Nearly two decades ago, Rob Coyle helped his friend Rich Mackey open an Irish pub in Washington. It went well — Mackey's Public House is still open on L Street — and the two friends agreed, back then, to open another bar should they ever get the chance.
The right opportunity finally came, 18 years later, when the Canton corner bar Geckos closed last year. In October, renovations began to turn the old Geckos into Fleet Street Tavern. It was not a complete gutting, Coyle said, but it needed the upkeep.
On a recent Saturday evening, Fleet Street Tavern, which opened at the end of March, looked both new and familiar. There was nothing flashy about the renovations — beyond the glowing new flatscreen TVs around the bar and a large chalkboard that listed alcohol choices — but the changes revealed themselves positively the longer I stayed.
For years, Geckos was a favorite hangout among my friends. We particularly enjoyed playing pool in the dingy, low-lit bottom floor. The pool may be gone now, but the much cleaner and more accessible downstairs works better for Fleet Street Tavern. There are now tables for diners and enough lights to read the menu. And the fun aspect, albeit different, is still there: Two dartboards ready for cricket hang in the back-right corner, and a “Big Buck Hunter” video game console sits across the room. In nearly every aspect, the new bottom floor better utilizes the space.
The bar rightfully remains the focal point of the building. The bar's facade is the same, but the top of it has been replaced. Wood pillars behind the bar now frame the TVs. The floors were refinished and even the ceiling was touched up to look new. This kind of facelift work can potentially sterilize a new bar to the point of shiny blandness, but Fleet Street Tavern retains the natural neighborhood-feel Geckos had in spades.
There was no cocktail menu, so my eyes focused on the tap handles. Fleet Street Tavern's draft options were serviceable, but imperfect. Miller Lite and Yuengling were $4.50, while Blue Moon, New Belgium Snapshot, Sierra Nevada Torpedo, Newcastle Bombshell, Guinness and the Brewer's Art's Resurrection cost $6 each. It is perplexing, as always, not to see more local options, especially in a neighborhood corner bar. (Also: Where's the Boh?)
Perhaps we should not be too hard on Coyle, though. He's from Richmond, Va., and only recently moved to Baltimore. This week, he said the plan moving forward is to keep five standard beers on tap (Miller Lite and Blue Moon, for example, won't be moving), and to use the other three for local and seasonal offerings. As a proponent of Maryland craft brewers, I'd love to see even more lines dedicated to local beer, but it is a step in the right direction.
The goal, Coyle said, is to make Fleet Street Tavern a neighborhood hangout, not unlike Geckos. (He is optimistic the food, which is American fare, will draw an audience, too.) The Saturday night crowd — the majority of which lived in Canton, Coyle said, and had turned the top floor into a private celebration — seemed to welcome the idea wholeheartedly. They loudly cheered as the Orioles loaded the bases, and laughed with the same vigor as they chatted during smoke breaks outside. As the sounds of a slightly slurred “Happy Birthday to You” made their way down the stairs and into the bar area, it was not hard to imagine Fleet Street Tavern finding a modest-but-loyal following, and keeping it.