Hundreds of people pour in and out of the Cuban restaurant and bar Little Havana every weekend. But I'll bet few ever stroll across the street for a nightcap at McCracken's on Key.
I did a couple of weeks ago, and now, the nearly unmarked corner bar is my new favorite spot to watch football in South Baltimore.
McCracken's occupies the first floor of a building right across Key Highway from Little Havana. There is no name on the outer brick walls just yet, though owner Jim Meehan plans to put one up in the near future.
For now, a few neon beer signs in the windows are the only clue McCracken's is a bar at all. Without them, you'd probably walk right by and never think to open the green door and set foot inside.
Most of the people at McCracken's were in their 30s and 40s when my friend Jeremy and I went. We sat at the bar and stared at the two big-screen TVs - one showing baseball and one showing football - and felt like we were in our friend's cool basement. The other bar-goers knew each other, and the spunky bartender was quick to ask us what we wanted.
Domestic beers are only $1.75 at McCracken's - a good deal, even for Baltimore, where the prices are fairly cheap overall. There are no taps, so bottles are your only option. Imports - and there aren't many of them - are $3.
We watched the Colts play the Saints in the regular season opener a few weeks back. The bar's other patrons were (of course) cheering the Saints and booing the Colts, who won anyway. But it was all in good fun.
Meehan wants to slightly expand the menu to include oysters and maybe even a cheap steak. Food is served until 2 a.m., which sets the place apart from a number of other nearby bars.
McCracken's has a free(!) pool table in the back, near a jukebox and a couple video poker machines. Meehan said he plans to hang an English and an American dartboard on the walls in coming weeks. The darts will be free, too.
The jukebox had a solid selection of classic rock, but music wasn't allowed during football games. When the game was over, the bartender put on some Yes and Led Zeppelin - instantly scoring serious points in my book.
Around midnight, the bar ran out of Yuenglings, so we switched brands. We didn't complain. How can you argue with domestic bottles for less than two bucks? It's pretty rare to see those kinds of prices at happy hours around town - let alone on game nights.
"A lot of the bars around there are changing to more four- and five-dollar beers," Meehan said. "That's not really my idea. I want to keep it a neighborhood bar."
In case you're wondering, McCracken was a nickname some of Meehan's co-workers gave him back in the day.
"People in the restaurant business have too much time on their hands," he said.
Before Meehan took over McCracken's in February, he was a general manager at the nearby (and now defunct) Lillies. Sometimes after work, he would walk over to McCracken's (then known as Felix's) for a beer or two. When the previous owner sold the place, Meehan leased the floor where the bar is. The business just switched hands.
"We didn't close for 10 seconds," Meehan said. "We kept right on going. That's kind of an informal South Baltimore way of doing things."
McCracken's on Key is at 1400 Key Highway. Call 410-685-6668.