In July, Turp's Sports Bar and Restaurant finished its first minor renovations since opening in Mount Vernon in 2009. More TVs were added and a new floor was made to resemble a football field, but underneath the fresh layer of gloss remained the same no-nonsense sports bar local fans and college students had come to frequent.
It was a relief to see. Judging from my seat by the bar for last Sunday's Ravens game against the Tennessee Titans, Turp's was still Turp's — a dependable place to comfortably drink beer on a budget while watching sports in high-definition.
When it comes to sports bars — the good ones, where being considered a "regular" is a goal and then a badge of pride — what else really matters?
When sports bars lose track or ignore basic functions, problems typically follow. Sitting in one of the dozen occupied seats at the bar, I thought of Townhouse Kitchen and Bar, the sleek Harbor East sports bar that closed in January, a couple months shy of its two-year anniversary. Perhaps because of its location, Townhouse always felt distractingly fancy for a sports bar. The focus was on everything but the game and the experience watching it — from strangely high-concept art on the walls to a lounge equipped with a fireplace.
Turp's is more my speed. Throughout our visit, activity was streamlined and simple: Pitchers of light beer were poured, wings were served and 40 or so football fans agonized and rejoiced in equal measure in front of the many flatscreen TVs strategically placed around the space. Invested-but-never-obnoxious patrons wore team shirts (not just Ravens, but Lions, Jets and others), jeans and sweatpants, and only seemed happy when their teams succeeded.
The scene looked and felt like a quintessential sports bar in an area lacking many similar options. In a city obsessed with its home teams, it is puzzling to see a neighborhood so close to the stadiums without more credible sports bars.
But Turp's is indispensible not because it looks like a sports bar, but because it executes like a proper one. In particular, that means approachable bartenders serving affordable alcohol, a front on which Turp's delivers.
During Ravens games, 16-ounce National Bohemian tallboy cans cost $2, which is all I really needed to know. When my team plays, craft-beer guessing games like identifying grains and fruit notes are furthest from my mind, so Turp's' straightforward deal felt appropriate and welcome.
The draft list has room for improvement but enough range to avoid banality. Of the 10 tap options, one beer was brewed in Maryland: The Brewer's Art's Resurrection ($5.50 per pint, $18.50 for a pitcher). Two other local beers were listed (a "seasonal" Flying Dog and Public Works Ale's Knuckle-Buster IPA), but unavailable at the time. The other beers were sports-bar standards, from Yuengling ($3, $10.50) and Angry Orchard Hard Cider ($4.50, $16) to New Belgium's Fat Tire ($5.50, $18.50) and Blue Moon ($5.50, $18.50). Turp's' list is objectively fine since sports bars must accommodate a wide range of palates, but also predictable. Just one more rotating seasonal option, especially an esoteric or hard-to-find beer, would go a long way to keep patrons guessing without forcing anyone out of their comfort zones.
As we watched the Ravens take control of the game, a stranger more than two decades my senior sat down and introduced himself as Steve. His pronounced accent gave away his home (Rhode Island), but on this day, he was simply a football fan in a new city. Steve was here for a few months on work, and over time — and more beers — he expounded life wisdom, from parenting to women to bachelorhood.
I am not positive when we officially became friends — it probably occurred as Steve swiped between iPhone photos of his children from a second marriage to a candy-painted red truck he begrudgingly sold — but it happened. As usual, new friendships begot shots, and Turp's was happy to end our day on a high note.
Torrey Smith had just caught a 32-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco, so we ordered Purple Shooters, which are on special for $2 a piece during games. We clanked our shots of rail vodka mixed with Grape Pucker and grenadine, and turned our attention back to the two flat-screen TVs behind the bar. I ignored the fact that the shooters tasted like Dimetapp because they served as reminders as to why we go to sports bars — and not stay in the comfort of our own homes — in the first place.
We congregate around oversized TVs to share in the experience of sports' fleeting highs and sobering lows alongside friends, both new and old. For lifelong residents and out-of-towners alike, Turp's makes a fine setting to do it in Baltimore.