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Columbia saloon making most of its 'second chance'

A science teacher and an electrician walk into a bar.

No, this is not the beginning of a bad joke.

Rather, it's the start of a story about how two novice restaurateurs revived a forgotten and tucked away corner of the Oakland Mills Village Center and turned it into an establishment that has been nominated as one of the five best bars and taverns in the state by the Columbia-based Restaurant Association of Maryland.

"We were really humbled by being nominated," said Second Chance Saloon co-owner Wendy Binder, sitting in a booth inside the bar on a recent afternoon. "It's a testament to our fans and patrons. All the nominees are wonderful bars, and it's great to be on the same list as them."

The independently owned bar, which opened in December 2008, derives its name from Last Chance Saloon, the former longtime watering hole that occupied the same space before closing in 2004.

"It was a different career move for (co-owner Declan Wood) and I," Binder said. "It was a second chance."

Binder and Wood, both Montgomery County residents, vividly recall the moment they knew that what used to be Columbia's "Last Chance" was where they were going to roll the dice on their second chance.

"A friend of mine made me aware this place might be available, and as soon as you walk into the bar side, it's Cheers-like," said Wood, a former electrician.

"I just remember sitting at the bar, turning and seeing Declan's face," said Binder, who was a science teacher. "We didn't even have to talk."

"It was a no-brainer," Wood said, finishing Binder's sentence.

More than four years later, "The Chance" — as is it is referred to by some regulars — will go toe-to-toe with Nottingham's, located on the ground floor of an office building off Snowden River Parkway, in Columbia; Dead Freddie's Island Grill and Macky's Bayside Bar and Grill, two Ocean City bars overlooking the Chesapeake Bay; and Hightopps Backstage Grill, in Timonium, to see which will be voted best bar/tavern in the state for 2012.

"I was surprised," Second Chance bartender and Columbia resident Kevin Flemming said about being nominated. "I know what we are capable of, but we are kind of tucked away."

The winner of the contest, which is decided by an online vote that ended March 8, will be announced on April 15 at the Restaurant Association of Maryland's Awards Gala in Baltimore.

A neighborhood 'gem'

While Wood and Binder will tell you Second Chance's location in the village center is a challenge they constantly are trying to overcome, it is also what makes the place special to many patrons.

"It's a real neighborhood bar," said Frank Eastham, a longtime Oakland Mills resident and principal of nearby Oakland Mills High School. "They like the food; they like the fact people remember their name, what they drink. That kind of thing. ... It's about knowing the community and serving the community we have."

Among the list of Second Chance's many regulars is County Council member Calvin Ball, who likes the saloon for its inviting atmosphere.

"Second Chance is a gem within our Oakland Mills community and an integral part of our heart and soul," Ball said. "It provides a phenomenal gathering place where the entire community can come together."

Woodstock resident John Morseman, who works in Columbia, said it's a place like Second Chance that truly reflects the character of a local community.

"When people come to visit Maryland, you don't want to take them to a chain or one of these big box stores," Morseman said. "That's the cool thing about Second Chance, you won't find a place in Columbia like it."

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