Before its 15 minutes of fame, J.A. Murphy's was a fun, occasionally rowdy but unremarkable Fells Point bar. It was the type of place you stopped by for a quick beer during a pub crawl, but usually left before a second round.
In August, J.A. Murphy's made it to cable TV for all of the wrong reasons. It was the subject of "Bar Rescue," a makeover reality show on Spike TV hosted by industry expert Jon Taffer. The show painted the owners — old fraternity brothers Keith Murphy and Joel Gallant — as clueless managers who allowed their bar to erode.
Of course, at the end of the episode, J.A. Murphy's was transformed into the more handsome (but duller) Murphy's Law. Then, despite Hollywood renovations and having been reopened only for a couple months, the bar was quietly sold. So much for a "rescue."
Enter Bradley's of Fells Point, the replacement that scrubbed the old bar's fratmosphere clean. In the process, it seems to have removed any traces of personality from the Fells Point location. It's a shell of a bar and little else.
As far as looks, there's not much to say. Bradley's is a slender, dark room with a wooden bar, a couple of tables and some stools. Muted TVs play in the corners. Indie-rock songs can be heard at a low level. There are no signs or posters on the walls.
On this particular Saturday night, there were fewer than 15 people in the room, including staff. We immediately grabbed seats at the bar. Looking around, I struggled to find anything worth mentioning. Autographed dollar bills lined a segment of the wall that was surrounded by Bradley's' modest collection of liquor bottles. The only decorative touch to make an impression — and not much of one, at that — was a collection of Orioles bobblehead dolls in a glass case behind the bar.
Faced with disappointing decor and an atmosphere to go with it, we turned hopefully to the cocktail menu. Bradley's offers six "specialty drinks," most of which turned us off, given their sweet names ("CinnaFig Martini," "Caramel Apple White"). We chose drinks that fit the subdued setting: Pimm's Chalice ($8) and Pikesville Peak ($7.50).
The Peak (made with Pikesville Rye, Cointreau triple sec, orange bitters and ginger beer) tasted weak at first, but it eventually surprised us by settling into a tasty concoction. Even better was the Pimm's Chalice, which uses Hendricks gin, muddled cucumber and mint, lemon, ginger beer and Pimm's No. 1, the sweet British liqueur. Our bartender pointed out that adding cucumber to any drink improves it, and the Chalice further supported the claim. It was a bright, balanced cocktail that gives customers a reason to stay at Bradley's beyond a Natty Boh (which cost $2 all day, every day).
For beer, Bradley's has a surprisingly sophisticated tap system (a leftover gift from "Bar Rescue") that reports the temperature of the beer (an appreciated 29 degrees on our visit). With eight taps, the draft selection was better than expected: Heavy Seas Loose Cannon, Stoudt's Pumpkin Ale, Dogfish Head 60-Minute IPA, Fordham Copperhead Ale, Crispin Cider, Mama's Little Yella Pils, Bud Light and Boh. But the reason to come to Bradley's — above the cocktails and beer list — is the $2 Boh deal.
Open for less than six weeks, Bradley's is still figuring itself out. The bar's other half — a gutted, adjoining space formerly a part of J.A. Murphy's — is a soon-to-be-open dining room. Perhaps the food served will be more remarkable than the generic bar experience. As of now, the bar has been set rather low.
Bradley's of Fells Point
Back story: After J.A. Murphy's was humiliated on the renovation reality show "Bar Rescue" in August, its owners sold the rebranded "Murphy's Law." Bradley's of Fells Point came two months after.
Where: 1703 Aliceanna St., Fells Point
Signature drink: The Pimm's Chalice ($8) uses cucumber and mint to elevate an above-average gin cocktail. It was refreshing on a fall night, and it easily could work in the summer, too.
Parking: Metered and free parking nearby
Contact: 410-276-3030, bradleysoffellspoint.com
Open: 10 a.m.-midnight Monday; closed Tuesday; 10 a.m.-midnight Wednesday and Thursday, 10 a.m.-1 a.m., Friday and Saturday