Johnson's Bar & Grill has replaced a well-known name on the crowded stretch of downtown Calvert Street bars with its own innuendo-laden name.
This new bar occupies the site of the defunct Schaefer's Pub. Alas, it has been a bad year for the Schaefer surname in Maryland.
But if Schaefer's Pub helped give this strip a reputation for drawing the young and the restless, Johnson's Bar & Grill so far has been pulling a more settled, post-collegiate crowd.
As for its suggestive name, well, if Harborplace could accommodate Hooters, I suppose Calvert Street can survive the much-hyped Johnson name. The bar-launching "Big Johnson" advertising campaign even included Baltimore Sun logo-ribbing "John Sun" news copy.
For all the silly promotional fuss made over the name, though, not everybody understands the below-the-belt reference. I eavesdropped on a bar stool conversation at Johnson's in which a guy was discreetly trying to explain the slang meaning to his girlfriend.
Thankfully, the bar decor doesn't indulge in the gimmicky name nearly as much as one might fear. Oh, there is a giant surfboard standing above the bar, and you can buy Johnson-embossed T-shirts. And yeah, this place has a perky all-female bar staff, but these young ladies are much more fully clothed than at a Hooters-type establishment.
So the good news is that the oversized statement is made where it really matters: on the menu. The overstuffed pit beef and pit ham sandwiches have deservedly translated into lunchtime crowds here, and also are available until 11 p.m. Also hefty is the 25-ounce draft beer for a reasonable $2.75, although this mug is heavy enough that you may want to pump some iron before coming in.
If the long bar gives you a reasonable shot at getting a stool, the barside ambience suffers from relentlessly bright lighting that makes sense at lunch but seems too interrogation-like by happy hour.
There are tables on the mezzanine level for real sit-down types. Also, a shuffleboard game will be added there soon. And as Johnson's starts to cultivate a sports bar image, plans include pool tables and other games on the third floor.
Johnson's Bar & Grill
here: 36 S. Calvert St.
Hours: 11 a.m.- 2 a.m. daily.
Menu: Pit beef and pit ham sandwiches, soup, chili, beef stew, hot dogs, Philly steak subs.
Credit cards: AE, MC, V.