Longtime patrons of a popular Mount Washington hangout don't have to worry about their beloved tavern changing — too much. Tommy Hawkins, who purchased Curb Shoppe Bar & Grill in November, knows not to tinker with success.
"I want the same customers who have been coming over the years to keep coming here," he said. "They accept it like home."
On any given day, the bartenders greet new visitors and familiar faces with the same friendliness. Some people gather around the pool table, others sit at the bar, and families of different generations sit at tables around the room.
The place is a comfy throwback to another era. There's not an Edison light or reclaimed wood table in sight.
Hawkins is keeping the same bar food menu from the previous ownership, which includes sandwich melts, subs, burgers, wings and options for kids. But the former kitchen manager at Slainte Irish Pub and Restaurant in Fells Point plans to upgrade products, like the recent addition of Creekstone Farms meats, top-notch whiskeys and more microbrews.
For the newly minted restaurateur, buying Curb Shoppe was an important part of his family legacy. Hawkins' grandmother and aunt were bartenders there in the '80s, and he remembers hanging out there as a child, eating chicken tenders.
"I love the Curb Shoppe, the feel of the place and the great people in it," he said. "Why not jump on the opportunity to buy it?"
Scene & Decor There's nothing fancy about the dimly lit Curb Shoppe. In fact, it could be described as slightly shabby. But that's what makes it the real deal. There's a long wood bar and scattered tables in the L-shaped room, with a pool table in the back. Memorabilia adorns the walls, including a Ray Lewis jersey, a Wizards shirt, beer posters and a NASCAR sign. On our visit, we grabbed two bar stools and watched the regulars have a great time. It's a "Cheers" kind of place, where everyone seems to know one another.
Appetizers The well-prepared sampler ($10) with three chicken strips, three mozzarella sticks and four wings is a bar food lover's dream. Yes, it's fried food, but the crunchy, primal offerings were delicious —especially when dipped into the accompanying marinara, barbecue and ranch sauces. And what Baltimorean doesn't like to see fries with gravy ($3.25) on a menu? The fat fries were hot and salty, but the gravy, while flavorful, was practically thick enough to stand a spoon in. Next time, we'll try one of the soups of the day. Split pea and chicken noodle were offered recently.
Entrees The burgers, made with Creekstone Farms beef, are some of the best in town. We devoured a bacon-mushroom-Swiss burger ($8.80). The turkey club ($9.10) was a mouth-filling, fresh-tasting triple-decker sandwich piled high with turkey, bacon, lettuce and tomato and slicked with mayonnaise. It comes with chips, but you can opt for fries for an extra $2.75.
Drinks It's a mostly beer-drinking crowd, with local brews like Heavy Seas' Loose Cannon available. There are a few wines and an array of liquor bottles for straight-up or mixed drinks.
Service The bartender on duty waits on tables, too. We were there during a shift change, and both bartenders were terrific in taking drink orders and getting the food to customers at the bar and at the tables.
Dessert Not available
Curb Shoppe Bar & Grill
Backstory: The Mount Washington pub opened in the 1940s and was purchased by Paul Schiffbauer in 1993. When Schiffbauer decided to sell the place last year, Tommy Hawkins, who worked at Slainte Irish Pub and Restaurant as a chef and in the front of the house, stepped in to purchase the property.
Signature dish: The bacon-mushroom-Swiss burger
TVs: Six TVs
Where: 5736 Falls Road, Mount Washington
Contact: 410-433-8299, curbshoppe.com
Open: Kitchen hours are 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. daily.
Credit Cards: All major
Reservations: Does not accept reservations
Bottom line: If you haven't had a chance to visit one of Baltimore's iconic hangouts, now is the time. The delicious bar food is reason enough, but the dive atmosphere is worth it, too. Don't be intimidated by the parking. In addition to the limited spots in the front, there are about 20 places in a lot to the left of the tavern, which is owned by Curb Shoppe, owner Hawkins said.