Billabong a spot for Aussie spirit (and spirits)

The Baltimore Sun

There is something awesomely South Baltimore about going to an Australian-themed pub covered in Formstone.

The pub, called Billabong Bar, had a soft opening a couple of weeks ago and is still coming together. It's the brainchild of operating manager Jorbie Clark, who worked at the old Boomerang Pub, which is now Mad River. Billabong opened in a corner building that used to house a low-key party spot called Turner's.

The walls inside the long, narrow Billabong are bright yellow. A series of generic posters ("My goodness, my Guinness," etc.) hangs on the wall opposite the bar. The decor has a ways to go, but that's OK because Billabong just opened.

A barrel of peanuts sits near the front door, and bowls of peanuts dot the bar top. I love bars that offer free snacks and think more should set out peanuts, pretzels and the like.

The only problem is that if enough people eat the peanuts and drop the shells, they get ground into a powder that makes the floor slippery. I almost lost my footing and ate floor the first time I went to Billabong.

The bar seems to be well-received. There were so many people inside the night it opened that I didn't bother ordering a drink; I checked out the place, then left. I went back about 9 p.m. Saturday with my pal Evan. Most of the bar stools were full, but we grabbed a couple by the front door.

Both bartenders were bubbly and talkative and made sure we didn't go thirsty. Evan ordered a $6 Red Bull and vodka, which was served in a handleless Mason jar. Nice touch. It was a tall, stiff pour, too. I asked for a $5 can of Foster's, an Australian brew that seems to be more popular in the U.S. than it is Down Under.

Billabong has an upstairs, but it was cordoned off both times we went. I'll bet Clark hasn't finished renovating it yet. He needs to, though: The more space inside Billabong, the better. I have a feeling the bar will be a hit.

Turner's was one of the last of a dying breed of old-school bars by Cross Street Market. Nevin's Cross Street Station is the only remaining throwback bar. But I'm not going to go soft and start talking about the good old bars and the good old days.

I went to Turner's once or twice and wasn't impressed, but I marveled at how much potential the location had. It's between the 8x10 and Ryleigh's Oyster. I think Clark is smart enough to be tapping into that potential.

Changes at Magooby's

Soon after Magooby's Joke House opened at 9306 Harford Road, I went there for a nightlife column. I thought the service was surprisingly on point, and the comedians were pretty funny. It seemed like a well-run place.

I also thought the club (formerly Tracy's at the Bowman) and many of the patrons seemed stuck in the '90s. "Light jeans, sweaters and poofy hair abounded," I wrote in my review. "The chairs were metal with vinyl cushions, similar to what you'd see in a VFW hall, but comfortable enough."

It seems that, decor-wise, Magooby's is trying to enter the 21st century. I recently got an e-mail from co-owner Marc Unger, who said Magooby's has installed a new sound system and bought new chairs, among other things.

Unger also said Magooby's is doing well. That's good news because Unger puts a lot of work into the place; I'm glad it seems to be paying off for him. Of course, this doesn't change my opinion about the incredibly silly name. Magooby's Joke House? Snicker, snicker.

Red House's plea

Tuesday morning, I got an e-mail from Dana Foster, who books bands at the Red House Tavern in Canton. The tavern has live music on a regular basis, usually for free. Business has gotten worse in the past year, Foster said, and the establishment is struggling to stay afloat. She wanted to know if local musicians could organize a charity show to benefit the tavern.

"It seems now that The Red House may have to close its doors very soon," Foster wrote. "The Red House is a small, family run operation, dedicated to being a Baltimore club for Baltimore people who love music. Please help us keep it open."

If you'd like to help, e-mail me and I'll put you in touch with Foster.

if you go

Billabong is at 12 E. Cross St. Hours are 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Mondays-Fridays and 11 a.m.-2 a.m. Saturdays and Sundays.

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