Walking through Fells Point, Jamie Hubbard often stared at Pearl's, a bar on the corner of Aliceanna and Wolfe streets.
Pearl's was a dive that offered cheap beer and pool tables, but Hubbard always envisioned more, especially given the prime location between Fells Point and Canton.
“It just seemed like it wasn't living up to its potential,” Hubbard said recently.
Earlier this spring, he and partner Mike Maraziti (the “Mike” of One-Eyed Mike's, where Hubbard is also the general manager) purchased the building, gave the interior a deep cleaning and opened it as Lobo in mid-July.
On a recent Friday night, the sleek Lobo looked like a gutted, start-from-scratch finished product, even though it was not one. Hubbard said initial plans were to replace old contents with new, but they ultimately left “the bones where they are,” and focused on a thorough cleaning. It paid off, as the team behind Lobo found beauty that was previously covered.
What looks new is not. After sanding the original bar down to its bare wood, they added “10 to 15 new coats” of polyurethane to give it a glossy finish. It proved that replacing the old bar would have been costly, and ultimately unnecessary. Another savvy touch is the exposed brick wall, formerly unseen because of wood paneling and plaster, which subtlety adds a rustic touch to the space.
As a bar, Lobo's execution matched the elevated interior. There is attractive symmetry on the drink menu: 10 craft cocktails and 10 draft beers, all chosen with care by bar manager Pamela Hadel, who was last at Wine Market Bistro in Riverside.
The beer menu rightfully emphasizes Maryland brews, from the easy-to-drink Union Craft Duckpin Pale Ale to bigger-flavored beers like Evolution's Lot No. 6 Double IPA and The Brewer's Art's Beazly (which was still going by its former name, Ozzy, on the chalkboard). A Resurrection by The Brewer's Art, forever a standard, cost $6.42.
The goal, Hubbard said, is to keep the majority of beers on tap from Baltimore and Maryland, and to round out the other options with East Coast offerings. On our visit, that meant beers from Yards in Philadelphia and Virginia's Blue Mountain Brewery. Lobo struck a nice balance between hometown love and accessible craft beers from the region.
If the beer list was tried and true, then the cocktail list offered a touch more flair. The aromatic Basil Julep ($9) found harmony between the Bulleit bourbon, fresh basil and housemade ginger syrup. The carbonated element (a splash of club soda at the end) woke it up a bit, too. The Lobo y Mule ($8) could have used more Tito's vodka to cut through the high-definition lime juice, but the housemade ginger beer subdued the citrus enough. Just for fun, we also ordered the Boh's Grapefruit Shandy, a $5 National Bohemian mixed with grapefruit juice and garnished with a cantaloupe kebab. With fall's arrival, the novelty felt a bit misplaced, but the twist on a classic worked better than expected. At the very least, it makes for a talking point at a pub.
We had no complaints about service. A friend asked for an amaretto recommendation — “sippable” and “on the rocks” were the requirements — and the bartender returned with Luxardo Amaretto di Saschira ($8.50), which fit the bill. The bartender also warned, rather seriously, we had to leave by 1 a.m. The request seemed heavy-handed until we learned Lobo's liquor license stipulates the bar must close by then.
Some might consider that a hindrance, but it works at Lobo because the bar seems aware of what it is, and is equipped enough to execute it. With its handsome layout and more-thoughtful-than-necessary menus, Lobo is a fine option for neighbors simply looking to share a couple of drinks over quiet conversation. If that is not the type of place you often associate with Fells Point and Canton, then Lobo has already achieved something its predecessor could not: It shifted the narrative.