is, Baltimore doesn't have enough dedicated dance clubs and halls. But there are a few regular dance nights where you can cut a rug — if you know when and where to look.

Always Dope

Since last fall, promoter Garth Young has put together a weekly hip-hop and club dance night at Red Maple called Always Dope. Sharply dressed young men and women roll in around 10:30 p.m. and hit the dance floor en masse about an hour later.

Last Tuesday was a retro night, a throwback to Baltimore club and hip-hop tunes from 20 years past. DJs Scottie B and Shawn Caesar spun old-school bangers starting at 10:30 p.m. They're both pros, and they kept the flow seamless from one track to the next.

It costs $5 to get into Always Dope, but that's money well spent. A well-mixed rail gin-and-tonic runs about $6, and bottled Yuenglings sell for $3 each. With warmer weather setting in, seats in the back patio go quickly. If you want one, get there early.

Occasionally, Always Dope will host an MC battle, which pits local rappers against each other in a war of words. Red Maple is usually extra full on these nights, and it can get heated. In short, Always Dope lives up to its name.

Reaction!

Years ago, DJ Amanda Otto co-founded a mod-themed monthly dance party called Reaction! at the Sidebar Tavern every second Friday. Otto spun 1960s and 19'70s grooves plucked from her big boxes of vintage 45s, and booked a retro-sounding band to play a 30- or 45-minute set.

These days, Reaction! is still going strong. Last month, some folks came dressed in short skirts, leather boots and other mod attire. The cover was $7, not too bad, considering some drinks were two-for-one until 11 p.m.

Last month's band was Baltimore's Bad Liquor Pond, whose acid-tinged garage rock fit the night's theme just fine. It's begun to hit its stride in the past year, finding the right mix of fuzzed-out riffs and hazy grooves. It's common for psychedelic bands to stretch out their jams for minutes on end, but Bad Liquor Pond kept the solos tight and tasteful.

After Bad Liquor Pond's set, we boogied for another couple of hours until the party was over at about 1 a.m. The crowd started thinning after the band stopped, but it was great to see Reaction! thriving a few years after it began.

Save Your Soul

Lithuanian Hall has long been a mainstay for hipster dance nights. DJ Pablo Fiasco has been holding Tighten Up! there on the last Friday of every month for years.

One of the newer dance nights at Lith Hall is called Save Your Soul. It's held on the first Friday of every month, with 1950s and early 1960s music from the local DJ collective Charm City Summit.

If you want to get a parking spot nearby, get there at 10 p.m. If you've never been before, you'll be required to buy a yearly membership (since Lith Hall is technically a private club), which costs $10, and then pay $5 to get in.

On Save Your Soul nights, Lith Hall is practically deserted until 11 p.m., when a stream of hipsters, art students and dance maniacs pours in. Earlier this month, my friend Joe and I were sitting at the bar when filmmaker John Waters walked in and grabbed a stool near me. How cool is that? Waters is in his 60s, and splits his time between Baltimore and New York, but he still knows where to party.

DJs Pietro, Action Pat and King Gilbert were spinning obscure '50s and early '60s vinyl — stuff like Otis Redding's "Shout Bamalama," The Nobleman's "Dragon Walk," and Elmore James' "Stranger Blues." Whew. Just hearing those tunes is enough to make you sweat.

When you get parched, you can moisten up with a few big bottles of Lithuanian beer, which costs $3.50. Since it's a private clubs, all the drinks are cheap, cheap, cheap.

By midnight, the floor was chockfull of dqncers in their 20s and 30s. And there was Waters, holding court from his bar stool in the thick of it. I felt like I was part of something special, one of those rare scenes I'll tell my children about some day.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

twitter.com/midnightsunblog

If you go
Always Dope
is every Tuesday at 10 p.m. at Red Maple, 930 N. Charles St. Call 410-385-0520 or go to 930redmaple.com.
Reaction!
is every second Friday at the Sidebar Tavern, 218 E. Lexington St. Doors open at 9 p.m. Call 410-659-4130 or go to sidebartavern.com
Save Your Soul
is every first Friday at Lithuanian Hall, 851 Hollins St. Call 410-685-5787.

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