From the looks of the crowd, the new bar on the corner of Thames and Bond streets will have a lot better luck than its predecessor, DuClaw Brewing Company.
On two recent Thursday nights, Bond Street Social — which doubles as restaurant, lounge and upscale sports bar — was teeming. Its two bars were so busy it was hard to find a stool or even sneak in to order a drink.
DuClaw closed nearly two years ago over sluggish business. But the owners of Bond Street — a group that includes investors in Mad River Grille and Philadelphia's Ladder 15 — have either run into a better business climate, or have simply successfully attracted a young, urban professional crowd.
Bond Street wants to be a little bit of everything — tellingly, its search engine description reads "Sports bars, nightclubs, restaurants, bachlerotte (sic), corporate, fundraiser, parties." On top of the restaurant and bars, it's also got a DJ booth! But it's also got going the kind of buzz that makes for lively crowds, and a handsome, rustic space that far exceeds the restaurant that preceded it.
The new bar incorporates several clever decorative touches — steel, wood and fire are cornerstones, in a look that Ron Swanson, of "Parks and Recreation," would appreciate. Fireplaces are encased in glass and black tile, and oversized windows look out onto Thames Street.
The building's layout allows for big groups and easy movement. Upon entering, a central, 30-foot-plus bar keeps most of the patrons. To its left, you'll find a second, smaller bar as well as a dining area with leather chairs centered around an indoor fire pit. Closest to the harbor, Bond Street has a dining room and behind that, a private lounge with its own bar. During the summer, that third bar will also serve the outdoor patio. Overall, the restaurant seats 160, including the outdoor area.
Bond Street also has social drinks — fruit-infused mojitos and sangrias, served table side in 80-ounce pitchers — and some martinis that are finished off with liquid nitrogen. The nitrogen doesn't add anything to the cocktail; it's just for the visual pizazz of fizzling in the glass. And my dirty martini ($14) was just as good without the nitrogen. The only accessory a dirty martini needs is an olive. Please don't force your nice bartenders to pull out the nitrogen tank: It looks like a pain.
As for beer, the owners have made modest gestures toward incorporating regional fare: Heavy Seas, Flying Dog, and Delaware's Dogfish Head are included. The drafts and the bottled selection — 22 brands in all — are hardly surprising; you'd find them at just about any beer bar worth its salt.
Bond Street's menu serves what the owners call 'social plates' — tapas-style dishes meant to be shared with a group. Thankfully, its kitchen stays open until 11 p.m., which meant I was able to order pulled-pork arepas ($9) and chicken Caesar bites ($7) as a very late-night dinner.
Service was highly accommodating — dressed in waistcoats and red-on-black uniforms, servers allowed me to take my appetizers at a table instead of the bar, and checked in with me several times. On a second visit, a bartender, Greenie, graciously took the time to explain the drinks menu.
While Bond Street Social's owners have boasted of catering to an exclusive crowd — "It's going to be an upscale kind of joint," owner Max Tucker told me in September; no one under 23 allowed after 10 p.m. — the atmosphere has been casual the nights I've gone. Twenty-one-year-olds have been allowed since it was pointed out to the owners that an age restriction was illegal.
Women wore vertigo-inducing high heels while holding on to taller cocktail glasses, and the guys for the most part wore their best former frat boy gear: tie-less shirts under blazers, football jerseys and faded jeans, expensive cologne. Something tells me the car parked outside with the Kappa Alpha Order license plate belonged to someone at Bond Street.
They all talked, clinked glasses and beer bottles while a DJ played Maroon 5's "Misery" and a disco-fied remix of Feist' "Inside and Out." The restaurant was so sound-proof, the sirens of a passing ambulance were muffled.
What surprised me, though, was that, even as it got later, people kept pouring into the already overcrowded bar. Maybe they're curiosity seekers, but, for now, anyway, it seems Bond Street won't have a problem with sluggish business.
Bond Street Social
Back story: Bond Street Social took over from DuClaw Brewing Company, which closed in December 2009 over sluggish business. It's a definite improvement — a handsome, rustic space with specialty cocktails and accommodating service.
Parking: Metered parking is available throughout Fells Point, and a garage a couple blocks away on South Caroline Street.
Drinks: Twelve beers on draft, including Victory Prima Pils, Rogue Hazelnut Brown Nectar Ale; 22 by the bottle, including Victory Golden Monkey and Heavy Seas Loose Cannon. There are also six cocktails — try the old fashioned, or the dirty Vincent, minus the nitrogen — and fruit-infused social drinks served in pitchers.
Where: 901 S. Bond St., Baltimore
Contact: 443-449-6234; bondstreetsocial.com
Open: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. daily
Price range: Beers top at $6. Cocktails are $9 and $10; liquid nitrogen cocktails are $14. Social drinks are $10 per glass or $50 for the table. Dinner menu is in the $7 (fries) to $22 (grilled hanger steak) range. All beers are $4 during happy hour, 4 p.m.-7 p.m.