Funky Buddha is a tiny bar with a big heart

Basement pub in Mount Vernon charms customers despite its lack of polish

September 02, 2010|By Sam Sessa, The Baltimore Sun

Many of my favorite Baltimore bars have been tucked away in unassuming nooks and crannies.

That's the case with Funky Buddha, an all-but-hidden watering hole in the basement beneath Kumari, an Indian and Nepalese restaurant in Mount Vernon. The Funky Buddha is a hit, not because of its intimate digs or eye-opening drink specials, but its human factor. The manager, Bonnie Roberts, brings a warm, comforting presence to the Funky Buddha. She's the real reason it's a hit.

Roberts, who has worked at Eden's Lounge and Melba's Place, took over the Funky Buddha in March. Inside, posters adorn the walls, which are painted an easygoing shade of yellow. A mural of the chubby, happy Buddha himself — glass of wine in one hand, some kind of cigarette in the other — greets customers. Funky Buddha shares an entrance with Kumari, and serves spicy food from the same menu. It's a bar worth discovering.

Just how many people know about Funky Buddha? That's a good question. When I went for happy hour this week, my friend Joe and I were the only people in the place, aside from Roberts. It seems like Funky Buddha is still under the radar. Not that it could accommodate many customers anyway. I'd imagine 25 people would make it seem full.

While Funky Buddha doesn't have any beers on tap, it does have a standard selection of bottles. The only local brew I noticed was Heavy Seas Pale Ale (only $2 each), so we started with two of those, and glanced at the menu.

I rarely mention food in these reviews, but I want to make a brief exception here. If you're at Funky Buddha for happy hour, you're going to want to get some grub. Go for the lamb — three tender, fatty chops cooked to order — which costs only $5 during happy hour.

To fully take advantage of happy hour, which runs 5 p.m.-8 p.m. weekdays, order a cocktail; even drinks made with name-brand liquors are 2-for-1. I opted for a vodka and cranberry made with Skyy Vodka, which cost $6. Roberts made it two parts vodka and one part cranberry, a proportion that would probably make most people cringe. I liked it though, and couldn't complain about the price.

When I spoke with Roberts over the phone about Funky Buddha, she boasted about the new outdoor seating on Charles Street. The other day when I went, that amounted to one table with two chairs and an umbrella. I guess Funky Buddha gets an "A" for effort, but such a small setup is pretty rinky-dink by most restaurant/bar standards. I also chuckled at the dry-erase board sign for Funky Buddha, which spelled the bar's name "Funky Budda." Ah, Baltimore.

The decor seemed random at best. I'm not sure where a poster from the movie "The Watchmen" fits into the theme. It felt like Roberts or someone else hung whatever they could find on the walls, just to make the space seem less empty. But that's easy to remedy.

Years ago, Funky Buddha was Liam's Pint-Size Pub, one of the best little bars in Mount Vernon. Liam's was always crammed with people (which was easy to do, given the space) and, in my opinion, was one of the city's best pubs. Liam's closed in 2008 after its manager, Liam Flynn, disagreed with Kumari's owners. Now, with the amiable Roberts running the Funky Buddha, an old favorite has become a new one.

If you go

Funky Buddha is open 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Wednesdays-Sundays and 5 p.m.-midnight Mondays and Tuesdays in the basement of Kumari, 911 N. Charles St. Happy hour is 5 p.m.-8 p.m. Mondays-Fridays. Call 410-547-1600.

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