Saturday, March 19, 2011

Event Review: Proper at Dionysus (Baltimore)

Last night was the first taste of Spring we've had in Baltimore after a looooong, cold winter, and there was a clearly festive spirit in the air as I wandered around Mt. Vernon. After seeing Jacques Tatti's The Illusionist at The Charles (a film very much in the spirit of Jean Renoir), I ambled over to Dionysus to have a beer and discovered that a DJ night, Proper, was shortly getting underway in the upstairs bar. I had a couple beers downstairs while things warmed up, and then proceeded through the secret door to discover a very "proper" house night indeed, one that had a very lively, and friendly, underground vibe.

When I first sat down at the bar there was a conversation underway about the origins of rap, sparked by the passing of Nate Dogg earlier this week, that was straight out of High Fidelity. I wound up talking with the bartender for a bit, as well as the fellow sitting next to me who told me his girl had just left him, and that he once had been addicted to crack, but now had cleaned things up and owned two restaurants. A tattoo of barbed wire strands wrapped around his left forearm, and I think (I can't be sure because it was dark and the brim of a cap was pulled down low on his forehead) he was wearing something sparkly at the corners of his eyes. I turned him on to Strongbow Cider and we commiserated about broken hearts and making music. Clearly, Proper attracts an interesting crowd, and I saw everything from blissed out hipster kids to girls in cocktail dresses. While standing on the edge of the dancefloor a guy asked me "what do you think of this?" and I said "It's great, no douchebags." Really, what more do I need to say?

The tunes were on the pop side early in the evening, when I heard the likes of Michael Jackson and Radiohead remixes, before it settled into nice smooth flow of house (of course, it helps to keep the flanger on in smoothing out those mixes) that was moving people out onto the dancefloor. I left around midnight, as I'd had my fill of beer and was looking forward to other weekend activities, but I will definitely be back to check this scene out properly.

Friday, March 18, 2011

The Early Days of Baltimore Club

On WYPR's "Maryland Morning" show this past Wednesday there was an interview with one of the early Baltimore Club DJs, DJ Equalizer, about the scene back in the early to mid-90s, when it seem that things were really hopping. What I found most interesting was Equalizer's statement that, when he left the city for about five years, starting in 1995, and came back, everything was gone. I've heard this from a lot of people I've talked to about the dance scene in Bmore, that through the mid-to-late 90s there was a very strong house/club music presence, but then it all suddenly dried up. I've not heard a good explanation of why this happened, though I suspect it may have something to do with how much population this city has lost since the mid-90s, as well as shifting demographics and population centers within the city. I've also yet to hear any "Baltimore Club" in a club, mostly it's the same dance pop I'd hear anywhere else, but maybe I'm just not going to the right places or nights.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Underground SF for Sale!

Oh, the times I had in this place when it was home to Drunk and Horny; Lord Kook and I, along with DJ6 and Candy of Get Lucky, even tried to start up a happy hour party there. Now it looks like it, and the rest of the building, are for sale. Since I also know the people who live in the apartments above, who were affiliated with the owner, I'm curious what's up, but here's the link to the article in Haighternation with details. Given that price, which includes the liquor license, I'm tempted by this deal myself . . . .

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Bar Review: Dionysus (Baltimore)

Dionysus, on Preston Street just off Charles in Baltimore, is hands-down my favorite Baltimore bar. Situated three blocks from my apartment, I stroll down there once a week or so to hang out and have a beer, sometimes have some dinner or a snack from their terrific and ever-changing menu, and to have some social time in a space that's full of lively people but is still laid back enough that it's easy to have conversation with the bartenders, other patrons, or whoever has joined me out for that evening.

In my neighborhood, Mt. Vernon, there are four main options for beer and food: the Mt. Vernon stable, which has the standard fare of ribs and deep-fryer food; City Cafe, which caters to the upscale dress-in-black crowd and charges a dollar more per drink than anyplace else in the neighborhood; Brewer's Art, which has good food and their own Belgian-style ales, and is, on Sundays, a veritable Bear den; and Dionysus. What sets Dionysus above all these establishments, including the more "upscale" Brewer's Art and City Cafe, is a great craft beer selection, both draft and bottle, and a cajun-influenced menu of substantial food like a cajun pork chop with greens and cheesy grits, all of which can be had for substantially less than what you'd pay at their competitors. A beer and an entree: twenty bucks. At Brewer's Art or City Cafe, you'd pay about ten dollars more for food and beverage of exactly the same quality, and you'd have to put up with a lot more noise, crowd, and attitude as well. And then there's the reverse happy hour at 10PM. (If you don't trust me on the food, the Baltimore Sun recently gave "Chef" one of the best reviews I've read for a downtown Baltimore restaurant in a while).

I've always had interesting and entertaining experiences at Dionysus. The music ranges from The Doors to the Pogues, and is loud enough where you can sing along if you feel so inclined and not embarrass yourself, but is still kept in that range where you can sit at the bar and have a conversation in normal tones. At that bar I've had conversations with the bartender Gina, who addresses her customers as "Love," and local "characters" like the very garralous technical director of a local theater company (who I couldn't tell if he was hitting on me or not). In summer, there's an interesting mix of hipsters/artists/street corner philosophers at the outdoor tables. The crowd is younger, and I suspect that some of them are students of Peabody and MICA who don't feel like making the trek to the Mt. Royal Tavern. I also like that it's a space that's well-lit enough that you can sit at the bar and read or write, but atmospheric enough that, after a couple beers, you might think you look more attractive in the mirror behind the bar than you really are.

For a while I was very into the dark, beer kellner space of Brewer's Art, but eventually I felt that, unless you went there with somebody, it's kind of boring because you can't read or write, and the crowd is not particularly social. Dionysus feels more like the neighborhood pub where they really care about food and drink, where you can go to contemplate, and where you can often find yourself in the midst of an unexpected but pleasant interaction with the other patrons. Go check it out for yourself; it's not posh, it's not particularly hip, but it satisfies everything I want from my local pub, and does it in a way that means I leave with more of a smile than I entered with.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The End of International Bear Rendezvous?

A friend in SF mentioned in passing recently that this year is the last for the International Bear Rendezvous, and this copy is on the front page of the website: "It is with great regret that we bring this successful bear run event to a conclusion." I thought this was a wildly successful event, anybody got the scoop on why it's ending?