Growing up in a big family, Adam Scher and his cousins often heard their grandfather's old tales when they visited him in Severna Park. One in particular, about the most feared pirate on the Chesapeake Bay always stuck with Scher.

So when Scher, a 28-year-old native of Owings Mills, purchased a corner bar in Canton in January, he named it after the possibly apocryphal swashbuckler as a tribute to his beloved family member. Replacing the old Hooper's Pub sports bar, Mad Dog Murphy's opened the first week of March.


When we visited on a recent late Saturday night, Mad Dog Murphy's exuded an appropriately familial presence, despite a lack of foot traffic. A handful of folks — a few patrons, a few staff members on the clock and off — were huddled around the modest square bar in the center of the single-floor bar. It was clear from the breezy conversation and inside jokes that these people knew each other well. This was their neighborhood hangout.

Nearly all corner bars feel this way, or strive to, but the key for new visitors is inclusivity. The worst kind of "regular" is the one uninterested in making more. Will they make room for one more in the conversation, at the bar, playing pool?

At Mad Dog Murphy's, the answer was a resounding yes. Instead of feeling like a slow business day, Murphy's felt like a laidback, communal gathering in a buddy's high school basement. As a Washington Capitals game played on a flatscreen above the bar, recognizable hits from the past (Local H's "Bound For the Floor," "Billie Jean") played over speakers and upped the level of nostalgia. We settled in by ordering a National Bohemian can (attractively priced at $2) and a shot of Jack Daniel's ($5).

Soon enough, Scher and a bartender named Stuart challenged us to a game of eight-ball on the orange-and-black pool table. (Another basement-like perk: Pool and darts are free. There even used to be a Kiss-themed pinball machine, but it broke, sadly.) My friend and I took two of three games that I'm positive were difficult to watch, but none of us cared. These weren't wannabe sharks, but simply a couple guys trying to welcome new faces.

This comfortable vibe remained for the rest of our night, which went longer than expected because we were in no rush to leave. After finishing our beers — this time I had a can of The Brewer's Art's Resurrection ($4), while my friend polished off a Budwesier bottle ($3) — another bartender pulled out a deck of playing cards. A few more regulars were there now, including the female artist responsible for the Baltimore-themed chalk mural adorning the bar's main wall, and it was time to play the college drinking game, "Up the River, Down the River." As cards were dealt, a freshly popped bag of popcorn passed around the 12-seat bar.

It all felt so familiar, even though it was my first visit. It was like a scene from a movie called "Dive Bar Time Machine."

Context matters in everything, and bars are no exception. I could complain about Murphy's' lack of a cocktail menu or beer on tap, but the overall experience overshadowed the shortcomings. Those things would be nice, and Scher later said draft lines could eventually come, but I would not trade them for nights like my recent Saturday. When an unpretentious bar like Murphy's embraces what it is — Scher said, approvingly, he often hears his bar compared to basements — instead of reinventing itself unnecessarily, it's a win for the customer.

As the night continued, Scher let customers pick the music. (A suggestion: Murphy's has a record player and a nice vinyl collection, thanks mostly to Scher's parents, so act accordingly.) When the needle landed on my choice, Stevie Wonder's "Love's in Need of Love Today," the scene seemed nearly too good to be true. I made the only improvement I could, and asked the bartender for another Boh.