There is no set criterion for a great dive bar. A dingy bar can have character. An unassuming exterior could hide a spectacular interior. Sometimes, the right jukebox is all it takes.
But all great dives are unified by one factor: They possess an instantly comfortable atmosphere. That can come from a warm bartender, cheap drinks or an overall lack of pretension. The really good ones have it all.
Coach's Rendezvous (which was called Rendezvous Lounge before new owner Ray Harcum took over) made a case to be called a great dive bar on a recent Thursday night, thanks to the hospitality, good-natured banter and general positive vibes coming from Harcum and his patrons. Out of the 10 or so patrons there, three said they had known Harcum since he was 7. Others acted similarly.
Not all dives require themes, but Coach's has a unique one for Charles Village: It's a lacrosse-themed bar, and a proud one at that. Harcum and his buddies are local high school lacrosse coaches, and their passion for the game goes beyond the jerseys, helmets and sticks adorning the dimly lit space.
They constantly announced updated playoff scores, debated hypothetical match-ups and reminisced about their playing days. A new friend next to us pointed to an old team photo down the bar as a wide smile ran across his face. We may have walked in as strangers, but within five minutes of sitting down, we were laughing and sharing stories with these old friends.
The jovial setting made it easy to forgive the bar's shortcomings, but not ignore them. Only two lights worked in the bar, making the room so dark that it was difficult to decipher the theme at first. There were five standard beer taps (Yuengling, Sierra Nevada to name a couple) but it wasn't clear that they worked. We ordered Natty Bohs ($2), and while there appeared to be Boh tap, our beers came as cans poured in pint glasses. The beer list is reasonably priced (the most expensive and exotic beer was a $6 Fat Tire), as are the mixed drinks ($3 for rails, $7 for top-shelf).
Another sign of a strong dive bar is its ability to make a customer overlook its shortcomings, and Coach's Rendezvous excels in that sense. There was no singular attribute as to why the bar succeeds, but rather a combination of things: Harcum's big laugh and easygoing personality, a true passion for lacrosse, his friends becoming our friends with ease, the old Dell desktop behind the bar playing Nirvana's "Nevermind" in its entirety. It all added to the experience.
Everyone in the bar shared another experience that night: The 2013 NFL Draft. There were audible gasps when Miami traded up to select Dion Jordan, and when Philadelphia was on the clock, Harcum, a life-long Eagles fan, handed out free beers to the two Eagles fans in my group. Somehow, a bar with more lacrosse memorabilia than Ravens gear (although there was some of the latter, too) made a great place to watch a football draft.
Right before we left, St. Louis traded up for Dunbar High alum Tavon Austin, a speedy wide receiver. A couple seats down, a man who had been yelling Austin's name all night sat enthralled with the flat screen TV above the bar. He said he was one of Austin's coaches at Dunbar. When commissioner Roger Goodell said Austin's name, the man and the rest of the bar exploded with cheers, as smart phones were frantically pulled from pockets. At Coach's Rendezvous, the sport of choice may be lacrosse, but it's a Baltimore bar first.
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Back story: Previously Rendezvous Lounge, the Coach's Rendezvous is now a lacrosse-themed bar, which makes sense — owner Ray Harcum played for Forest Park and now coaches in the city. It was a dive before Harcum, and it remains a dive now, which fits the laid back vibe.
Parking: Metered and free on surrounding streets.
Signature drink: No need to be fancy here, especially when a Natty Boh can is only $2.