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In some cases, the early bird gets the beer

The Baltimore Sun

The sun wasn't up and the streets were empty when I left the house. Dundalk Joe was waiting in a car parked by the corner, and I hopped in. It was just after 6 a.m., and we were a little giddy from anticipation and lack of sleep.

Our destination? Hogan's Alley, an old-school South Baltimore bar on Fort Avenue. The early-morning bar hop had begun.

There are more than a few bars around town that close at 2 a.m. and reopen at 6 a.m. But who starts drinking before the sun comes up? Alcoholics? Insomniacs? Factory workers finishing late-night shifts? This was one way to find out.

Hogan's doesn't have many street-level windows because as legend has it, police were giving previous owner Robert Cox a hard time for being in the bar after hours (even though he lived upstairs). So Cox covered the windows with brick.

Joe and I nabbed a parking spot smack in front of the bar, sauntered in and sat on two bar stools. The bartender asked us what we wanted, and there was no hesitation.

"Two Buds," I said. When in Rome ...

I like to call Hogan's a new old-school bar. It has flat-screen TVs and a few beers on tap, but there's also an authentic South Baltimore atmosphere.

Joe and I were not alone. Two old men sat a few stools to my right, sipping beer. I didn't want to poke my nose into their business and ask them what the heck they were doing drinking at 6 a.m. But I'll bet they worked hard all their lives so that one day they could retire, sit on their butts and drink beer from sunup to sundown. And, by God, that's what they were doing.

Some mornings, old men line up outside Hogan's, waiting for it to open, the bartender said. They usually drink until about noon, go home, take a nap, come back and drink all afternoon, go home, have dinner, go to bed, get up and do it again. God bless America.

We finished our bottles of Budweiser ($2.50 each) and headed for our second stop. Oh, man, let me tell you, walking out of a bar at 7 a.m. is not fun. Sunlight slapped us in the face. It stung.

We headed east on Fort Avenue into Locust Point, made a few turns and parked outside Locust Point Tavern. The tavern is the only bar I've ever been to with a screen door. It looks like someone decades ago decided to open a bar in their house.

It's clear Locust Point Tavern's owners have an if-it-ain't-broke mind-set. From the knotty pine walls to the sign out front with the Maryland Lottery wishbone logo, the place hasn't changed much in the past 30 years. In that time, the tavern has accumulated a bunch of random bar memorabilia, like a vintage Miller Beer clock. There's a pool table near the back and box after box of beer and liquor. I believe the bar sells plenty of it over the week, but there was only one other person in the place drinking with us: a quiet old guy at the end of the bar.

A bottle of Bud at Locust Point Tavern costs $2, which didn't surprise me. The less money an owner spends on frills like flat-screen TVs, the less a beer costs at the bar.

I was a few sips into that $2 beer when my body suddenly felt displeased with my decision to go bar hopping pre-dawn. I had swapped my usual scrambled eggs for a liquid diet: one cup of hot coffee and two cold beers. A revolt brewed in my belly.

At one point, I reached for my mostly full Bud, but there was a miscommunication between my brain and my hand. Instead of closing my fingers around the top of the bottle, I just slammed my palm into it. The bottle tipped over and a few sips of cool, bubbly Budweiser spilled onto the bar.

I yelped and had started to apologize when I saw foam rising up the neck of the bottle. To keep it from spouting everywhere, I quickly plugged the bottle with my tongue and slurped up the suds. Crisis averted. Well, kind of. I got a big scowl from the bartender. Can't say I blame her; she probably thought I was strung-out. Then again, I probably looked like I was strung-out.

Our miniature morning bar hop ended at Locust Point Tavern. Neither Joe nor I could keep it rolling any longer. We went home, power napped and headed to work. Two beers too early make for a tough day. My body felt weird for quite some time.

We went out with a question: Who drinks at 6 a.m.? Not that many people, it turns out. And for one day last week, us.

But after sharing a bar with these early-morning drinkers, I hope I'm never one of them again.


Hogan's Alley is at 1501 Covington St. Call 410-332-1985. Locust Point Tavern is at 1515 E. Clement St.

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