By Amanda Krotki and Mark Gross
With its brick walls, exposed wooden beams and high ceilings, Red Star has a sophisticated, but warm, urban loft ambiance. The airiness gives one room to breathe; smoke is rarely an issue here. The seating situations are also optimal -- couples on dates can cozy up in booths or raucous groups can share apps and toast the night away perched on stools at the high top tables that run along the center of the room. There's also an upstairs bar for private functions.
Crowd: Red Star is not directed at the typical Fells Point bar-hopper. It aims to please the new residents of the area -- types that make the rent pricey, and types that want to go somewhere besides Rodos Bar or Greene Turtle to forget about the workday.
Libations: The drink selection reveals the clientele Red Star attracts. The bar offers signature martinis that are only $5 each on Wednesdays and margaritas that are only $5 each on Thursdays. Behind the bar, shelves are stocked up to the ceiling with plenty of wine. Sure, there are plenty of beer choices, drafts even, but don't bother asking for a pitcher, because they don't have any.
One of the things that sets the bar apart from some of the more typical Fells Point joints is that its food is actually really, really good. You might show up wanting to drink your dinner, but one gander at the menu and you'll clamor for such dishes as Candied Walnut Salad, Crab and Avocado or Sausage and Pesto Pizza, and Asian Tuna. Plus they have both sweet potato fries and crab pretzels -- two munchies the staff of Metromix values a great deal.
Sounds: The music piped in is more of a background thing than a central focus, but the tunes are still cool. Last time we were there, they played lots of old soul and R&B including the godfather himself -- James Brown. Red Star has a little corner nook up front next to the bar, which turns out to be just enough space for a band -- a small one, at any rate. After they turned off the house music, two female guitarists and a male bongo drummer played covers as requested by the crowd. We don't know who had more drinks -- the band or us -- but we definitely don't remember their names (and since we didn't introduce ourselves, they sure as hell don't remember ours).
Service: The bar runs almost the entire length of the room, so -- depending on how busy Red Star is -- it can be difficult to catch the bartender's attention with eye contact alone. You may also want to be wearing something in DayGlo or have a tugboat's foghorn at the ready. However, once the bartender does notice you, the lonesome cast-away all the way down there at the other end of the bar, he'll be quick to get you a drink. Though, the servers could be a little more attentive when keeping track of whose tabs are whose.
Bottom Line: Red Star is one of those bars that pleases fussy types who usually can't stand hanging out at bars in Fells. At the same time, it's welcoming enough to satisfy even typical boozers. Though we've never tried their brunch, it's on our short list of places to hit sooner rather than later.