Food & Drink

Why braving Federal Hill for the Super Bowl was more than worth it

Like yours, my mind is still swirling.

It doesn't exactly hurt like a hangover, and it's not racing like Jacoby Jones' record-setting kickoff return. It's simply still comprehending, ever so slowly, that our city's football team was crowned world champions last night.


But I saw something extraordinary last night, and after the clock ran out, I was positive there was no place I'd rather be than Federal Hill, the neighborhood many love to hate, or at least love to roll their eyes at like, "Really, Fed? Where all of the recent college graduates fill the streets with puke?"

When I moved to Baltimore in 2008, I lived off Light Street in Federal Hill for 10 months, before realizing I was more than ready to move to a slower-paced neighborhood. Now, I'm in Fed maybe once a month, if that. I like some bars away from Cross Street Market, but I'm also fine with the bigger, more typically packed haunts such as Ryleigh's Oysters and Ropewalk Tavern. Fed Hill is fine for what it is — a neighborhood filled with bars and many people looking to rage. It's a good place before and after an Orioles game. I don't love it unconditionally, but it serves a purpose.


Back to last night. After I filed my review of Beyonce's halftime show at 9:40 p.m., I called Yellow Cab and was told there was a 45-minute wait. I decided to take my chances and headed toward the Washington Monument with hopes of getting lucky. Somehow, I found an empty cab within five minutes of leaving the office.

When we pulled up to Cross Street, the streets were nearly empty, unsurprisingly. A roommate and his friends had a choice table at Social Pub and I was ready to watch how the 49ers' late surge would play out.

The only problem? It was one-in, one-out at Social ... and every other bar I tried in Federal Hill. After being denied by four other bars, I went back to Social and watched the game through a foggy glass window with a cop next to me. When the 49ers entered the redzone after a big run late in the game, the officer flailed her arms and walked away. "I'm going to start getting pissed if I stand here," she mumbled to herself.

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The bouncer at Social eventually let me join my friends (I think the sad, pathetic look on my face as I watched the Super Bowl out in the cold sold him). Everyone knows what happens next — the Ravens did what few outside of Baltimore expected. They won the game.

As time ran out, the bar exploded with strangers hugging, huddled men holding each other as they jumped up down, and, of course, "Seven Nation Army" chants. Suddenly, the sound changed from the CBS announcers' voices to Will Ferrell saying, "We're going to skate to one song and one song only." Fittingly, the Kanye West/Jay-Z collaboration "N----- in Paris" — the song with "Ball so hard, motherf------ wanna fine me" — was the first song we heard as the Ravens were showered in confetti. Social Pub felt like a euphoric club where everyone had the same favorite song, and it played at a perfect time.

We headed to the streets where the cops, on horses, waited for the madness to begin. It felt like everyone left the bars at the same time. Fans ran to South Charles Street with their smartphones out, capturing the images they'd proudly post to Facebook later. The "Army" chants continued. I saw a guy climb a bar's fire escape and a few fans jump on some parked cars, but that was as "reckless" as I saw. This wasn't about causing a riot or acting out because the moment called for it (because it never does). This was a joyous celebration that vindicated so many fans' belief in their team and a message to doubters that "expert predictions" are still far from foolproof.

Last night, I tweeted (because what else was there to do?), "My idea of hell: Locked out of every bar in Federal Hill with three minutes left in the Super Bowl." Most of the responders empathized, but one person snarkily replied, "that's my idea of heaven. Because almost ever bar is [sic] fed hill is for recent college grads." I hope that guy patted himself on the back for that Twitter zing, because I was too busy relishing a Super Bowl win with some of the most impassioned (OK, crazed) fans in the world.

All week, I've been jealous of friends and colleagues that made the trip to New Orleans, and I'm sure they have better stories than this one. But I can't help but feel I was in the exact right place at the right time last night, despite showing up late. I didn't miss the part everyone was waiting all season (and more than a decade) for — to storm the street and scream, "Yes!" at no one and everyone around. It was worth the wait.


Last night, Federal Hill wasn't so bad. In fact, it was amazing. And it was the only place for me to be.