In early December, a Facebook post announced a change had come to a Riverside haunt: “Hey guys. It's no longer Paul's bar ... we are under new ownership but not much else is going to change.”
Shotti's Point had arrived, but it was the second part of the message that mattered most. From 2000 to 2013, Paul Zang turned the Fort Avenue corner bar into a no-nonsense hangout for neighborhood patrons of all ages. I unknowingly stumbled upon Paul's one summer night in 2012, and happily played pool as the gregarious Zang chatted with regulars and Led Zeppelin played over the speakers.
While we often laud cutting-edge bars for extensive bar programs and sleek designs, spots like Paul's are just as vital because they provide balance and familiarity. I hoped Shotti's Point would remember this post-takeover.
Fans of the old Paul's need not worry. On two recent Saturday nights, Shotti's Point seemed to maintain the former tenant's instantly comfortable and welcoming atmosphere.
The layout looked similar, too. The long, main bar takes up the front half of the room, while a more-open area toward the back still houses a pool table, additional seating and two bathrooms.
But new owner Mike Shott, who was born and raised in Highlandtown, has injected touches of his “half-Bawlmer, half-beach bum” personality into the place. Framed images of Baltimore landmarks share wall space with assorted beer brand stickers and liquor logos.
For years, Shott said he tried to open a Baltimore-themed bar in Ocean City, where he lives now. Things didn't work out, and with Shotti's Point, he aims to bring a beach vibe to the city. The execution is understated, and just subtle enough to make the point without screaming it: Handles on drawers behind the bar have been replaced with Mr. Zog's Sex Wax, the surfboard accessory, while a narrow trim of blackboard above the bar features blue-chalk waves.
While Shotti's Point has a clear sense of identity — something Paul's arguably lacked — its drinks fell a bit short. A traditional Orange Crush ($7) was made with Smirnoff Orange vodka, triple sec and freshly pressed orange juice, but it failed the eye (too clear and transparent) and taste (bland with barely detectable booze) tests. An improvement was a difficult-to-debase Dark & Stormy ($5.50), which consisted of ginger and black rum, both by Gosling's.
It was also hard to ignore the fact Shotti's Point lacks draft beer. (Paul's did not have beer on tap either.) Shott explained there are plenty of other bars chasing the craft beer craze and adding lines and kegs would be expensive, and he's right. Still, it's hard to imagine a neighborhood hangout reaching its fullest potential without serving a fresh National Bohemian or Bud Light in pint glasses. I settled for a Heineken bottle ($3.90). Certainly this missing piece is not a dealbreaker, but it also shows there remains room for improvement.
Not that anyone seemed to mind. While Shotti's Point hosts a karaoke night on most Saturdays, my first visit was an off-week, and the lack of slurred singing resulted in a relaxed, almost sleepy vibe. A week later, karaoke was in full swing around midnight, with a host providing enthusiastic introductions and the most gloriously off-key singing of “Californication“ and “I Will Survive“ I had heard in some time.
The real highlight came when a middle-aged man hammed up “Sweet Child o' Mine” for a group of grinning buddies in the corner. As Slash's never-ending guitar solo wailed, the singer encouraged the audience with his arms. Without hesitation, the crowd of roughly 40 responded with hearty claps and whistles. No one cared about the butchered job because here, following a song's melody and singing lyrics verbatim take a backseat to enthusiastic, out-of-tune belting. The karaoke was a lot like Shotti's Point itself: Not the prettiest in town, but its spirit — warm, inclusive and supportive — outweighed the flaws.
Back story: Formerly Paul's, Shotti's Point opened under new ownership in early December at the corner of East Fort Avenue and Webster Street in Riverside. The bar, which also has a full food menu, captures owner/surfer Mike Shott's love of Baltimore and Ocean City.
Parking: Free on the street
Signature drink: Shotti's Point lacks beer on tap, but sells a decent range of bottled beers. A Dark & Stormy ($5.50), made with Gosling's black rum and ginger beer, was predictably satisfying.
Where: 701 E. Fort Ave., Riverside
Open: 11:30-2 a.m. dailyCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun