The naming of a bar might seem like the simplest task on the new bar owner's to-do list. But it's one of the most delicate. The name sets expectations, conveys intent and establishes an owner's taste.
With a name like Cowboys & Rednecks, the new Federal Hill country-western bar/restaurant is at a disadvantage from the get-go. The name is tacky and sophomoric, more suitable for a Jeff Foxworthy-themed chain of restaurants than a place where adults might spend an evening.
That's a shame, because Cowboys, which replaces Tavern Corvino, is not as tasteless as its name suggests. With its long bar counter and its Texas-size flat-screen TVs, it's as spiffy and shiny as a brand-new belt buckle.
Of all the recent country-western bars to open — Dark Horse Saloon in Canton and PBR Baltimore at Power Plant are the others — this one is the best.
The retractable garage doors facing Charles Street are one of Cowboys' best features. They span the bar's entire facade and make it feel airy. During the summer, they'll be highly appreciated.
Cowboys is big enough to accommodate the Sunday football crowds that are sure to spill over from neighboring Mother's Federal Hill Grille. The bar counter, which extends the length of the long room, takes up only a fraction of the space. Between the counter and the dining booths, there's a row of stools and two rows of high-top tables.
In the back there's another a third bar that seems to focus on liquor, as well as a more private dining area with copper- top dining tables.
The selection of draft beers is disappointing — 12 brands, most of them macros, with the exception of Flying Dog, Heavy Seas, Shiner Bock and Fat Tire. Prices are under $5.50; my Loose Cannon was $2.75 during happy hour. The nearby Don't Know Tavern, which is far less polished than Cowboys, has a more comprehensive beer selection. The bar also has boilermakers, vodka crushes and Blood Marys — all under $9 — and a small selection of wines.
The bar's early advertising suggested it was going to be a steakhouse, but along with the seven kinds of steaks offered are sandwiches and seafood.
Unlike other country-western bars, the decor is relatively low-key — lots of cattle horns, saloon doors, cowboy regalia and even a saddle at the end of one of the bars. The bar seems to have a mature audience in mind, and there were some of them dining during a recent happy hour. But the bar is never really quiet, not early in the afternoon, and not after 10 p.m., with music blaring from the stereos and several flat screens broadcasting ESPN channels.
On game day, the hubbub must be relentless. And the bar is going after a young crowd at least once a week — Thursdays are promoted as college nights. The music — Jason Aldean, Miley Cyrus — is in keeping with the establishment's theme.
Dress for the female staff is lots of tight plaid; at least the waitresses and bartenders don't have to wear cut-offs. The male service staff didn't wear any themed outfits, as far as I could tell.
My bartender struck me as brusque. When one customer couldn't decide on sides, she snapped at him: "Well, do you have a preference between chips or fries?" She also couldn't tell another customer how the gumbo compared to that served at other restaurants. Service rule No. 1: Know the menu.
Another rule: When a customer is ambivalent, step up and suggest something you like; at the very least, describe the pros and cons of one choice over another. It's a simple courtesy and one that goes a long way toward connecting with a first-time customer.
Cowboys deserves praise for its low-key take on country-western. Everyone else in town with this theme overdoes it. For my money, Cancun Cantina in Hanover is still the standard for a contemporary country-western bar.
Other than the name, there are few missteps here. And the owners seem to have acknowledged as much. They don't refer to it as Cowboys & Rednecks, but the more palatable "The C&R."
Cowboys & Rednecks
Back story: Located next to Mother's Federal Hill Grille, Cowboys & Rednecks replaces Taverna Corvino, which closed last April.
Parking: Cowboys & Rednecks has its own lot; on-street metered parking is also available.
Signature drink: The bar has 12 beers on draft, nine canned and 13 botttled varieties; most of them are macros. It offers a handful of cocktails — including boilermakers — and six red and five white wines. Wines are $6-$9 by the glass.
Prices: Beers are $5.50 or less. During happy hour, from 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, drafts, including my Loose Cannon, are $2.50. The dinner menu is between $4 (sides like coleslaw, sweet potato fries) and $26.95 (14-ounce New York strip).
Where: 1117 S. Charles St., Baltimore
Contact: 410-223-2269; facebook.com/pages/CR-Pub
Open: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily