It is still an exciting time for Baltimore's continually progressive nightlife scene. Successful openings debut as fully realized visions from Day 1, leading to exciting additions to an already healthy environment. If you enjoy a drink in public, chances are you have at least a few spots in the city you call your own.
Face it — we have it good here today. For evidence, there's Beatnik, the Crown, the Other Corner Charcuterie Bar, WC Harlan, Smaltimore and Oliver Speck's, which all opened in the past year, and all impress in nuanced ways, depending on your mood.
Add Vale Tudo, the new, modestly sized Fells Point bar-lounge hybrid, to the list. The team behind Vale Tudo, which is also responsible for the Get Down, realized that in order to make a major impression in Fells Point, ambition and execution would have to turn heads.
On a recent Saturday night, it appeared they had succeeded. As I walked in, my senses were enlivened immediately by the attractive layout, lively soundtrack and strikingly bold design. Some bars reveal their charms over time and visits, but at Vale Tudo, the cards are placed face up on the table.
It's nearly impossible to not give the bar's panoramic view your full attention. Vale Tudo is not wide, but it is tall, and the space has been smartly utilized to play to that strength. As your eyes are forced to move north, the bar's most striking feature — the many large, narrow strips closely arranged along the exposed brick walls that display images and video projected on them like digital wallpaper — begin to dominate the room.
Executed poorly, and the ornaments become a distracting mistake. But here it's a gamble that succeeds because the eye-catching images evoke emotion (a noncorny tribute to dead musicians, vintage surfing footage) and are, at times, local in flavor (there are shots of a devilish Natty Boh and a beautiful Baltimore skyline). The margin for error was small, but the design is clever, not ostentatious.
Ownership chose the name because it means “anything goes” in Portuguese. The connotation is more provocative, even sinister, than reality. But that doesn't mean Vale Tudo isn't built for fun. There's a photo booth, which proved difficult not to jump in every 20 minutes. Friends and I left with multiple mementos of our visit, and the smart marketing — the bar's logo prints at the bottom of every strip — promised we'd never forget where we were that night. Don't be surprised when bars all around the city add this feature soon; alcohol and goofy photos are too irresistible a combination.
The music, a mix that aimed at the iPod-shuffle generation by ping-ponging from Phoenix to A Tribe Called Quest, only added to the fun. Even an old song I'd be fine with skipping normally — in this case, 311's “Down” — fit the cool-but-energetic atmosphere.
The look and feel of Vale Tudo is so strong that a lesser bar program could be forgiven, at least partially. But there, too, the bar achieves something fresh. Whereas it's common to find craft beer bars around the city, less prominent, small-batch liquors are Vale Tudo's specialty. (Beer drinkers be warned: A Bud Light was $5.) For example, the bar does not carry the ubiquitous Fireball cinnamon whiskey but offers a stronger (100 proof versus the former's 66), cayenne-infused alternative called St. Elmo's Fire ($7).
My night began with a Bombay gin and tonic ($7) but I switched to the more floral, less known Barr Hill gin ($8) from Vermont. The small-batch gin is made with honey, which gave the gin and tonic a pleasant sweetness without muzzling the bite. The only problem was I had to ask the bartender, who was sweet and informative, about the esoteric spirits. If I hadn't been aware ahead of time, I might not have ever known.
Vale Tudo replaced Cheerleaders, the sports bar that lost its liquor license in 2009 after police had to break up multiple fights there. There was no trace of that unwanted stigma on our visit, and the Fells Point community should welcome the new energy emanating from the long-stagnant space. In the biography section of Vale Tudo's Twitter account, it boasts that it's “a bar … that offers Baltimore an experience it hasn't seen yet.” That is not an empty promise, but rather a confident — and accurate — mission statement.
Back story: Formerly the troubled Cheerleaders, Vale Tudo is now a space with a bar and a lounge section with leather love seats. The team behind it is also responsible for the Get Down, another well-designed Fells Point spot.
Parking: Free and metered on surrounding streets
Signature drink: Vale Tudo carries specialty, small-batch liquors that can offer new spins on classics. My gin and tonic ($8) made with Barr Hill gin was only a dollar more than a Bombay and tonic, but the difference in taste could have warranted a steeper price.
Where: 702 S. Broadway, Fells Point
Contact: 410-868-7702, valetudobaltimore.com
Open: 7 p.m.-2 a.m. Monday and Friday; closed Tuesday-Wednesday; noon-2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday