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JD's Smokehouse finds a better fit in return to Canton

In 2014, when JD’s Smokehouse closed after a 13-year run, Canton lost one of the first and few bars on O’Donnell Square to boast an expansive list of craft-beer drafts.

The reason for the closure was to focus on launching its Bel Air location, but owner Paul Friedenberg couldn’t shake the feeling that JD’s still belonged in Canton, too. When an opportunity to buy the long-running dive American Harry’s Bar presented itself, he and partner Bud Michels made the return official. In late March, JD’s Smokehouse opened on the corner of South Luzerne and Foster avenues.

A recent visit to watch “Thursday Night Football” was proof not only that JD’s could come home again, but that it found more suitable digs for its concept. The smaller, single-floor space better fits JD’s, which always felt more like a neighborhood corner sports bar than an O’Donnell Square party spot.

One of the new establishment’s best attributes is its familiarity. With deliberate design choices like keeping the building’s old glass block windows and reusing the original JD’s’ color scheme (red, black and a touch of yellow), the space finds a proper middle ground for the American Harry’s faithful and fans of the first JD’s. Tin beer signs and new arcade consoles for “Big Buck Hunter Pro” and “Golden Tee” re-enforce the watering hole vibe.

This JD’s has considerably fewer draft lines (28) than its predecessor (58), but the selection still feels curated. (Part of the downsizing was circumstantial: American Harry’s only had eight taps, so JD’s had to add the others.)

On this visit, a mix of styles and regions was represented, like the Peppercorn Saison by D.C.’s 3 Stars Brewing Co.; Yards’ Pynk, a tart berry ale out of Philadelphia; and Helles Belles, a light German-inspired lager from Oregon’s Ninkasi Brewing. Only four of the choices were made in Maryland — it would be nice to see that number increased — but this was easier to overlook given the wide selection ($5-$10).

More disappointing, though, was the beers’ overall availability. Six choices listed on the menu were kicked and hadn’t been replaced. Perhaps I caught JD’s between deliveries, but it’s never a good look for a beer bar to be out of more than 20 percent of its draft inventory.

My bartender, amiable and attentive throughout the visit, apologized for the shortages. Ready to order, I asked for a Brothers of the Beard, a collaboration with Heavy Seas Beer in honor of the JD’s beer club of the same name. That was unfortunately out, but had recently been replaced by a DuClaw Brewing collaboration called Honeys of the Hops, a honey-infused wheat ale brewed for the women’s version of the beer club.

The bartender didn’t have many details about it, but smartly offered a sample in a shot glass. A full pint ended up being a bit sweet for my palate, but the crisp finish upped its drinkability.

About those clubs: They cost $25 to join, which gets a customer personalized glassware that stays at the bar and can be filled with any beer for $6, no matter the time. Since opening, the new JD’s has more than 230 members, said Friedenberg. (Oddly, neither of the two bartenders mentioned it to me on my visit.)

That’s a pretty good deal if you’re going to be a regular. And JD’s has notable discounts like $5 crushes every day and a bottomless National Bohemian brunch option for $8 on weekends. But other prices were head-scratchers, like $10 onion rings and the Thursday night deal on wings — down to $10 from $12.95, which felt more like a special in name than in fact. At least the 10 wings — split between buffalo and Jamaican jerk — were plump and smoky.

Before my exit, I tried an orange crush, whose price seemed too good to be true. The execution needed work, such as the bartender squeezing only a single orange (one more, please!), her decision to mix the drink with my straw (a quick toss in a tin shaker would have done wonders) and a lack of garnish. Still, if bang-for-my-buck were the only criteria, there was little to complain about the heavy pour of Three Olives orange vodka.

Little hiccups aside, JD’s appears to be a positive addition to Canton’s off-the-square scene, largely because of its homey, casual feel. I saw low-key date nights and social-sports players laughing over beers and barbecue together, and bartenders greetings customers by name.

It was a reminder that fit can be more valuable than location. Southern Provisions, a live-music whiskey bar that’s often packed at night, feels more natural in the old JD’s space, and the new JD’s is more in the spirit of a neighborhood dive bar. Both are now where they should be.

JD’s Smokehouse

Backstory: Open for 13 years on O’Donnell Square until 2014, JD’s Smokehouse made its return to Canton in the former American Harry’s Bar in late March. Fans of the old JD’s will recognize the new version for its craft-beer list and barbecue sandwiches.

Parking: Free on nearby streets

Handicap accessible: No

Signature drink: We recommend exploring the draft beer menu, but JD’s offers five styles of crushes, each $5.

Where: 623 S. Luzerne Ave., Canton

Contact: 410-522-2266; facebook.com/jdssmokehousecanton

Open: 4 p.m.-11 p.m. Tuesday-Wednesday; 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Thursday; 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Friday-Saturday; 8 a.m.-11 p.m. Sunday; closed Monday

wesley.case@baltsun.com

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