The north side of Cross Street Market has long outpaced the south side.
MaGerks, Ryleigh's, the Stalking Horse and the 8x10 have made the north side a viable and attractive destination. But the south side has been lacking a bona fide anchor establishment to help spur activity.
Now it has one. Social Pub & Pie opened in late July in the first block of East Cross Street, and the block already feels safer and more solid.
Social Pub & Pie — as in pizza pie — is a double-wide. Two separate bars, operating under different names and owners, coexisted here for decades. Now, the owners of the nearby MaGerks have combined the two spaces — most recently Grumpies and Federal Hill Lounge — into one big, appealing space.
They left the façade of Grumpies intact, but the front of Federal Hill Lounge has been ripped off, and you can hear the good spirits pouring out of Social a block away. On a recent Friday evening, after happy hour but before the intense nightlife crush, the new bar was comfortably crowded and extremely well behaved.
A bartender said she has been impressed by how nice the crowd has been at Social — "They're tipping a dollar for a glass of water."
It's fun to think about how a bar gets colonized. Who decided that Social Pub & Pie would be the hangout for slightly older and more mellow crowd?
One answer might lie in the architecture. Because it's such a wide open space, Social doesn't really look like the kind of place you'd go to get rowdy.
It's a pretty space, too. The pressed tin ceiling at Grumpies is in great shape; handsome woodwork marks the former dividing wall between the two spaces. Other original details keep the place from feeling generic. Plasma televisions have been placed with something like artistic effect.
The most notable interior feature is the open kitchen at the back on the Federal Hill Lounge side. Social Pub & Pie has a coal-fired oven, one of only a handful in the city, and it's being put to good use with a small menu of specialty pizza.
The big hit, so far, looks to be the oven-baked wings smothered with caramelized onions. As many people had come to eat as to drink, and the space allows a seamless flow between the two activities.
Social Pub & Pie, at least for now, feels like a well-managed space. The bar crew includes a few veterans from MaGerks, where they know a few things about how to manage a bar crowd.
The prices are set high enough to discourage knucklehead drinking, but not so high that it doesn't feel like Baltimore. It's fair to say that the big draws at Social are not the snooze-fest beer selection (Miller Lite, Yuengling, Blue Moon, etc.) or the fruity, sugary, specialty drink menu. The lame name isn't doing it any favors, either.
Social Pub & Pie might be a hard pill to swallow for diehard fans of vintage cramped south-side bars, but for an area with potential to be a regional nightlife destination, Social Pub & Pie is a major asset.
Social Pub & Pie
Back story: Two adjacent pub spaces, the former Grumpies and Federal Hill Lounge, have been combined into one double-wide bar on the south side of Cross Street Market.
Parking: A bear, as always, in Federal Hill.
Where: 25 E. Cross St., Federal Hill
Contact: 410-234-0376, socialpubbaltimore.com
Open: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays; 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Tuesday-Sunday
Price range: $7 rail, $4 domestic draft
Crowd: Skewed slightly older and more diverse than some of the neighboring bars. The regulars seem to be a less rowdy crowd — at least for now.