Since taking over the century-old Patterson Theater a few years ago, the Creative Alliance has refashioned and remodeled it into an exciting creative space for artists across mediums.
So it follows that when the Creative Alliance set about remaking the street-front space below the Patterson's old projection room into a lounge, the result would be as eye-catching.
Open since May, Marquee Lounge is supposed to be an after-hours spot for the theater's patrons. But since the lounge is beautifully decorated, well-staffed and has a satisfying beer and wine menu, it would succeed as a destination on its own — even if the Creative Alliance wasn't there.
Out of all the stuff competing for attention upon entering the Patterson, Marquee is the first thing you might notice. It's on the left, just past the entrance.
The new lounge also has the advantage of a showstopper of a set piece: a mural by Creative Alliance resident artist Lauren Boilini.
A big swirl of reds and oranges, the mural takes up the length of the wall behind the bar. The colors brighten up the dimly lit space, which relies on its oversize Eastern Avenue-side windows for light during the day and a bunch of gallery accent lights at night.
From one of the bar's 12 stools, the mural looks like a panoramic plasma screen TV. (Real TVs are conspicuously, and thankfully, absent.) It's a relief to walk into a bar and not have to turn your attention to whatever game is playing on ESPN. The emphasis at Marquee is clearly on conversation.
Tables, about eight of them, are laid out close to each other, so as to encourage overlapping talk between cliques.
While I was there on a recent Saturday, the crowd of some 10 or 15 people was mixed. There was one big group of young people parsing a recent photo shoot and a few older patrons who seemed to be killing time. That night's show, by two burlesque troupes, was not going to start for a couple of hours.
Although the Creative Alliance is calling it "swank," the presence of older patrons suggests Marquee is also plenty inviting — the kind of place where folks from the neighborhood might walk into after milling around at Creative Alliance's gallery.
Swank in Highlandtown would be not just incongruous but tone-deaf. Marquee has a distinctive aesthetic, but it is likely to remind some of other lounges around the city — a friend likened it to Red Maple, for instance.
Thankfully, Marquee's owners have made a strong effort to keep the bar like the neighborhood around it — casual and unpretentious.
The bar is topped with white marble, like the front steps around the neighborhood, and fronted with rolled steel, in a nod to the steelworkers who once lived in this area.
As is popular these days at many city bars, recycling plays a big role in the design. The bar's chairs are secondhand, and the original walls are enhanced with salvaged lumber. The approach saves Marquee from the Pottery Barn effect, which gives so many other bars a faux-retro appearance.
In fact, the place Marquee reminded me of wasn't Red Maple but the Windup Space, the Station North bar that also has Promethean art behind the bar.
Prices at Marquee are considerate. Drafts are under $5, and so are most of the bottled beers; there's a 750-millimeter Delirium Tremens, a Belgian pale ale, for $13. Natty Boh is $2 by the bottle. During happy hour, which lasts between 5 p.m. and 7 p.m., drafts are a dollar off.
Adding to the chill atmosphere is the service. The bartenders are approachable, wear casual clothes and get chatty with the customers. For now, Marquee's only flaw is that it's open only Fridays and Saturdays. Hopefully, that will change.
The relationship between Marquee and the Creative Alliance is obviously symbiotic; they each benefit from being next to the other. Creative Alliance gives the bar a steady home and audience, and the venue's patrons can now take drinks into performances.
But the lounge is such a model of casual elegance that it deserves a visit even if you won't stick around for a show.