30 years on, Rodos is still Fells Point's frat house

Polarizing bar gets another look on its 33rd anniversary

December 24, 2010|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

In September, when I asked readers their thoughts on the best bars in Baltimore, no establishment was more polarizing than Fells Point's Rodos.

Some called it "disgraceful" and "gross." One said it was only popular with "underage girls from Dundalk" and "unemployed Greek sailors."

Said another: "Rodos is a great place to either be groped, or have your significant other get in a brawl because the troglodytes won't stop groping their lady friend."

Still, many others sang its praises, with at least one person exclaiming, "Rodos for president."

The reaction is to be expected. Strong opinions are what you get when you've been in business for more than three decades.

On this, its 33rd anniversary, it's a good time to reappraise the old standby.

After all these years, Rodos is decidedly old-school. It's not just that it looks like it hasn't gotten more than a cursory renovation since Gerald Ford was in the White House. It doesn't even have a website (though, surprisingly, someone's made it a skeleton Facebook profile).

Even if you haven't heard of the bar's reputation for rowdiness, its exterior suggests it. There are two intimidating bouncers outside its entrance on South Broadway. Inside, security cameras are installed in several places, including two above the bar by the entrance, watching over bartenders who look like they were hired after a wet T-shirt contest.

Beyond the front bar is a long, narrow hall that includes a dance floor, a middle bar and a pool table at the end, next to the restrooms.

It is decorated no more heavily than a corner pizzeria. There are three unframed photos of some Greek isles on an exposed brick wall and Christmas lights lining the walls.

The rest of its decorating scheme is ripped from a frat house. For every beer ad, there are posters on the wall with slogans like "When in Doubt, Take a Shot" or "If you can read this, keep drinking."

In fact, the rest of the bar's features have this demographic in mind.

Sports TV is on; young female bartenders in tight T-shirts and matching Mardi Gras bead necklaces work the front; and the place looks helplessly post-kegger.

I won't say it's unsanitary, but I will say I've seen cleaner highway rest stops.

Though the bar's name is written in Greek typeface, the crowd inside on the weekend nights I went was a mix of ethnicities, including Indians and African-Americans. Fells Point's growing Hispanic population, in particular, seems to be patronizing Rodos. On the Friday I went, GolTV, the Spanish soccer channel, was loudly playing on one of the televisions in the front of the bar. Lakers vs. Bulls played on another.

Meanwhile, a DJ thanklessly played Timbaland and Eve (the excellently acid "Let Me Blow Ya Mind") for a few isolated dancers.

A big part of the crowd skewed young, and the music was geared toward their listening habits.

For this mix of crowds, Rodos should be commended. Any bar that's big enough to host both soccer and basketball fans without fighting for the remote is doing something right.

Latinos in Fells Point usually hang at Don Pablos Music Store or any of the other small watering holes in Upper Broadway, but here they were watching soccer over a hip-hop soundtrack.

Despite the rowdy exterior, no one bothered me while I was inside. I didn't see any fights, and the girls were content to drink their 50-cent cherry bombs.

Alcohol prices are comparable with others in the area, with Blue Moons and Newcastles selling for $5. The bartenders were attentive and quick.

Rodos' main problem is its setup. With the dance floor next to the bars, it's impossible to hear what anyone is saying, even if it's just, "When in doubt, take another shot."

The best place to talk — the pool table — is stuck near the restrooms. Not surprisingly, it went unused while I was there. There are no tables anywhere except for the stools at the front.

With this disorganization, it seems Rodos can't quite decide what it is: a neighborhood bar, a Fells Point Senor Frogs for local drunk girls or a club.

The bar might be better served with some shuffling of the rooms. Since it's so narrow, I can see how there might be a time later in the night when it could get too crowded.

But as the DJ played an Iyaz song, it occurred to me that Rodos is like any of those interchangeable Top 40 songs: serviceable, cheap, good for getting wasted and not much else.

This isn't a bar in which to argue or even to vent after work. It's been in business for this long because it doesn't claim to be more than a place to get bombed, watch soccer and stare at the bartenders playing with their beads. In that order.

erik.maza@baltsun.com

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