You might as well call it Times Square on the Patapsco, because that's what Baltimore's Inner Harbor feels like every New Year's Eve as thousands of people converge on its hotels, restaurants, clubs and waterfront promenade.
And several thousand people -- for whom a non-alcoholic party is not an oxymoron -- are also expected at the annual city-sponsored Party With A Pop! being held at the Baltimore Convention Center Tuesday from 8:30 p.m. to 11:30 p.m. Entertainment includes a Top 40 dance floor ruled by DJ "Dan the Man" Gladding; oldies played by the Mahoney Brothers, who impersonate the likes of Elvis Presley and Buddy Holly (funny how the spirit of the latter also inhabits the Mechanic Theatre these days); comedian Jeff Charlebois; the a cappella group Part Harmony; sing-along Karaoke; and the jazz band Moon August.
Admission to the Convention Center is $10, with children 12 and under admitted for $6. Although the adult charge is up from $7 last year, the usual munchies have been supplemented in the City That Chows Down by real -- and really free -- food like subs, chicken tacos and sausage. Call (410) 837-4636.
There will not be a live band playing at the Inner Harbor this year -- it was, alas, a victim of the city budget cuts -- but otherwise the midnight countdown led by Mayor Kurt Schmoke should be pretty much the same, with the fireworks still bursting as brightly. Rain date for fireworks is Jan. 1 at 7 p.m.
If the prospect of the post-fireworks traffic jam gives you the willies, you may want to consider taking the Metro, which will stay open until 2 a.m.
Of all the vantage points for watching the Inner Harbor fireworks, few get you as close to the action as being on the water itself -- well, actually as a passenger in a big boat, the Bay Lady ( 727-3113), which provides an open bar, dinner, continental breakfast and dancing for $92.92 per person.
Whatever the venue you choose for New Year's revelry, whether boat or landlocked hotel ballroom, remember the "R" word -- no, not recession, reservations. It's never a bad idea to plan ahead to ensure that somebody is saving a glass of champagne just for you. Also check into overnight room rates offered by many hotels, especially if you have more than one glass of champagne. Here's a sampling of the New Year's Eve action, by region:
The Baltimore Museum of Industry will host a party to benefit the South Baltimore Homeless Shelter. Music will be provided by the Shameless Mooks and trolley service will be available from the museum, at 1415 Key Highway, to the South Baltimore business district. Tickets are $35 in advance, $50 at the door. Call (410) 727-5512.
Around the Inner Harbor itself, hotel options include the Hyatt Regency (410) 528-1234), which for $40 per person provides the Ed Williams Big Band, Motown sounds from Confection, and Top 40 from the Klassics. Food is extra.
The Baltimore Marriott Inner Harbor ( 962-0202) has an "International Cocktail Party" at $55.95 per person featuring open bar, international food selections, and music by the show band Saturday. There is a Mardi Gras theme at the Stouffer Harborplace Hotel ( 547-1200), where a four-course dinner and the New York City Swing Band can be had for $250 per couple or $125 per person.
At the Radisson Plaza Lord Baltimore ( 539-8400), you have your choice of a Ballroom Gala at $275 per couple which includes Michael Hoover and the Sweet Water band playing oldies, an open bar, buffet dinner, overnight room and breakfast; or a "Versailles" package for $95 per couple featuring open bar, hors d'oeuvre buffet, DJ and Top 40 dancing.
The Omni Inner Harbor Hotel ( 783-7347) also has two packages: open bar, dinner, live entertainment by oldies-oriented Bobby Vee and an overnight stay for $259 per couple; or an hors d'oeuvre buffet, cash bar and DJ for $30 a person.
Another harbor address to consider is the banquet facility at Scarlett Place ( 668-6060), which offers open bar, buffet dinner and live big band music for $42.50 a person.
Of the clubs near the Inner Harbor, a rocking good value promises to be at Fat Tuesday ( 727-4822), where the Rattlecats perform for only $3. And insistent blues will be provided by the Nighthawks and Rev. Billy C. Wirtz at 8x10 ( 625-2000), where the $25 ticket includes food, favors (as in party favors) and champagne. And those who want to rock in '92 with black leather rather than black tie will be roaring towards the Hammerjacks concert hall ( 659-ROCK), where Kix plays for a $15 cover.
If you think all this midnight madness is just one big joke, you may want to join other merry makers at comedy clubs downtown. Slapstix Comedy Club ( 659-7527) has two shows with T. P. Mulrooney and Blaine Capatch. The 8 p.m. show at $15 per person includes a glass of champagne; the 10:30 p.m. show at $50 per person or $85 per couple includes an open bar, live band, dancing after the show, a complimentary split of champagne and a breakfast buffet.
Winchester's Pub ( 576-8558), with comedians Keith Barranee and Andre Brown, has two packages: at $65 per person or $120 per couple you get the show, open bar, buffet, DJ and dancing, or at $25 per person or $45 per couple you get the show, a cash bar, buffet and music.
THE DOWNTOWN FRINGE
Somewhat removed from the harborside crowds yet close enough to view the fireworks are midtown spots like the Peabody Court hotel ( 727-7101), whose rooftop Conservatory restaurant offers a seven-course meal and a jazz band led by pianist Stef Scaggiari for $299 a couple. There are also $399 or $499 options including a room for the night. Peabody's American Grill on the ground floor offers a meal and a room for $199 a couple.
The many venues with live music in Fells Point include Max's on Broadway ( 675-6297), which has Blast Paris and Gunga Din for only $5. Eichenkranz Restaurant ( 563-7577) in Highlandtown offers dinner, open bar, dancing to Dominic Valente and The Twiliters, and a continental breakfast for $42.95 per person. Partner's at 1113 S. Ponca St. ( 633-8044) has no cover charge for its buffet and DJ playing Top 40 and oldies.
To the northeast, there is the calypso-inflected music of the Rhumba Club playing at the New Haven Lounge ( 366-7416), where $20 also gets you a buffet and breakfast.
Back in midtown Baltimore before moseying northward, a recent addition to the scene is Spike and Charlie's Restaurant & Wine Bar ( 752-8144), where diners can for an additional $7.50 enjoy dessert, champagne and Roberta Flack backup singer Gabrielle Goodman fronting a jazz band; or it's $15 per person if you skip dinner and just come for the festivities. Incidentally, this concert marks the return of live music to the former site of Ethel's Place, Blues Alley and International Pavilion, with more live music planned by these brotherly restaurateurs in '92.
TO THE NORTH
The Cross Keys Inn ( 532-6900) has several dinner, dance band and room packages ranging from $86 to $180 per couple. For the sportier set, the Charles Village Pub ( 243-1611) has an open bar and buffet for $30 per person; the same deal applies to the Charles Village Pubs in Towson ( 821-8155) and Catonsville ( 747-6300). And for the non-smoking, Green-voting folkie set, Roots Cafe at St. John's Church in Charles Village ( 366-7733) has the liberal offer of munchies, champagne and folk rock from Billy Kemp & the Paradise Rockers and Edge City for $10 per person.
Getting into Towson, R&B; from the Uptown Rhythm Kings may be heard at Towson State University's Chesapeake Ballroom ( 484-7214), where the $30 per person ticket also gets a light buffet in a setting that will be alcohol free save for the champagne. Also up that way, Martin's Eudowood ( 823-0505) offers open bar, buffet dinner, and music by Small Miracle for $48 a person or $45 a person for tables of 10.
Promising to be lively is Hectic Red, playing at the Sunset Grill ( 828-4650), where an open bar and buffet are yours for $35. If you're a more traditional swinger, consider dinner and then dancing to the big band Frank Pastore and the FPO Horns playing at the Fox Ridge Restaurant & Lounge ( 823-6252).
Heading further north but stopping short of the North Pole, Christopher's ( 252-8181) in Timonium presents The Loft, a buffet and cash bar for $15 per person. The Days Hotel Timonium ( 560-1000) has an open bar, buffet dinner, the band Class Act, a continental breakfast and an overnight stay for $175 per couple. For more traditional sounds, there is the Fred Hall Orchestra at the Hunt Valley Inn ( 785-7000), where the $150 per couple tariff also includes dinner and open bar.
For rockers, The Barn ( 882-6182) in Parkville has one of its regular bands, Great Train Robbery, playing NYE, with $35 per person getting you an open bar and buffet. In White Marsh, G&M; Cheers at 10741 Pulaski Highway ( 335-1188), will feature the Top 40 band Centerfold along with a continental breakfast. There is no cover. Hummers, in Fallston (2602 Bel Air Road), will present a buffet and DJ playing Top 40 for a $5 cover charge. Call (410) 893-2034.
North by northwest, the Pikesville Hilton Inn ( 653-1100) has a deal for $99 a couple (or $139 a couple for a guest room) that includes open bar, buffet dinner and music by the Tornados. In Woodlawn, the Baltimore Ramada ( 265-1100) offers a four-course dinner at $19.92 per person and then encourages you to slide over to the pub for a DJ, dancing and a hot buffet (it's $10 just for the pub).
Angling down the west side, the Westview Lounge & Supper Club ( 744-0223) in Catonsville has dinner and dancing to Dangerous Duo for $48 per person. Loafers Lounge ( 744-3434), for $50 a person, gives open bar, dinner, music by the Studebakers and continental breakfast.
In Ellicott City, there is no cover to hear guitarist Mark Desrochers at P.J.'s Pub ( 465-0070). In Jessup, you can do the polka as you listen to the Rheinlanders at Blob's Park ( 799-0155), where your $25 ticket also includes a buffet.
Out in Columbia, the Supreme Sports Club ( 730-1802) offers food, a cash bar, dancing and a workout for the funny bone with comedians John Marks, Bob Somerby and Bret Harlow; dress is semi-formal and tickets are $34.50 per person. The Columbia Hilton ( 997-1060) has a four-course candlelight dinner, open bar, the band Full Circle and an overnight stay for $215 per couple (or $175 per couple without a room). And the Columbia Inn ( 730-3900) has a package at $189 per couple including open bar, dinner buffet, live band and continental breakfast, or a second package for $49.95 per person that gets you dinner.
Clyde's ( 730-2829) has no cover to dance to Disco Dan starting at 10 p.m. Cover to Cover Cafe ( 381-9200) provides a meal, classical guitar by Bruce Casteel and acoustic classic rock by Brian and Steve for $25 per person. For Dixieland, try the Last Chance Saloon ( 730-5656), where the Last Chance Jazz Band can be heard for $10 per ticket.
Flying to the southwest, the BWI Airport Marriott ( 859-8300) has a $199 per couple deal that brings dinner, music by December's Rainbow, open bar, breakfast and overnight stay.