Johnny Rad's rolls into Fells Point

Two former skateboarders turn a dive bar into a tricked-out pizza pub

August 05, 2010|By Sam Sessa, The Baltimore Sun

Opened a couple weeks ago by two former skaters, Johnny Rad's pays tribute to the skateboarding scene without feeling gimmicky or patronizing. It's a neighborhood bar with a short but killer beer list, a solid happy hour and unexpectedly cool decor.

If you went to Fells Point in the '80s and '90s, chances are, you'd see a pack of young skateboarders doing tricks in Broadway Square.

It makes sense that years later, after the kids grew up, there would be a bar in the 'hood that celebrated skateboarding and underground culture. Enter Johnny Rad's, a new skateboarding-themed pizza pub on the edge of Fells Point, near Patterson Park. Opened a couple weeks ago by two former skaters, Richard Pugh and Steve Ball, Johnny Rad's pays tribute to the skateboarding scene without feeling gimmicky or patronizing. It's a neighborhood bar with a short but killer beer list, a solid happy hour and unexpectedly cool decor.

From street-side, Johnny Rad's stands out. For the hanging sign, Pugh and Ball commandeered the logo of west coast punk band Black Flag. A few days ago when I went, there was a motorcycle parked outside, and a blackboard sandwich sign on the sidewalk which read "Hell yeah we're open." That's what I'm talking about.

The color scheme inside Johnny Rad's is all black and red. The building used to be a dark, dingy dive called Kelly's, which had popular karaoke nights. When renovating the space, they knocked out the old glass blocks on the front of the building and installed proper windows, which makes Johnny Rad's a bit brighter and more inviting.

Skateboard decks, road signs and posters hang on the walls near the bar, which is up front. The doorknobs to the bathroom are skateboard wheels. The bar has a red top, and small red votive lights hang above it. There are a couple small flat screen TVs as well, but they almost seem out of place with the rest of the decor.

The long, wooden back bar is awash in red light and has shelves with sliding glass doors. Near the back, you'll find a skateboarding arcade game, and an old Wurlitzer statesman jukebox, wired to the rest of the sound system. The other night, they were playing indie bands like Arcade Fire and the Postal Service.

If you go back further into Johnny Rad's, you'll come upon a small, raised dining area with a few tables and a bunch of framed album covers, from acts like Whodini and Avail on the walls.

Even the name is a skateboarding reference; Johnny Rad was an intentionally cheesy lounge singer from an '80s cult skateboarding movie. Not many people will get the reference, but the ones that do will feel right at home in Johnny Rad's. "Skate and Destroy," anyone?

The bar stocks 32 bottles and cans, everything from Pabst Blue Ribbon to Schneider-Weisse Wheat Doppelbock. The draft beer list is short but mighty. There are five drafts, and all of them are good: Victory Prima Pils, Oliver's Blonde Ale, Flying Dog In-Heat Wheat. I had a glass of Acme IPA, which cost $3.25 at happy hour.

With time, I could see Johnny Rad's turning into a low key hangout like the now-closed Friends. Fells Point needs another bar with a punkish but friendly scene, and Johnny Rad's fits the bill. One of my favorite Fells Point pubs, Friends, which closed several months ago, was more than just a bar — it was a scene, and scenes take time to develop.

I don't like to generalize, but I think Johnny Rad's will appeal to neighborhood residents, especially the folks who spent time skateboarding in Broadway Square back in the day and then put roots down in and around Fells Point. They're older now, but they're always game for a funky little spot to sit and sip good brews. Johnny Rad's is just that.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

If you go

Johnny Rad's is open from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m. daily at 2108 Eastern Ave. The happy hour, which features $3 drafts and rails, is 5 p.m.-8 p.m. weekdays. Call 443-759-6464 or go to johnnyrads.com.

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