A look at the interior of the new Fork & Wrench in Canton. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore…)
At the Fork & Wrench, the new bar/restaurant in Canton, spirits are laid out in an antique general-store display case.
The beer flows from a custom-made, steampunk-esque tap. Old-time woodworking tools hang throughout the bar for effect, and cute knickknacks abound — a raised shelf filled with secondhand books here, old matchboxes tucked away there. There are porcelain dolls and misshapen canteens and vintage photographs.
It all looks very pretty, but it also looks very tired. Though not many Baltimore bars have adopted it, neo-Americana is a design scheme that's more overworked than a blacksmith's anvil. This is a look New York's Freemans cornered eight years ago and that many have sought to replicate since — each time to diminishing dividends.
Fork & Wrench also lacks a serious cocktail menu — just four drinks at the moment, though the ones I tried were excellent — and sufficient staff. It is, however, affordable, and seems to be attracting big crowds.
Even if it looks contrived, Fork & Wrench deserves credit for trying to carve out a niche. It deserves credit for a smart beer list (two Stillwater Ales on tap — Cellar Door and Existent), plus PBR, Leinenkugel's and Dogfish Head. Owners: Don't change this. If every bar had this mix of taps, we might come close to world peace. There's stuff for the beer snobs, and there are also accessible flavors. No one can argue that Leinenkugel's Summer Shandy isn't a very tasty macro.
The focus here is definitely on beer: 17 brands by the bottle, including Bittburger and Corsendonk. The cocktail menu gets less attention. But the Brass Tacks — Pikesville rye, simple syrup, brandied cherries — is dangerously drinkable.
The Boulevardier — bourbon, Luxardo liqueur, vermouth — is the bar's take on an old-fashioned, and it succeeds also, with the Luxardo and an orange twist cutting the burn of the whiskey. The bartender wisely cut the vermouth short so as to not overpower the bourbon. All drinks were also highly affordable — $7 for cocktails, between $3 and $7 for beers.
My bartender wasn't just working hard on the drinks. He was alone at a bar that was busy around 9 p.m. and only got busier toward 11 p.m., when I left. This meant the wait time for drinks was long, and he became distracted, not even offering me a cocktail menu to look at until he was ready.
But this is less his fault than management's. The bar should hire more staff to keep up with demand.
Management's biggest problem, though, is the bar's staleness. In Baltimore, new bars like Rye in Fells Point, the Americana in Canton and Liam Flynn's Ale House in Station North use antiques and architectural salvage to evoke the past.
At the Fork & Wrench, the owners, who include Andy Gruver and Jason Sanchez, wish to create "an old world, eclectic feel," according to the bar's 10-page media kit. But the bar comes across more like a case study in affectation, as if it's been art-directed to death.
Fork & Wrench is brimming with old-timeyness. Everything is so painstakingly arranged, it looks ripped from a Sandy Powell art-directed set, or a Restoration Hardware catalog. Compounding the problem, all these tchotchkes and antiques seem to have come from nowhere in particular. They seem to have been selected just because they sort of looked cool.
The fad for rustic and industrial aesthetics has been floating around for some time and had a major moment in 2004, when the restaurateur and architect Taavo Somer opened the restaurant Freemans, a temple to Americana, taxidermy and a kind of mystical urban lumberjack.
Now, rustic decor, salvaged antiques are ubiquitous, a design cliche. Sanchez, who used to run Good Love, also in Canton, and Gruver raided Second Chance and auctions for pieces to make their bar look old-school, and they've clearly spent a lot of time and effort.
But while the impulse to exploit a design fad is understandable, it also makes Fork & Wrench look derivative and, worse, out of style.
For a bar/restaurant that's staked so much on its look, that's a serious flaw. As it is, the Fork & Wrench looks like a new Williamsburg arrival, one desperately trying to fit in.
Fork & Wrench
Back story: Back story: For several years, owner Jason Sanchez ran the club Good Love in the same space. After Good Love closed in 2007, the building housed the short-lived Pur Lounge, which closed in 2009. Fork and Wrench, run by Sanchez and Andy Gruver, opened in March.
Parking: Predictably scarce; mostly metered, where available.
Signature drink: The Brass Tacks ($7) is an excellent, easy-to-drink cocktail that packs a lot of sweetness. $7.
Where: 2322 Boston St.
Contact: 410¿759¿9360, theforkandwrench.com
Open: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. daily