Many popular restaurants around Baltimore show off their collections of sports memorabilia. (Baltimore Sun Photo Staff)
Grip a bat once held by baseball's immortal "Iron Man." Step above a dusty home plate that Orioles greats have tagged, stood next to, slid into. Then wash it all down with a cold beer.
In Baltimore, plenty of sports bars are like mini museums, lined with memorabilia harkening back to some of the greatest moments in local sports history.
There are odes to Orioles Hall of Famers with players' original bats, baseballs and gloves. There are remnants of Memorial Stadium in Towson, original Ravens gear in Federal Hill, and a variety of Baltimore Colts gear spread across the city.
Whether you're immersing yourself in baseball season or preparing for football in the fall, here are five bars and restaurants where you can find noteworthy memorabilia from some of your local sports favorites.
Nacho Mama's second location, which opened in Towson in November, is a treasure trove of all things Baltimore, but their sports-related memorabilia provides a particularly enjoyable blast from the past.
Step, inside and you're greeted by a wall ornate with Natty Boh regalia and autographed pictures of Baltimore Colts and Orioles players. But be sure to look down — Memorial Stadium's very last home plate used in a game, signed by former Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles, is sunken into the restaurant floor lobby, lit up and encased in glass with the stadium's original dirt.
"It's also a mini dance floor for the kids when they come through," said Nacho Mama's co-owner Jackie McCusker, who began collecting the memorabilia around 23 years ago.
"We kind of like to give ourselves the name of the 'Little Mini Baltimore Museum,'" she said. "You can really get a flavor of who and what Baltimore is. ... And if you're from here, you have lots of pride. We take it very seriously."
Other parts of Memorial Stadium — including its original food menu, the signs for the upper and lower decks, and stadium seating — are featured throughout the restaurant. Metal signs that Colts' cheerleaders used to evoke team spirit are autographed by original players and peppered throughout the bar, along with newspaper clippings headlining important moments in Baltimore sports history.
Though the Center Club is known for being exclusive and upscale — only members and their guests are allowed — it knows how to have hometown fun. Orioles Pub, the club's orange and black-themed casual bar and restaurant, features a rotating smorgasbord of local sports team memorabilia supplied by the Orioles and the Babe Ruth Birthplace Foundation.
Visitors can touch the worn bats that belonged to former Orioles players Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr. in the club's "bird nest" room. The pub is also home to the bat Ripken used to hit a home run in his record-setting 2,131st straight game, along with his 1991 All-Star bat and trophy.
Some of the most revered items, according to Orioles Pub general manager Kevin Bonner, include a photo of the 1982 Dunbar High School basketball team, which features former NBA players Muggsy Bogues, Reggie Williams and the late Reggie Lewis. Orioles player Eddie Murray's first contract, signed in 1973 at the age of 17, also draws in patrons, many shocked by players' salaries back then. (Murray's contract shows that he made $500 per month. But by 1987, he was making a $1.8 million salary, according to another encased contract.)
Bonner said the memorabilia has been great for members who bring in people from other cities for business.
"It's fun to watch people stand in front of the cases and say 'Do you remember this? Do you remember that?" Bonner said.
Newspaper clips feature headlines about homegrown athletes, like former tennis player Pam Shriver and golf legend Carol Mann, and commemorate priceless moments in local sports, including past wins by Morgan State University and the University of Maryland. The windows, which give way to views of the Inner Harbor, are embossed with the names and numbers of baseball Hall of Famers.
"It really celebrates the flavor of Baltimore sports from sports racing to some of the hometown heroes," Bonner said. "It conjures a lot of memories for people. It's pretty interactive."
Center Club is located at 100 Light St., Floor 16. Yearly membership runs $450-$1,850. centerclub.org.
From the purple and orange patio parties hosted on Ravens and Orioles game days to the orange crush cocktail specials served during Orioles season, the Federal Hill grill — one of three Mother's locations in the Baltimore area — is known to be a great place to gather with fellow sports fans. But the restaurant's memorabilia vestibule, located on the first floor, is another draw. The miniature room holds sports paraphernalia from Orioles players, including bats signed by Brooks Robinson and Ripken, and jerseys signed by former Ravens player Ray Lewis and former Colts Randy White and Art Donovan.
Manager Jorgen Eliason, who has worked at Mother's for six years, said while most out-of-towners flock to the Ripken memorabilia, locals are more interested in a different athlete.
"The Ray Lewis [memorabilia] is the most popular for sure," Eliason said, adding that the historical items add to the bar's energy and ambiance.
Everybody is here to have fun. There's a lot of camaraderie."
The Mother's menu also features sports-themed items, including the Buck Showalter tuna bites, named after the current Orioles manager, the Art Donovan veggie stack, and the "Iron Man" filet mignon sandwich.
Mother's Federal Hill Grille is open 11:30 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Monday through Friday; 9 a.m.-1:30 a.m. Saturday and Sunday. 1113 S. Charles St. mothersgrille.com.
Pickles Pub — known for its close proximity to Camden Yards (just a short walk across the street) — is a high-energy sports bar with two floors, four bars and more than 45 televisions. It's a prime destination along the crowded streets of the season opener, and they've got the pictures to prove it.
Photographs of downtown crowds during past events hang on the bar walls, along with photos of local sports heroes like Ripken, and newspaper articles highlighting the Colts' 1958 NFL championship win and Major League Baseball strikes.
And given its proximity to the stadium, it only makes sense that the pub harbors architectural drawings and blueprints of both Camden Yards and M&T Bank Stadium.
"Obviously being across the street is something really cool. We could be in those [maps] if they draw one across the street," said manager Craig Ziegenhein, adding that most of Pickles' memorabilia ties into sports.
"We're a local sports bar — Orioles, Ravens, first. ... And if there's any sport that you ever want to watch, you can come down here and it's going to be on one of our many TVs."
Pickles Pub, 520 Washington Blvd., is open 11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily.picklespub.com.
Turp's Sports Bar & Restaurant
Flags representing the University of Maryland, Ravens and the Baltimore hang from the ceiling, showing that the reverence for local sports is real at this "hometown" restaurant and bar. But the true highlights are the authenticated and signed memorabilia, which includes Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco's rookie jersey and a "2131" jersey — one of only 150 that were made to commemorate Ripken's consecutive-games streak and his 2007 Baseball Hall of Fame induction.
Filter into the dining and bar area and you're greeted with a personal-sized television in each booth along with vintage and modern snapshots of the local greats, including former Ravens player Ray Rice plowing over a Pittsburgh Steeler and an autographed photo of Orioles center fielder Adam Jones.
"It definitely adds to the experience and it adds to the atmosphere of the sports bar. My business partner and myself were both born and raised in Baltimore, so we hold it all dearly to our hearts," said Phillip Quick, the vice president of Jay's Restaurant Group, which owns Turp's.
"We still have some space on the wall to continue the collection, and we're always looking, and we're always going to charitable events. If there's something we don't have, we'll always be looking to add it."
The menu also plays homage to Baltimore's sports heroes — including the "2131," a burger topped with crab dip; a Raven's house salad and the O's shoestring onion rings topped with a spicy orange mayo. 11 a.m.-12 a.m. daily. 1317 N. Charles St. turpsonline.com.