I've never been to a bar quite like the Light Street Station.
The Station - if that's really its name - sits near the corner of Light and Gittings streets in Federal Hill. Walk by, and you might wonder if it's even a bar at all. There is no sign on the Formstone exterior - just a martini glass in a small window on the front of the building. Stare through the window for a few seconds, and you think it could be someone's living room that just happens to have a bar, a pool table and an old upright piano.
A few weeks ago, a couple of friends and I went there. Now we're afraid to go back - not because the Station scared us, but because we're not sure we could ever top our night there.
We walked in about 9 p.m. and were slapped in the face by a wall of cigarette smoke. That place reeked. The patrons, a weathered bunch in their 40s, 50s and 60s, glanced up from their cups or conversations to see who'd walked in, then went back to their business.
The Station was quiet, aside from a small TV playing the Orioles game and the patrons chatting. There was a jukebox on the wall, but nobody put any money in it. Why waste cash on music when it could go toward drinks?
The bartender asked us what we wanted; I saw there were no beers on tap and asked for three bottles of Bud. She offered us three Jell-O shots for four bucks. All you have to do is lick, slurp and suck, she said. No thanks, we said. Are you sure, she asked? The old woman down at the end of the bar made them. We waved at the woman, a well-dressed senior citizen who resembled my grandmother. She waved back, and we said no thanks again.
Beers in hand, we went to the rear of the room and started shooting pool. After 15 minutes or so, the bartender brought us three Jell-O shots. Carl at the bar got these for you guys, she said. How nice of him, we thought. So we went back up to the bar, thanked Carl, and licked, slurped and sucked down our Jell-O shots. I asked Carl what the place was called, and he came up with Light Street Station. That's what he thought it was, anyway, he said. We invited him to the back of the bar for a game of pool.
Around that time, a yuppie stepped into the bar, took one look at the place, turned around and stepped right back out again.
Carl ran after him. "Hey! Come back! The beer's cold in here too, man," he yelled. I honestly believe Carl wanted another drinking buddy.
As Carl was chasing after the yuppie, the old lady who made the Jell-O shots sauntered over to us looking for him.
"Where's Carl?" she asked. "Wasn't he back here shootin' pool wit' yas?"
We said we thought he was outside.
"Hey, I got a joke for yas," she said.
Oh, goodie, we thought.
And she busted out something I can't repeat here, followed by this piercing cackle.
All we could do was laugh at the sheer craziness of the situation. Here was this well-put-together senior citizen telling us the dirtiest of dirty jokes and turning loose this high-pitched cackle that could have shattered glass. Finally, she quieted down and made her way back to her barstool.
Later on, I decided it was time for me to really have at that piano. I sat down and started banging out some old roadhouse tunes like the "Deep Ellum Blues." A few of the regulars walked back and tried to sing along, even though they didn't know the words. They were clapping and stomping and cheering.
All you can ask out of a bar is that it be inviting. The folks at the Station didn't look down on us for being yuppies. They welcomed us into their bar, bought us drinks, told us jokes and played pool with us. It was one of my best nights out in this city.
Light Street Station is at 1400 Light St.