Music blared from Bertha's Restaurant and Bar at 10 p.m. on Cinco de Mayo. Other Fells Point pubs were packed full of partyers.
But a block east of Broadway -- within earshot of all the festivities -- only three people sat inside BAR. And one of them was the bartender. They drank and talked among themselves while Pink Floyd's "Money" played on the stereo and a ceiling fan with only two blades left slowly spun overhead.
You could call a place like BAR a dive or a relic. But it's also a quirky little refuge in a changing neighborhood, where a dwindling number of people can come to escape the wilder, crazier bars on Broadway or Thames Street.
The place's name mirrors its decor: simple and unpretentious. The white sign hanging outside looks like it's from the 1950s, and it very well may be. The bartender said the place has been serving beer and liquor since Prohibition ended, and it's been known as BAR since at least the '40s or '50s.
At BAR, draft Yuenglings (one of two beers on tap) cost $3, and bottles will run you $2.75.
The wine list, also posted on the bar back, gives you two options:
Amie ordered a No. 2, and the bartender hefted a large glass jug of cheap screw-top vino onto the bar and poured her a tall one. My jaw dropped in shock and horror. It was the same nasty stuff winos buy on payday -- straight from the Sam's Club extra-special bargain discount rack.
Amie stopped drinking the wine after a few sips and left it to me to finish (gee, thanks). I took a small taste. It was like taking a karate chop to the tongue.
But, being the stubborn man that I am, I had to finish the glass in front of me. It sucked all the moisture out of my mouth and burned on the way down. I would rather have been drinking cheap whiskey. The only way I could get the wine down was by chasing it with beer.
So there I sat, wineglass in one hand and beer glass in the other. Some people would call that a win-win situation. But when your wine comes from a large glass jug, you lose.
Some of BAR's charm comes from the subtle decorations you'll spot throughout the place. A bouquet of dead roses adorned the bar back, and the two old box TV sets flickered at either end of the bar, both largely ignored. At one point, a young couple walked in looking for the boxing match, but BAR doesn't get pay-per-view, so they left.
We asked our bartender about the dozen or so mugs on the bar-back shelves, and she told us they were for coffee or hot cider. Then we noticed the old microwave sitting nearby. The conversation went a bit like this:
Me: "What's the microwave for?"
Bartender: "Warming up the cider."
Me: "I see."
Bartender: "Hey, hot is hot, ain't it?"
Me: "Yes. Yes, it is."
Some dives have a little energy about them, but BAR just feels tired. The lone pool table in the bar's back section was unused when we got there, and the bartender said the pool league had been dead for some time.
One of BAR's other signs said "Free walking tour" and had an arrow pointing out the door. A little while before midnight, Amie and I took the tour. But I'll definitely be back to BAR, one night when I'm looking to escape the more frenzied Fells Point joints in favor of something more laid-back.
BAR is at 1718 Lancaster St. It opens at 4 p.m. most days and closes around midnight, depending on how late the patrons stay. Call 410-327-4508.