Six months after its owner started a renovation, Barfly's Pub is finally open.
The Locust Point bar, which has taken over Rafters' old space on Fort Avenue, had its grand opening last Friday and has been in opening mode for about two weeks.
It has been remade as a casual neighborhood bar with an ample beer menu and several wine options. Already, it's drawing small crowds, even on the Monday night I went.
Owner Michael Leeds bills it as an "upscale dive bar," but Barfly's still needs some time to develop the personality of a dive and spruce itself up to be "upscale."
This might be a question of time, and since the project is clearly a work of love for Leeds, Barfly's could eventually reach that goal.
Leeds has been leasing 620 E. Fort Ave. since November and started renovating the space in January, saying it would be open by early March. The renovation has taken a long time because it was handled, Leeds said, by a group of friends.
Before it closed in August, Rafters, a formerly rowdy bar called Hartloves, was known for its Formstone interior. Yet it badly needed "a face-lift," Leeds has said.
He has partially covered some of the Formstone with raised wood panels while he gutted and remade the rest of the bar.
Barfly's interior — narrow at the front by the bar and roomier at the back, where there are about five tables — is now freshly painted in grays and oaks.
It has a new bar, along with a spiffy floor-length wine rack and utility cabinet, and new light fixtures. There are also two flat-screen TVs, both showing an Orioles game the night I went, and two bartenders, Leeds included, who wore casual baggy wear and were quick on their feet.
Beyond that, there's a Guinness neon sign and a hand-drawn poster of a beer on the bar's right corner. That's about all the flair there is inside.
Leeds, who had been a partner at the Bel Air and Federal Hill Sean Bolan's, said he opened the bar because he saw an opportunity in the neighborhood.
But the neighborhood is brimming with bars, and many of them are established dives, like Captain Larry's, Hogan's Alley and The Sly Fox. Just a 10-minute walk away is the great Idle Hour. With this much competition, Leeds would be wise to remake his bar in a way that makes it special and memorable.
After such a long renovation, no doubt there are some mementos from the bar's past that could be reused for decor. Perhaps he should look into architectural salvage, like so many other bars have done. As impersonal as it is now, it leaves one cold.
The "upscale" part also needs some work. The pizza should not be served on paper plates, for instance. This might be a cost concern, or something that will change in the future, but it was discouraging to get an otherwise delicious pizza served on two upside-down cardboard plates and a small paper plate not big enough for a slice of cake.
This is a minor quibble, and the patrons don't seem to mind. When I went, the bar's 15 or so stools were occupied, and two couples sat near the back at a high-top table.
Barfly's pizzas — made from fresh dough, Leeds says — are 10 inches wide and made to order. Mine came with feta cheese and green and hot peppers, and cost $11.The rest of the menu featured three salads and cold cuts. Food prices range between $7 and $12.
The bar has eight drafts — including Yuengling, Blue Moons, Franziskaner, Stella Artois and Sam Adams, which cost me $3 when I came in around 9 p.m. Beer prices are between $3 and $6.
By the bottle, the bar has 20 beers, including Flying Dog's Raging Bitch and Brewer's Art's Resurrection Ale. Leeds also has about 12 wines to choose from, including basic merlots, zinfandels and cabernets. Unfortunately, Barfly's does not yet have a beer or a wine menu.
The bar is a deeply personal project for Leeds. My bartender, Dave, said Leeds slept in the back while they were renovating.
But his bar does not yet reflect that passion. While service was attentive and the beer selection was generous, there are bars nearby that do that just as well. For now, Barfly's is a casual neighborhood bar with good intentions, a quiet place to watch a midseason Orioles game.
If you go
Barfly's Pub is at 620 E. Fort Ave. It is open 4 p.m. to 2 a.m. seven days a week. Call 443-682-7227.