All of the best sports bars, from Padonia Station in Timonium to Pickles Pub in Ridgely's Delight, share the same spirit. They're more than than just flat-screen TVs, tacky memorabilia and domestic beer. They're havens and lucky charms. It doesn't matter whether the team wins or loses — fans keep coming back to them for the comforting embrace of a crowd of like-minded enthusiasts and for the irrational feeling that their mere presence might spare the team a loss.
Here are the area's five best places to watch the game.
Mother's Federal Hill Grille
1113 S. Charles St., 410-244-8686, mothersgrille.com
Mother's is a cathedral to Baltimore sports. On Sundays, the faithful start trickling into 1113 S. Charles St. at 8 a.m., when the bar and restaurant opens for breakfast. After 12 years in business, it has so much credibility among fans that Joe Flacco recorded a TV spot for it wearing a Mother's jersey instead of his Ravens purples.
"I come here for the fan base. Everybody just knows the players, the coaches, the plays," says Reese Ashe, a personal trainer who's been a regular for six years. "If you're a fan, this is the first place you think of."
520 Washington Blvd., 410-752-1784, picklespub.com
The first person fans see when they enter Pickles Pubs is a pirate. Well, a pirate look-alike. Standing there is Mick Kipp, a guy not much taller than Smee from "Peter Pan" who sports a colorful do-rag and a chili pepper earring.
He's been a bartender and server here since Pickles opened on St. Patrick's Day in 1988. The bar is not unlike Mick: battered, but with character. The crowd is a mix of students from nearby University of Maryland Baltimore and conventioneers from downtown hotels.
"We get everybody, from strippers to bookies to businessmen," he said with the raspy voice of a bartender who's been screaming over ESPN and wet counters for 20 years.
On away games, you might find as many empty stools as customers. But owner Tom Leonard says that's because half his staff is following the team. Though parking is as hard to find here as it is in Federal Hill, beer is cheap — Natty Bohs go for $2. And if that's not enough, there's Kipp's Raven dog: a quarter-pound fatty topped with peanut butter, cream cheese and grape jelly. Foul or amazing? Depends on how much booze you've had.
63 E Padonia Road, Timonium, 410-252-8181, padoniastation.com
Padonia Station has been a Timonium mainstay for nearly three decades. Located in a drab strip mall next to a discount furniture store, it's the kind of joint where everything is extra large: the bars, the crowds, the wings.
There are four different bars, but most patrons gather around an outsized rectangle in the middle of the dance floor that's manned by four bartenders. It gets so crowded on game days, the Station handles them like banquets. They fill their expansive dance floor with long tables and take reservations for groups of six or more. Manager Dorene Gatewood says there are 46 big-screen TVs, 60 taps and 25 bottled beers.
The bar doesn't have drink specials for home games outside its "beer of the day" — $3.50 imports — but it does offer a $9.59 all-you-can-eat wing platter. Gatewood says they go through 15 40-pound cases of wings on game days.
8872 McGaw Road, Suite C, Columbia, 410-312-5255, thegreenturtle.com
The Greene Turtle in Columbia is the Carabba's of sports bars. It's part of a chain, but it comes equipped with everything you might need to comfortably watch the game. There are some 20 TVs and a projector, and if that's not enough, every booth in the restaurant has a small flat-screen TV.
When it first opened four years ago, the bar sold $35 mugs that would be left at the bar and refilled for a discount. Today, there are more than 1,100 of them hanging from a jumbo-size four-sided scoreboard above the bar, says bartender Steve Nickerson.
Then, the crowd was evenly mixed between Ravens and Redskins fans, but now, Nickerson says it's all Ravens.
Beer prices are on par for Columbia: Natty Bohs and Natural Lights are $4 and "Purple Bombs" (liquor shooters) sell for $5. They also sell 16-ounce take-home Ravens glasses for $4 that can be refilled for $2.50.
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