Toward the end of a blistering set on a recent Friday night, Adam Marans, lead singer of the Baltimore sludgy punk foursome Big Christ, took a rare breather to dedicate the next song, “Boogie Nights,” to the deceased actor Philip Seymour Hoffman. A collective smile hit the room of roughly 25.
And then came the boom, a glorious cacophony of Marans' full-throated yells, relentless cymbal crashing, staccato palm muting on guitar and the bass' punishing low end. The 25-minute performance was loud, brutal and a lot of fun.
It was also just a regular Friday night at the Gold Bar, another smart and solid addition to an emerging Station North bar scene that already includes the Windup Space, Beatnik, Club K and next-door neighbor The Crown. (The Gold Bar and The Crown are both housed on the second floor of the Hyundai Plaza building.) At these bars, live music and DJ sets play just as significant roles as the bar programs and atmosphere.
In the Gold Bar's case, all of these elements align flush to create a rewarding experience. While the addition of another venue open to hosting many types of music (punk, metal, folk, indie-rock, disco, Baltimore Club and all of the experimental subgenres spawned from these genres) would have been reason enough to celebrate, the Gold Bar matches its range of entertainment with an adventurous drinks menu.
From the “Champagne Cocktails” list, I ordered a Death in the Afternoon ($9), which was only a shot of absinthe topped off with a basic Brut. The Gold Bar uses Kübler absinthe, which the bartender pointed out is a higher quality than a lot of bars use. The fragrant scent and strong anise flavor supported the claim.
The Elder Vesper ($9), from the “Winter Cocktails” section, should have been fail-proof, with its simple combination of gin, Lillet Blanc, St. Germain and lemon zest. It tasted fine, but the bartender severely limited its potential by using rail gin (Burnett's). Another cocktail called Sunburn uses the superior Hendrick's Gin, and even costs a dollar less than the Vesper. The takeaway? Either the barkeep used the wrong gin or the Gold Bar needs to reconsider its pricing.
The draft list of beer, a dozen in all, is solid and well priced. National Bohemian is $3, while beers such as Full Tilt Baltimore Pale Ale, Evolution Lucky 7 and Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA top the list at $6. During happy hour, from 5-8 p.m. each day, a 10-ounce Boh draft is only a buck.
Most fun was the menu of “Picklebacks” (all $5), an assortment of six different shots chased with a shot of pickle brine courtesy of the Remington business Tanner's Pickles. I went with a “Maryland” pickleback, which was a shot of housemade Old Bay vodka followed by Old Bay pickle juice. The salty chaser not only made the alcohol dangerously easy to take down, but it was surprisingly refreshing, too. And I don't even like pickles.
It is difficult to find faults in the Gold Bar because it approaches its operations as a bar and as a music venue with equal fervor. If we were forced to nitpick, we would wish for cleaner bathrooms, which patrons at the Crown and the Gold Bar share. But complaining about bathroom conditions at a punk show seems a bit misguided, too.
Close-minded outsiders might be quick to dismiss the Gold Bar as only a “hipster” hangout — and the available cans of Schlitz, Pabst Blue Ribbon and Old Milwaukee would only heighten their senses — but ignore them.
On all of my visits, the Gold Bar and its likeminded Station North peers have been inclusive places full of positive energy, offering the city's creators and appreciators of DIY art a safe place to create, convene, interact, drink and laugh. (A bartender said the Gold Bar was the best of both worlds between an illegal DIY space and a legitimate venue because cops can't shut it down, but the loose, anything-goes spirit remains.)
To miss the Gold Bar is to miss a bar that is cleverly executed, unpredictable and weirdly wonderful. In other words, it is quintessentially Baltimore.
The Gold Bar
Back story: Created by Dana Murphy (head of Baltimore's essential Unregistered Nurse music booking and promotion company), the Gold Bar opened next to its larger neighbor the Crown this past New Year's Eve. It hosts a wide range of music shows, while serving drinks and Korean food from inspired menus.
Parking: Free and metered on nearby streets
Signature drink: The Gold Bar has more cocktail options than some Baltimore bars, but we were most excited by the “Picklebacks” menu (all $5). Each shot comes with a chaser of pickle brine produced in Remington.
Where: 1910 N. Charles St., Station North (second floor, to the right of The Crown)
Contact: 410-625-4848, goldbarbaltimore.tumblr.com
Open: 5 p.m.-2 a.m. daily