Music swirled around us as the group of musicians that filled the center space grew with more fiddles, banjos, a bass, hammered dulcimer, guitars and a couple of mandolins.
This is Liam Flynn’s Ale House on a Tuesday night. Musicians descend on the place Tuesdays every other week to play Appalachian old time music with a few Irish tunes thrown in. Without fanfare or announcement, musicians pull up a chair and start to play. Eventually, conversation around the bar quiets down as everybody turns their attention to the next tune. You never know who’s gonna show up. Brad Kolodner, on the banjo and fiddle, and Ken Kolodner, on fiddle, are usually in the middle of it all.
This is no concert hall of course. It’s much more casual than that. A guitarist pulls up a chair and follows along. A mandolin player plucks out the tune. A flutist adds a few of her own sweet notes. Over by a couple of bar stools, a guitar case and bass fiddle wait for their owners to get into the act. (They’re probably over at the bar ordering a pint.) Newbies are welcome to play along and they do. The first hour, at 7 p.m., features slower music, helpful for the less experienced musician. By 8 o’clock, the tempo has sped up and the room is filled with musicians and music-lovers. It goes to 10 or so.
Liam Flynn’s — which also has nights devoted to Celtic music, Appalachian bluegrass, and gypsy swing — fills part of the old North Street Market, once a tony store where the ladies of Roland Park stopped to shop and their chauffeurs carried the bags. That was a long time ago. This part of town had been passed over by Baltimore’s renaissance of the 1970s and ’80s, left to decay. Abandoned no more, this area is now part of Station North Arts and Entertainment District. Storefronts are slowly filling with new shops (Red Emma’s bookstore and cafe recently moved in near Liam’s), restaurants and art spaces.
Liam Flynn’s looks like it’s been here a long time with its handsome wood-trimmed facade and gleaming bar. I have no idea what this place looks like the rest of the week but on alternate Tuesdays tables and chairs are scattered on two levels and they fill up fast.
I may come for the music but I look forward to the food, too. The menu reminds me of pubs I visited on Ireland’s west coast — with a hint of 21st Century modern flavors. Scotch eggs and plates of Amish cheese are served up alongside kale salad, quiche and shepherd’s pie. The toasties — hearty little sandwiches filled with apples and cheese or salmon or portabellas — are served in full and half portions. There are a few rib-sticking entrees, too. And they all go well with the beer.
The bar stocks local ales and 13 rotating local and European imports on draft. I go for the local stuff and have had some fine Heavy Seas, Oliver, Milkhouse, Brewer’s Art and Rave brews. There’s always Guinness, too. I usually come with cider fans — they like the Crispin.
Order at the bar. Carry a pint or two back to your table and relax. The food will make it to your table eventually. Sit back and enjoy the music. Can Tuesdays ever be any better than this?
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman