Mount Vernon pub gets a mixed makeover

The new Singer's is humming with activity, but the d├ęcor and lighting fall flat

May 20, 2010|By Sam Sessa, The Baltimore Sun

If you ever stumbled into Tyson's in Mount Vernon, you would have been appalled or entranced by its dark, dingy vibe.

Ron Singer, it's safe to say, was turned off by it. When Singer bought Tyson's last year, he gave the cruddy pub the face-lift of a lifetime: new bar, new TVs, new furniture — the works. Regulars of Tyson's would never recognize it now.

"It's a lot different than what it was," Singer said.

Inside, Singer's is bright, with soft turquoise and greenish-tan tones, flat-screen TVs and a stage near the rear of the room. A house piano, PA system, guitar, bass and banjo occupy the stage. I can't think of another Baltimore bar with all those instruments just sitting there, waiting to be played.

Live entertainment is almost unavoidable at Singer's. Every night, there seems to be something going on, including poetry readings, comedy and live music. Metal musical notes adorn the walls, and large metal strings like the ones you might see on a guitar span the length of the bar. Singer sure paid attention to decor details when he rehabbed the place.

This is the first bar Singer has run, and at times it shows. While the service is some of the best I've experienced in the neighborhood, Singer's is too bright inside during the day and feels sterile. For a bar, character usually builds up over time, but it helps to start with something more than what Singer's has. The musical theme borders on cheesy, and the color scheme makes Singer's feel more like an ice cream parlor than a bar.

That said, it's clear Singer is trying hard to appeal to as many people as possible. For the post-college set, Singer's has a Natty Boh tower, a stack of more than 700 National Bohemian beer cans behind the bar. Cans are only 99 cents, all day and every day, which, I believe, is the best Boh deal in town. Singer's also keeps a spreadsheet tally of how many Bohs each customer drinks over the course of the week. Whoever drinks the most Bohs wins a free 12-pack. Nice! Tuesday is movie night, Wednesday is poetry and board game night, Thursday is open-mike night and Saturday is ladies' night. Got all that? Singer's hosts live music on weekend nights, too.

When Singer's opened late last year, it had a fantastically awful name: NADDs. Besides a cheap anatomical pun, NADDS was also an acronym for New Age Dine and Dance. Thankfully, Singer came to his senses in March and changed the name to Singer's, which fits, given the live entertainment lineup.

Singer's isn't the only bar in the building, though. If you walk through the bar, down a narrow corridor and through another door, you'll find Leon's, which Singer also owns. Leon's is said to be the city's oldest gay bar. True or not, stepping through the door into Leon's is like walking into another dimension. It's dark — almost too dark to see. After a minute, your eyes get adjusted to the dim lighting, and you can make out the figures of the regulars, hunched around the circular bar, sipping cans of Coors Light. Something unintentionally cheesy like Bon Jovi is on the jukebox, and the conversations are hard to hear unless you get close.

Singer hasn't changed much about Leon's, and might not, he said. I hope he keeps it just like it is. It's best to leave storied places like Leon's alone, at least until all the regulars have moved on.

It's good to see a bar like Singer's, with its well-rounded roster of live entertainment. Mount Vernon needs more bars with spoken-word nights and other events like these. But with the decor and the nightly events, I can't help but think Singer's is trying a little too hard to win people over.

If you go

Singer's is open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily at 227 W. Chase St. Call 410-539-4850 or go to singersofbaltimore.com.

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