The bar at the Feisty Goat in South Baltimore. (Colby Ware, Baltimore Sun )
South Baltimore's had a prolific year in nightlife.
Barfly's, Barracudas and the Park Bench are just a few of the bars that have popped up. The latest is the Feisty Goat, a sports bar on Key Highway that is as low-key as those other new bars.
Open since last month, Feisty Goat is an agreeable sports bar, adequate for sports fans looking for a no-frills atmosphere to watch a game. But, it could use some improvements in service, atmosphere and variety.
Located on the first floor of a rowhouse on Key Highway, the bar has the feeling of someone's basement rec room. The ceilings are low, the lighting is weak, the decor spartan, and the shiniest accessories are the big-screen TVs, all broadcasting a Ravens game (on a recent visit), natch.
The only bit of color inside are the walls, which are painted Kelly green. And the goat's head that gives the bar its name. It hangs above the cash register, sporting purple beads and a Ravens bandanna.
The bar that was here before it, McCracken's, was known for its modesty. When The Baltimore Sun reviewed it, the writer noticed it didn't even have a sign outside except for some beer ads.
Though now there's a big banner outside advertising the name, the Feisty Goat's spare look suggests it also doesn't want to call attention to itself. It also implies the bar's aim is to be simply a place with some stools and lots of flat-screen TVs. This is unfortunate.
The best neighborhood bars don't just cater to the people who live around them, but are also a reflection of their quirkiest characteristics. Think the Laughing Pint, or Nevin's.
The Feisty Goat's blankness also doesn't make sense strategically — if you're just going to be a place with some stools and TVs, what's making the customer go here and not somewhere else? Barfly's is just around the corner and has pizza! The namesake goat head that greets customers upon walking in is a good start — Feisty Goat should build on that.
The bar's look is also a shame because the space is terrific — there's ample room by the counter, and a spacious back. But now it's severely underutilized: just filled out with some high-top tables and some chairs. It's in desperate need of a pool table, or some darts, or at least an arcade machine.
On the Thursday night I went, the bar was crowded with a kickball league that was getting ready to play. They all kept near the front. The only reason to go to the back was to use the restroom.
After the kickball players left, only a handful of customers stayed behind, three guys in their late 20s and an old man who seemed to have been born and raised in the neighborhood.
Catering to the sports league in the area is a solid idea. But adding a game table would allow the Feisty Goat to build on the few customers it seems to be attracting; it's a strategy that's worked at Parkside in Canton.
But most importantly, it would give the bar another center of activity beyond the counter at the front.
The beer selection at the Feisty Goat is also meek. I overheard the owner, Mark Gross, tell a customer he didn't get why all his friends "love Loose Cannon." Heavy Seas is the only craft beer on tap. Guinness, Bud Light and Blue Moon are the other drafts.
By the bottle, the bar carries Sierra Nevada and Sam Adams. The rest are ordinary domestics and imports: Bud Light, Red Stripe, Stella, Dos Equis. With only four draft lines, there's understandably not that much room for diversity. You have to carry stuff that will sell. But it would be useful for the bar to experiment more with its bottle selection.
Prices are cheap during specials: While I was there, Natty Bohs were $2, and would come down to a buck after 11:45 p.m. My glass of Guinness was $6.
On the menu, the Feisty Goat has typical bar food ranging in price from $8 to $12: 10 wings — six flavors in all, for $12 — burgers, and chicken tenders ($6).
While I was there, the bar was having issues with its keg system. Except for the Guinness, all the drafts were pumping out too much foam. So was my Guinness for that matter. It just so happened Gross was my bartender. And while he was friendly and talkative about the game, he didn't explain why it was taking so long to pour my beer, or why it was overflowing with foam. I had to ask for an explanation. He also didn't offer to give me a Guinness instead of the Blue Moon I had asked for, despite knowing that it was the only pump that was working properly.
I wished he'd had the foresight to tell me what I'd ordered wasn't the best choice, given their keg issues. And I wish he'd smoothed over the problem by simply offering on his own a glass from their only working draft line. The transaction was sloppily handled.
The Feisty Goat is not a bad bar. It has a great location and building in its favor. But it still needs more work to become more than just another new bar in South Baltimore.
If you go
Back story: Before it was the Feisty Goat, the bar at 1400 Key Highway was McCracken's. In a 2007 review, The Sun described it as the new "favorite spot to watch football in South Baltimore." Mark Gross renamed it the Feisty Goat this year, and opened it officially late last month.
Parking: Available on metered spaces along Key Highway
Signature drink: Guinness by the glass, $6.
Where: 1400 Key Highway, near Little Havana
Contact: 410-685-6668 or facebook.com/thefeistygoatpubbaltimore
Open: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays through Fridays, 1 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays
Price range: $6 or less for beer; $8-$12 for food
Similar to: The Park Bench