At 10 p.m. on a recent Thursday night, Red Maple, the lounge in Mount Vernon, was as quiet as an Old West movie town before a gunfight. Even the tumbleweeds were away, possibly pre-gaming somewhere else.
Then, at 10:30 p.m. on the dot, like Daniel Craig in "Cowboys & Aliens," the crowds materialized as if out of nowhere, looking just as surprised to be there.
The reason for the sudden change was the lounge's special that night: an open bar until 11 p.m. Yuengling and rail vodkas flew from the behind the bar as an overburdened bartender struggled to keep up with demand.
Thank Posh Cavern, the lounge's new Thursday night dance party, for the special. It's a collaboration between DJs Cullen Stalin and Mark Brown — and lots of guests, like Baltimore club whiz Scottie B — where they get to play an eclectic mix of new dance music.
For nearly a decade, Red Maple has functioned as Mount Vernon's swanky fulcrum, an international fusion restaurant and a good-looking, lazy, after-after-happy hour hangout. Over the years, it's also been host to a steady stable of dance parties — one for every day of the week. Posh Cavern and Electric Marmalade, a New Age-y party on Mondays, are just the latest additions.
What's refreshing — and, perhaps more important, strategic — about Red Maple's parties is that they appeal to different groups of people. By now, each day of the week caters to a specific crowd, which means that if you're in the mood for salsa music on Tuesday and hip-hop on Friday, the club has you covered.
By being this fungible, the lounge risks gaving a distinguishable identity. But Red Maple's trump card is not the music playing inside or its guests. Salsa or New Age, all the parties just conform to the lounge's handsome, austere design.
Inside, Red Maple looks like a Swedish ski lodge. Minus a splashy red wall near the entrance, and the occasional exposed white brick wall, dark oaks dominate. The lighting, consisting of a few accent lights and many candles, is reassuringly protective.
Near the front, you'll find a spacious lounge area filled out with backless felt couches and a secluded loft that could accommodate small groups. Both times I've been there recently, these two were mainly empty.
Then there's the bar area, which faces a long row of benches, and a medium-size dance floor that was filled with dancers on both my visits. A glass wall separates the dance floor from the patio, a roomy, walled-off islet where Red Maple's smokers go to pass the time and gaze at the more athletic dancers inside.
On Thursday, the freeloaders who had come for the open bar filled out the bar, dance floor and patio. They stayed, at least until 12:30 (that's when I left), dancing enthusiastically to whatever the house DJs and LOUISAHHH!, the guest New York/Los Angeles DJ, had to offer.
Service then and on Monday was outstanding; despite the rush, bartenders were quick with drinks and handling credit-card transactions. Beer prices are reasonable during the parties; my Yuengling was $3.
The crowd at Monday's Electric Marmalade could not have been more different. If Thursday is MICA happy hour, Mondays are like a Hare Krishna rave. Guests looked like frequenters of bead stores; the crusty bunch wore neon ponchos, lots of linen, harem pants and Rasta dreads. Some guys wore Phish T-shirts; some girls were decked out in tribal gear, like "Avatar" extras. Fliers for an upcoming music and yoga festival were scattered everywhere.
In an interesting feature, arts and crafts vendors sell their wares at the party — vaguely ethnic jewelry, tie-dye T-shirts and the kind of outsider art you'd find at tattoo parlors. Other vendors sold homemade food (fresh kale, mac and cheese, barbecue chicken — a dinner plate for $7.)
That these two very different crowds felt equally comfortable at Red Maple is a testament not only to the building's design but to the club's nimbleness.
Versatility is too often an underrated quality. It can be easily mistaken for conformity. But Red Maple just feels inclusive. While it lacks an overriding concept, each of its parties is brimming with its own personality. Electric Marmalade and Posh Cavern both have their fans. Me? I prefer the one without the girls in loincloths.
Back story: Red Maple opened in early 2002 and has since established a daily party: the New Age dance party Electric Marmalade on Mondays; Salsa Fuego on Tuesdays; Mediterranean and Middle Eastern music at Wednesday's Internationalism!; house and Baltimore club at Posh Cavern on Thursdays; Top 40 on Fridays; house for a more mature crowd on Saturdays; and soul on Sundays, open only to men over 25 and women over 21.
Parking: There's metered parking along Charles Street and paid lots behind the Belvedere Hotel and on the intersection between Charles and Eager streets.
Signature drink: The Aristocrat, which consists of grape vodka, lemon, soda and a splash of rose.
Where: 930 N. Charles St.
Contact: 410-547-0149; 930redmaple.com
Open: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday through Saturdays; 5 p.m.-midnight Sundays.
Price range: Cover depends on the night; Posh Cavern is sometimes free all night, sometimes only before 11 p.m. Electric Marmalade is free. During parties, beers cost between $2.50 and $5.
Similar to: B&O Brasserie meets the Get DownCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun