For years, Silks was a mysterious eyesore in Canton.
In 2009, Midnight Sun contributor Evan Siple painted an unusual picture of a previous visit. While Silks appeared to be a sports bar from the exterior, the inside was an "extension of the owner's house." The main door was locked, stacks of mail were scattered and the owner wore pajama pants and slippers behind the bar. A friend in search of a bathroom mistakenly entered a living room. The writer's verdict? Silks, seemingly a semi-private hangout, was "crazier than crazy."
Unsurprisingly, that business plan did not last. While the lights remained off, the fading mural on its exterior — an unfocused hodgepodge of sports equipment typically reserved for a 5-year-old boy's bedroom walls — acted as a reminder prime real estate was not being utilized.
Finally, last year, the corner bar showed new signs of life. Slowly but surely, the interior was gutted, the firehouse red trim outside became black and the mural was painted over in nonobtrusive beige. It was a makeover through reduction, and the pending fresh start quickly built a buzz around the neighborhood.
In March, after a lengthy renovation, Silks opened with the same name nodding to horse racing attire, but under new ownership. In the short time since, it has found regular crowds outside of last call. They've attracted happy-hour folks, dinner diners and, on Saturdays and Sundays, a growing brunch following. The biggest crowds come around 7 p.m. or 8 p.m. on weekends, a bartender recently said.
Last Saturday, I took one of the dozen seats at the bar to watch the Masters golf tournament. Upon entering, the most noticeable aspect is the narrowness of the bar area. There were roughly 20 people in the bar, but it felt like 40, given the lack of open space. To get to the bathroom, located at the other end of the bar, I had to weave in and out of crowds that had nowhere else to stand. The two bartenders had even less room behind the bar, and there were multiple times it seemed as if they were working on top of each other.
Despite the close quarters, the barkeeps performed their jobs very well. When I sat down, the bartender not only introduced herself, but her partner's name, too. Sadly, this happens more rarely than you would think. It's a simple gesture that not only sets a patron at ease, but it signals a staff's accommodating attitude. Too often there is an everybody-for-themselves attitude behind the bar, but the best, most efficient bartender duos typically work like this, as a team.
Despite a cocktail list with 10 options, the combination of a gorgeous spring night and Augusta National Golf Club on TV made my decision of an Arnold Palmer Crush ($7) easy. The drink — made with fresh lemon juice, Deep Eddy Sweet Tea vodka, DeKuyper triple sec and a splash of club soda — looked like an ideal Arnold Palmer, more iced tea than lemonade. The drink went down so easily that I internally questioned the amount of liquor in it, but that proved to be a rash judgment. The booze was felt soon enough, which highlighted the accuracy of the pours.
There are 16 beers on draft at Silks, and the selection is above average. There were familiar out-of-towners (New Belgium Ranger, Lienenkugel Summer Shandy) next to Maryland brews (Evolution Craft Brewing's seasonal Sprung ale, Heavy Seas Gold). A National Bohemian pint is properly priced at $3. I ordered the crispy Hoppy Dog by Pub Dog ($5.50), whose bold, earthy hops quickly shocked and refreshed the palate.
As Bubba Watson concluded his Saturday round, a group of Orioles fans asked to switch the channel to the baseball game. The bartender obliged, and without being asked, switched the audio from the '90s alternative rock satellite radio station to the play-by-play announcers.
The other bartender indicated Silks remains a bar in progress. She said the tentative plan is to open an upstairs dining room in July, which could do wonders for the crowded bar area. (There is a first-floor dining room connected to the bar now, but there were few people in it on my visit.)
Silks is off to a promising start, thanks in larger part to its drink selection and staff. The eyesore's removal would have been enough to celebrate, but the new Silks is off to a nice start. If it continues to build on the foundation, Canton, already a neighborhood spoiled with bars, could have another viable option away from O'Donnell Square.
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Back story: After months of renovations, Silks opened in early March with the same name as the previous tenant but under new ownership. It has a good mix of beers on draft, and a cocktail list that seemed tailored to the warm weather.
Signature drink: Silks has a wide range of beers on tap. If you're not in the mood, try an Arnold Palmer Crush ($7), a refreshing mix of lemon juice, Deep Eddy Sweet Tea vodka, triple sec and club soda.