Stepping inside the new Paloma's on South Woodyear Street is like strolling into a scene from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, only you don't need drugs to get the same surreal effect.
The club/lounge is an endless explosion of colorful, abstract artistry: Faces peer out from the stream of murals, collages and graffiti that flow down the walls and onto the floors. The bar is topped with polished sheet metal and drilled with holes - a sort of steel Swiss cheese. Red lights shine down from the ceiling, making the painted flames on the wall behind the bar seem to dance.
Last Friday, DJ Obtuse spun acid jazz on two turntables while a dozen people milled about the bar. Otherwise, the place was empty, which is to be expected, considering it only opened here last month.
The old Paloma's on Eager Street in Mount Vernon probably got a lot more foot traffic; Woodyear Street in Southwest Baltimore isn't exactly the city's No. 1 nightlife destination.
Fortunately, the new Paloma's has free valet parking, which means you don't have to walk around late at night. There's no cover charge, the beer list is long (about 15 brews on tap) and the gin and tonics are bubbly, sweet and cheap. For $3, they came with a green umbrella, which matched the lime slices floating on top.
Paloma's has three main spaces. The bar area with the DJ booth has some seating, but this is where the music is loudest and where people are more likely to dance. The lounge's motto, "The path of excess leads to the tower of wisdom," is scrawled over the large entrance to the women's bathroom. It doesn't say "women's bathroom," so if the bartender hadn't warned me, I might have found that out the awkward way.
The men's bathroom was oddly tucked away in a corner, harder to find and with far less outer dressing. Come on, why do the women get the poetic slogan?
There's an adjacent lounge area with a bookshelf and board games, more intimate and dimly lit. The furniture in these two sections ranges from wooden benches and barstools to cushions and sofas.
The third and most unexpected room is to the right as you walk in, with three desktop computers running on a wireless Internet server. You can sit at a desk and e-mail or surf online, or bring your own laptop and grab one of the high-backed chairs.
The bartender said there's live music on a weekly basis though drums are deemed too loud for the space (a good call). Instead, some live acts use drum machines to keep time, she said.
Paloma's is still getting its footing and needs more exposure, but the service is friendly and the atmosphere is off the charts. I just hope they can regularly draw the crowd to comfortably fill it.
So welcome back, Paloma's. Stay a little longer this time.
Paloma's is at 351 S. Woodyear St. Call 410-685-1690 or visit meetmeatpalomas.net.