On Friday, there will be a pingpong tournament in Baltimore. It won't take place at an arena or a YMCA. It's at a bar.
The pingpong tournament is one of the distinguishing features of Parkside Sports Bar and Pub, which opened in Canton late last year.
Parkside is a sports bar with modest ambitions. Its casual setup and fairly small beer selection suggest it wants to just be a neighborhood hangout.
But its size, its pool and pingpong tables, its gregarious bartenders and customers make it an upbeat place to watch a game — or play one — after work.
When Parkside opened in September, a throng of people filled the spacious bar. The former tenant at 2501 Fleet St., Bleachers, was a popular neighborhood bar, but this was the kind of crowd that would turn out to see Mr. Greengenes perform.
The owners, which include The Horse You Came in On Saloon's Eric Mathias, had smartly chosen the day of a Jets-Ravens game for their grand opening.
Mathias said then that Parkside wanted to appeal not just to football fans but to the athletes and runners who practice at nearby Patterson Park, as well as the pool players who frequented Bleachers.
Without football, it seems the crowds are a little sparser. There was just one person when I visited early last week, and a bigger crowd of some 12 people when I had a beer there on a Wednesday night. Amy, one of the bartenders, told me the bar sees the most traffic on weekends, but its main audience is really in the neighborhood.
Still, the patrons there later in the week made up in noise what they lacked in numbers. Watching the United States-Mexico soccer game, they cheered loudly for the first half-hour, and then coffed bitterly as the Mexican team managed to score a goal to tie the game.
This is the ideal atmosphere at a sports bar: fans who are boisterous, engaged, maybe a little drunk and excited about the game unfolding on TV. Even someone indifferent to soccer could have gotten caught up in these fans' enthusiasm. Unlike some neighborhood bars, which can feel sleepy, these fans made Parkside come alive.
And if this was the atmoosphere while patrons watched a game on TV, the bar's live pingpong tournaments must be a riot.
Parkside is bigger than most neighborhood bars: 1,500 square feet space diivided into two broad rooms. In the front, you have several high-top tables and a bar with about 10 stools. The pool and pingpong tables are in the back. There are also four plasma-screen TVs, several arcade machines and a few more dining tables.
Parkside is a little too bright for my taste. There are Christmas lights on the edges of all the doors and windows, three big lights over the bar, plus all the light emanating from the TVs. The back looks as incandescent as a bowling lane. This makes sense for those playing games, but for the rest, it's a tad unforgiving. It might be best to outfit the pool and pingpong tables with accent lights and turn down the lighting in the rest of the bar to create a warmer atmosphere.
It would also be wise for the owners to create a website, or at least a more informative Facebook page to let people know the bar exists. Promotional magnets alone will not cut it.
Parkside's beer offerings are modest, to say the least. There are 13 beers by the bottle, including Magic Hat, Corona and lots of domestics, and just four on draft, including Three Lions Ale and Guinness, which always cost $5.
The beers aren't listed anywhere. Thankfully, the bartenders are helpful and quick. They are social with their customers — a lot of whom appear to be their friends — but are inclusive of newcomers.
On my way out, one of the customers told me Mathias is trying to sell the bar. If true, this would be a shame. As it is, Parkside is an animated corner bar, and with some real investment it could become a genuinely great sports bar. It already has the real estate to draw groups of sports fans.
For now, at least go catch the pingpong tournament. When I went, the bar was still accepting competitors.
Back story: Parkside took over the space occupied by Bleachers, which was sold in May of last year. Its owner, Eric Matthias, who also runs The Horse You Came in On Saloon, went through several names before he settled on Parkside.
Parking: Typical Canton — a headache. The closest parking options are by Patterson Park.
Signature drink: The bar is known for its $5 Guinness special.
Where: 2501 Fleet St.
Contact: 410-522-1626, facebook.com/pages/Parkside-Pub
Open: 6 p.m.-midnight Sunday through Tuesday; 6 p.m.-1 a.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday.
Price range: Beers are all less than $8.
Similar to: The Horse You Came In On