Cora Flynn-Williams is the face of McCabe’s (3845 Falls Road, 410-467-1000), the popular Falls Road pub in Hampden. On her rare nights off, she likes it low-key and walking-distance from home. “I definitely stick to my ’hood,” she says—the ’hood, in this case, being Remington. Among her favorite watering holes are Joe Squared, the Ottobar, and Long John’s Pub, which she can see from her house. On a moist Tuesday night, she enters Rocket to Venus. Before she can get to a barstool, two waitresses, Katrina and Brie, run up and hug her. When she finally sits down, both bartenders, Scott and Eric, come to take her drink order. A pint of Guinness appears, and she takes a sip, leaving a tan foam mustache on her lip. Moments later, a few patrons approach and give her a hug—apparently, she knows everyone in the place. She doesn’t mind—she chose this bar because she wanted to see people. Other nights, she might want something quieter. Wherever she goes, she won’t stay out late. “I have two kids who get up at 6:30 in the morning. And when I close McCabe’s, I get home at 4:30.” Over another Guinness, she talks about opening her own place someday, “somewhere where I can be an old-time bartender, and talk to the customers.” In Remington, of course, within walking distance of home.
John F. Klaus
The Prime Rib
John F. Klaus has worked the bar of The Prime Rib (1101 N. Calvert Street, 410-539-1804) for 27 years, and, like the fine wines he serves, he’s aged to perfection. Beneath his tuxedo, he’s Baltimore through and through—born and raised in Waverly, he even performed as the Orioles batboy during their 1983 World Series win. Not many bartenders can make that claim. The bar is old-school cool—a blend of mirrors, onyx, and leopard-print carpet. Between 5 p.m. and midnight, the bar will fill several times and Klaus will mix hundreds of drinks. He’ll concoct high-end cocktails and pour wine for customers and servers, all the while playing the role of ringmaster. At the end of his shift, he hangs up his tux, puts on casual clothes, and steps out onto a quiet Chase Street. He’ll make his way to one of his two after-work haunts, The Owl Bar at The Belvedere or The Brewer’s Art around the corner. This night, The Owl is already closed, so Brewer’s wins by default. “I like it here,” he says as he walks down the steps, “It’s dark. It’s easy.” In the basement bar, he sips Dewar’s over ice, his usual. There’s a familiarity to the bartending routine. “The same guy comes into the Rib every night at 9:15 p.m. and orders a cognac. I know people by what they drink.” I ask if he knows my friend Norm. “Sure, I know him. Crown Royal on the rocks.”
The Laughing Pint
Shannon Cassidy’s day at The Laughing Pint (3531 Gough Street, 410-342-6544) begins at noon. She doesn’t just work there; she owns the place. And usually that day ends at 1:30 the following morning. So on her nights off, she likes to cut loose. She calls a cab and goes to see her favorite bartenders at saloons like Liam Flynn’s Ale House, The Windup Space, or Dougherty’s Pub, where she is tonight. She orders her favorite beer-and-shot combination—a bottle of Sierra Nevada Pale Ale and a Southern Comfort, Amaretto, and lime. She waves off the warning that the night is young: “Yes, but I only have one night.” After a second beer, she receives a text from a friend—“Michelangelo and the Four Asses.” She translates: “That’s code to meet at the Mt. Royal Tavern.” It’s an inside joke, alluding to the paintings on the wall and ceiling. When she arrives at the tavern, she orders another Sierra Nevada, but the shot is changed to a Peach Kamikaze, which tastes as bad as you would imagine. Finally, she relaxes and reflects upon her six years of bar ownership. “I’d like to have only one job instead of 12, and I’d like to work only 50 hours a week instead of 80.” Then she laughs and admits that she loves it. She receives another text, this time it’s from her bartender back at The Laughing Pint—there’s a problem with the sink in the ladies restroom. She shakes her head, “I never get a night off.”
The Grand Cru
It’s 8 p.m. on a Thursday and business is good at Grand Cru (527 E. Belvedere Avenue, 410-464-1944), the premier wine bar in tony Belvedere Square. Every seat at the bar is taken, and the tables are filled. Nelson Carey, the owner, can call it a day and leave the business in the hands of his three capable bartenders. But before he heads for home, he stops in at Swallow at the Hollow, a quick two-minute walk away. Behind the bar stands Jeff, a 16-year veteran of Swallow. As Carey walks in, Jeff draws a Guinness—no words are exchanged. A minute later, the glass is set in front of him. Beautiful. He picks it up, “They pour a great pint here.” Though located practically next door, the two businesses can’t be more dissimilar. The Cru is noted for its 45 wines by the glass, an even greater selection of bottles, and exotic draft beers. The Swallow is an institution, albeit a shot-and-a-beer institution. That’s the way Carey likes it. “I come here because it’s different. I come here to relax, and I don’t want to go drink at the same place I’m walking away from.” But there is a visceral attraction as well. Four generations of his family have lived within three blocks of here. “I consider myself worldly and well-traveled, and yet I keep coming back.” Two contrasting bars 170 paces apart, and Nelson Carey is at home in either.