Metro Gallery takes its time to become one charming art, music space

The Baltimore Sun

In the beginning, I brushed off the Metro Gallery.

When the sparsely decorated art gallery and live-music venue opened across from the Charles Theatre in mid-2007, I didn't think it would last. It had no liquor license, it had sporadic hours and it occasionally played host to a smattering of local indie bands.

Underground performance spaces and art galleries have a habit of closing as quickly as they open, and I didn't want to direct people to a place that might be shuttered in a couple of months.

Boy, was I wrong. Not only did the Metro Gallery stay put, it has slowly evolved into a haven for arts and music lovers. If you like seeing movies at the Charles Theatre and having a cocktail at Club Charles, you're going to want to drop by the Metro, too.

Rather than rush things, owner Sarah M. Williams shepherded the Metro Gallery step by step. She installed a stage, a sound system and a lighting rig. She obtained a liquor license and had a bar built - a big, open, horseshoe-shaped bar.

Side note: Since there are so many long, narrow rowhouse bars in this city, you don't see a lot of U-shaped bars. But I like them better than straight bars, because you can see - and potentially talk to - more people at a U-shaped bar.

Recently, Williams instituted regular bar hours at the Metro. It's now open from 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, in addition to the regular concert schedule. In a way, it's the culmination of the Metro's 18-month journey from fly-by-night art gallery to legitimate bar and live-music space.

"We're ready to hit the ground running - as opposed to running after the ground," Williams said.

I went to the Metro for a beer and live music a few weekends ago and kicked myself for not reviewing it earlier.

For a place that serves as an art gallery, bar and live-music hall, the Metro doesn't feel that scattered. It's divvied into two spaces: One half is devoted to a rotating art exhibit, and the other has the stage. The bar bridges the gap. Though the Metro was comfortably full when I got there (about 9:30 p.m.), I found an empty seat at the bar and quickly claimed it.

While the Metro's walls are painted a simple white, the bar and the high-backed bar stools are a sultry shade of red. Scattered wooden tables and chairs and the occasional leather couch make up the furniture, and there are enough of them to keep the Metro from feeling empty.

The only thing I would change about the decor is the lighting - it was supposed to be bright by the art exhibit and darker by the stage, but since there are no walls separating the two sides, the bar area ends up too well-lit. And if there's anything a bar shouldn't be, it's well-lit.

Between the crisp-sounding speakers and the high ceilings, the Metro has surprisingly sweet acoustics - at least when it's full of people. Williams keeps the volume high enough so you can hear the bands but low enough for folks at the bar to have a conversation.

The Metro has two beer taps, but neither was in use the night I was there. I scanned the 30-odd bottles displayed atop the back bar and asked for a bottle of Shiner Bock. Williams, who also tends bar (but seemed as if she didn't recognize me, though we had met once before), regretfully told me she was out of it. Instead, I opted for a bottle of Duvel, which cost $8 due to the high alcohol content and the simple fact that Duvel is fancy stuff. Every once in a while, I like to treat myself to a few sips of the fancy stuff. The Metro also stocks a variety of wines and offers rotating drink specials, depending on the night.

The Metro has come such a long way in the past year and a half. It adds a great deal to the rest of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, and I can see it quickly becoming a fixture in the neighborhood - if it isn't already.

Live music at Bourbon Street

Sam Chaney, the former manager of the defunct Bedrock, is now the general manager of Bourbon Street (316 Guilford Ave.). Chaney plans to beef up Bourbon Street's live-music lineup by adding a second stage on the smaller side of the first level. That will give Bourbon Street the ability to have two performances at the same time.

"The smaller side will also give us the ability to open a little more frequently and not have to try and fill a room that holds 3,000 people," he wrote in an e-mail.

if you go

The Metro Gallery, 1700 N. Charles St., is open 6 p.m.-2 a.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and for special events. Go to

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