There's a lesser-known holiday tradition that I'd like to share with everyone: The Mid-December New Year's Eve freakout.
New Year's Eve has a way of sneaking up on people. Come December, I always get e-mails asking about the best New Year's Eve party in town. So instead of doing a giant roundup of every event I can find (which I've done in the past - it's a huge headache), I decided to boil it down to the Top 7.
As you'll notice, I left out the Inner Harbor festivities, because just about everybody and their brother goes to that one, and I wanted to toss out some alternatives. And why seven? Why not 10? Because seven is my favorite number, that's why. I even ranked them, because, well, everyone loves rankings.
Here they are, the city's seven best New Year's Eve events:
7. Red Maple
If you're a fan of dance music, this is a chance to see well-known regional DJ Lisa Shaw spin in an intimate setting. Baltimore expatriate DJ Lovegrove will also work the tables. This should be one of the best house-music parties in town. Tickets are $35 for the evening. If you want dinner and a guaranteed table, it will run you $75. Red Maple is at 930 N. Charles St. Call 410-385-0520, ext. 1 or go to 930redmaple.com.
6. Dark Star Orchestra at Rams Head Live
There was a time (back in my college days) when I was obsessed with the Grateful Dead. Of course, Jerry Garcia was long gone by then. These days, the closest you can get to seeing the Dead live is catching Dark Star Orchestra. The group replicates Dead sets from different eras of the band's 30-odd-year run. On New Year's Eve, it'll steamroll through three sets of the Dead's material.
Tickets, which include a champagne toast, some finger foods and even some party favors, are $59 in advance and $79 the day of the show. Doors open at 7 p.m. The club is at 20 Market Place in Power Plant Live. Call 410-244-1131 or go to ramsheadlive.com.
5. Power Plant Live
All of the bars and clubs in downtown's biggest entertainment district need to band together and offer one all-you-can-eat-and-drink New Year's Eve bash. But until then, you'll have to take your pick of a couple decent deals. Mosaic, at 4 Market Place, has the high-end nailed down: $1,000 gets you and up to nine of your best friends a table with a bottle of champagne and two bottles of Belvedere Vodka with all the fixings. Mosaic is setting up heated tents in the corridor outside the club's front entrance, complete with an ice forest (that's a bunch of ice sculptures put together). Cover is $40 if you're just looking to party. Call 410-262-8713 or go to mosaic-baltimore.com.
I'd say MEX, at 26 Market Place, has the best overall deal in Power Plant Live: a premium open bar and buffet for $60 per person or $100 a couple. If you're interested, better jump on it quick. I hear it's close to selling out. Call 443-386-8437 or go to mexbaltimore.com.
4. Wu Year's Eve at Sonar
Baltimore usually doesn't get many high-profile shows on New Year's Eve. Most of the big names play in New York or Los Angeles. But this year, the infamous Wu-Tang Clan is making a stop in Charm City. Heck, we even get the group one night before Washington does. The unruly posse of rappers first rose to fame in the '90s and have seen a resurgence in recent years. This should be a pretty crazy show.
A bunch of local hip-hop luminaries open for the Wu: Saleem and the Music Lovers, Wendel Patrick, Skarr Akbar, Ogun, P-Funk, Kage and Brown Fish. Also that night, the Taxlo dance party takes over Sonar's club room. Doors open at 8 p.m. Tickets range from $10 for Taxlo only to $55 for Wu Tang only to $150 for both shows with a VIP lounge, open bar and buffet. Sonar is at 407 E. Saratoga St. Call 410-783-7888 or go to sonarbaltimore.com.
And Happy Wu Year's Eve, everyone!
3. The Ottobar
How's this for New Year's Eve on a budget: You can hit up the Ottobar for live music and an open bar with a mere $20. Yes, $20. Now when I say open bar, that means domestic beer, rail alcohol and a few brand names like Jim Beam. But still, that's quite a deal. The show, which features live performances by Whale Show, the Country Devils, Cold Cold Heartbreakers and Labianca, is hosted by Gilded Lily Burlesque and co-sponsored by Dangerously Delicious Pies.
If you just want to see the music and pay as you go for your drinks, that will run you $10. Doors open at 9 p.m., and the show starts at 10 p.m. Call 410-662-0069 or go to theottobar.com.
2. Big Night Baltimore
The mack daddy of New Year's Eve parties is undeniably Big Night Baltimore's New Year's Eve Extravaganza. In years past, Big Night Baltimore was held at Camden Yards. It sounds like a cool location, but the cabbies don't think to go there. I've heard horror stories about hundreds of people standing, shivering outside the stadium waiting for cabs in the wee hours of the morning.
This year, Big Night Baltimore takes over the brand spanking new Hilton Baltimore, 401 W. Pratt St. The party spans 11 different areas with five dance floors and nine musical acts. The live music roster includes Jimmie's Chicken Shack, Fools and Horses, Hotspur and DJ Yummy. Main event tickets, which include open bars, access to seven party zones, hors d'oeuvres and live music, start at $99.99. The VIP tickets, which include top-shelf open bars and access to all the party zones, start at $169.99. Expect the prices to go up the closer we get to New Year's Eve. To buy tickets, go to bignightbaltimore.com.
1. Mother's Grille's New Year's Eve Ball
Last year, Mother's Grille held its annual New Year's Eve Ball at the enigmatic Museum of Industry. This year, the ball moves to the less-eclectic Sheraton Baltimore City Center Hotel. But I'll bet the ball will make up for the lost atmosphere with extra partying. New Orleans party group the Rebirth Brass Band opens for local roots-rock all-stars the Bridge, and that's only a slice of the action.
Comedian and 98 Rock morning show host Mickey Cucchiella hosts a comedy room with four other comedians. And there's another room with live magic shows all night. The $99-per-person ticket gets you five hours of open bar and gourmet dinner. Or you could shell out $149 for VIP passes. That gets you a top-shelf open bar, valet parking, an extra hour of partying and a vodka fruit infusion bar. The hotel is at 101 W. Fayette St. You can dodge service fees and buy tickets with cash at Mother's Federal Hill Grille, 1113 S. Charles St. Or you can call 410-244-8686 or go to mothersgrille .com.