When Brad Keevan and Marka Browning took over the space formerly known as Reefer's in June, they had a lot of work on their hands.
Reefer's — an often shuttered dance club that had been on the skids for years — was, in a word, scuzzy. In order to bring in a regular crowd, the property needed a major face lift.
From the looks of it, Marka — a former bartender a JA Murphy's — and her partner Brad have done a pretty impressive job. They've transformed the space from a dingy and, frankly, weird Caribbean-themed dive to a warm, friendly after-work hangout. It's now called Dogwatch Tavern, named after a nautical shift.
Dogwatch, which opened this past September during the Fells Point Fun Festival, features a revamped billiards area with a shuffle bowl machine. A double-sided bar cuts down the middle of the space; one side has a lounge with leather couches and adequate flat screens for sports watching, and the other is filled with booths.
The deep red walls complement the warm lighting and polished floors. The bar's nautical-meets-canine theme is still somewhat incomplete: The bathrooms are labeled "Squatters" for ladies, and "Leg Lifters" for men, and that's pretty much it, aside from a few canine figurines.
Outdoor seating, which is rumored to be dog-friendly, will be available in the near future, though the eastern side of Broadway Market's wall might not have the best view.
On a recent weeknight, about 20 people were at the bar for happy hour, and another group mingled near the back for their weekly pool league. The crowd seemed to be a mix of regulars and first timers in their 20s and 30s, debating the best-but-worst dive bars in the area (the resounding consensus was, appropriately, BAR).
The staff happily introduced themselves and served everyone efficiently. We started off with Dogwatch's unusual happy hour special. Served from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. weekdays, it doesn't have any discounts for beer or wine, but all shots — from rail vodka to Johnnie Walker Black Label — are $3.
The draft list isn't expensive, though: It ranges from $2 for Natty Boh to $4.50 for Fat Tire, with another 10 or so selections on draft.
Dogwatch also features $20 "beer towers" every day, a 116-ounce tankard filled with your choice of domestic brew. With a spout at the bottom, it serves as a sort of portable table-top beer tap, perfect for a group of three or more.
We also gave the food menu a whirl, which features a standard selection of pub grub. The fully loaded fries ($6.95) — a mountain of crispy fries covered in bacon, cheese, pico and scallions with two dipping sauces — were a crowd-pleaser.
The remainder of the menu is very affordable, topping off in the $9-$10 range with generous portions, and Dogwatch's kitchen is open until 1 a.m., which is convenient for late night bites.
While so many bars these days seem to be opting for the "upscale casual" approach with expensive drafts and microbrews, Dogwatch aims for simply "casual" and nails it.
Keevan and Browning have no plans to bring in DJs on the weekends, a welcome change for customers who just want to hang out with friends and have a lively conversation without shouting.
At the end of the day, Dogwatch's relaxed atmosphere and cleaned-up decor is a welcome addition to the Fells Point scene.
Back story: Brad Keevan and Marka Browning took the dilapidated, grimy dance club Reefers and gave it a major renovation, transforming the space into a welcoming, fun bar with plenty of space to stretch out and mingle with friends. Browning is a former bartender at J.A. Murphy's.
Parking: Street, metered parking is available on Broadway.
Signature drink: $20 beer towers (domestics only), a 116-ounce container with a tap for sharing with friends. All shots are $3 during happy hour, which runs 4 p.m.-8 p.m. Monday-Friday. The food menu features standard, tasty pub grub ranging from $4.95 (Hummus Platter) to $11.95 (crabcake sandwich platter). The kitchen is open until 1 a.m.
Where: 709 S. Broadway, Baltimore
Contact: 410-276-6030, dogwatchtavern.com
Open: 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily