Charles Village Pub is all grown up — mostly.
Before the January 2011 fire that destroyed its building, Charles Village Pub in Towson drew a local lunch crowd, but it was mostly known as a bar for college kids. It was a fun place for after-school beers.
CVP is still a good place for drinks. But these days, thanks to a newly rebuilt interior and revamped menu that puts a local spin on traditional bar food, it's a nice place for a meal, too.
After the fire, the building had to be completely reconstructed. A few mementos made it into the new building (including the old college scoreboard), but longtime customers will notice some structural changes right away.
Both the main floor and upstairs were expanded, and an outdoor rooftop deck was added to the second floor. The space is still full of dark wood, but it feels fresh and airy, especially upstairs, where enormous windows fill the bar with natural light.
Around 6:30 on a recent Thursday night, both floors (and both outdoor spaces) were packed with happy-hour revelers and diners.
We started with crushes — a house drink specialty — one orange and one grapefruit ($7 regularly, $5 during happy hour). Freshly squeezed juice in the orange version made a difference — it was the better of the two — but they were both refreshing, flavorful takes on the summery vodka drink.
The food menu is as new as the building. It's filled with bar-friendly food that's familiar, but with a Maryland spin.
The Bay & Blue appetizer ($8.99, $5 during happy hour) was uncomplicated but tasty. Crispy hand-cut potato chips, sprinkled with Old Bay and topped with tangy blue cheese (the creamy sauce, plus a few crumbles) and scallions, had the potential to be an instant bar food classic.
The Oldy But Goody cheeseburger ($7.99) was straightforward and cooked a little longer than requested, but the meat was full of flavor, and a dense brioche bun added buttery richness to each bite. Even after devouring the Bay & Blue, we were happy to see a big helping of house-made Old Bay chips on the side. They were that good.
The size of the Waterman Club ($12.99) was daunting. The sandwich, a broiled crab cake and pile of shrimp salad stacked between three thick slices of white bread, must have stood four inches high. Bites were challenging; we ended up dismantling the sandwich to eat it in pieces.
Fortunately, the individual components worked well alone. The crab cake, crusty on the outside, was sweet, and the bread was fluffy and chewy.
But the shrimp salad was the star of the sandwich. Whole shrimp were sweet and springy — cooked just right — and lightly dressed in a creamy sauce with bits of celery. The shrimp salad was seasoned with just enough Old Bay to give it an edge without overpowering the seafood flavor. We were impressed.
By the time we finished eating, nearly all the tables were filled with people in their early 20s, out for drinks, or with larger groups of friends meeting for dinner. Unfortunately, as the restaurant filled up, our service slowed down.
When we arrived, our waitress — who was friendly from start to finish — was prompt with drinks and with our food. But once we finished our entrees, she was nowhere to be found. We sat with empty glasses and messy plates for more than 10 minutes.
After we finally flagged her down, she brought us a slice of Smith Island cake ($6.99), straight from the island, which was a chocolaty (and Maryland-friendly) end to the meal.
Another five or 10 minutes later, we found our waitress again and got the check. Just before we left, CVP's college-bar side reared its head. At about 10 minutes to 8 p.m., the music got louder — much louder — signifying the shift from dinnertime to party time. That's expected.
What was a little shocking, though, was the song choice. All of a sudden, Mumford and Son's "Little Lion Man" blared through the speakers. It's a radio hit, but this wasn't the radio edit. It was the version that includes the queen mother of all curse words, sung with crisp British diction. We're not prudes about language, especially in bars, but we winced in the direction of a nearby table, filled with several generations of women celebrating a birthday over dinner and drinks.
Still, with spicy chips on our plates and refreshing drinks in our glasses, it was easy to forget about questionable music choices and slow service. All around us, everybody was having a good time. And so were we.
Charles Village Pub
CVP reopened in April following a complete rebuilding after a January 2011 fire. A staple of the Towson University bar scene for years, with a new space and completely new menu, CVP is expanding beyond its college-bar roots.
On-street parking and Towson Commons parking garage (entrance on Pennsylvania Avenue)
The Waterman Club is a mile-high seafood club, pairing a sweet broiled crab cake with excellent shrimp salad. Alone, the crab cake is good and the shrimp salad is great, but be warned: This sandwich is easier to eat with a knife and fork than by hand.
19 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Towson
11 a.m.-2 a.m. daily (kitchen is open until 1:30 a.m., serving a late-night menu only between 11 p.m. and 1:30 a.m.)
All major credit cards
[Key: Excellent: ✭✭✭✭; Good: ✭✭✭; Fair or Uneven: ✭✭; Poor: ✭]