Sometimes the best live music clubs are tucked away in unlikely places.
The Whiskey 1803 is one of these. Since last November, this intimate space above seafood restaurant B.F. Biggins in Annapolis has hosted some of the area's better bands. With plenty of free parking (always key in Annapolis) and rich acoustics, it's a welcome addition to the local music scene.
Last year, local musician David Tieff proposed turning the banquet room upstairs into a live music venue.
"I really saw this as an opportunity -- especially with owners that were willing -- right in our back yard to make a place that's not only band-friendly but music-fan friendly," Tieff said.
When the restaurant's owners gave Tieff the go-ahead last fall, he got to work.
"We totally remodeled it," Tieff said. "We made sure it was new -- as new as a rock club can be."
Tieff and his crew built a stage, put in a lighting rig and sound board, replaced the carpet and painted the room royal blue. He named it after the famous Los Angeles rock club the Whisky A Go-Go, and hung some nostalgic pictures of music legends such as Bob Dylan and Jimi Hendrix. The Whiskey 1803 opened Thanksgiving weekend.
A member of the local rock band Laughing Colors, Tieff designed the club from a musician's mindset. The stage is fairly large, considering the venue's capacity is only about 200, and the sound quality is great.
As you walk in, the bar is to the left -- right next to the stage, which I don't think was such a good idea. There's not much room to order drinks, and unless you stand between a speaker stack and the far side of the bar, you get an earful while trying to order your drink.
The Whiskey has a few pretty stained glass windows, which, when I was there about a month ago, were covered by venetian blinds. Raising the blinds would definitely add to the club's atmosphere.
While the posters are OK for the space, I think Tieff can do better. Some more obscure posters of the same artists or local artwork might better suit the place.
Tieff made the right call by banning smoking inside the club a couple of months ago. If people lit up inside such an intimate space, the smoke cloud would probably make your eyes sting. Smokers can stand out on the wooden deck that wraps around a portion of the building. There are a pair of tall gas heaters on the deck, which make stepping out into a chilly night much more bearable.
They might add a tiki bar to the deck, to give people another place to congregate, Tieff said. I hope he follows through -- the Whiskey needs another bar away from the stage. But the Whiskey is definitely finding its footing. The night I went, the service was solid, the tickets reasonably priced and the venue comfortably full.
"It's getting there," Tieff said. "I think it's kind-of got that old school rock club [feel] -- even though it's a new room."
Tieff, who co-owns a gym in Glen Burnie, said he never planned to be running a live music venue. But given the opportunity, he's doing a great job, and it shows. I hope he sticks with it.
"I like it," Tieff said. "I'm having fun with it right now ... and while it's successful, the sky's the limit."
The Whiskey 1803 is above B.F. Biggins at 1803 West St. in Annapolis. For more information and a list of shows, go to myspace.com/thewhiskey1803.