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.

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