By Alexander D. Mitchell IV
One could almost call it “the late Liam Flynn’s Ale House,” though the owner is still alive.
Liam Flynn opened his eponymous new bar in the fledgling Station North Arts District of Baltimore almost exactly a year behind his original planned opening date, and almost three years after closing his original bar, Liam’s Pint-Sized Pub, which resided in the basement of a restaurant almost a mile to the south on Charles Street.
So what delayed the new project? The vagaries of building a bar in an old building in a major city.
“The major reason it has taken so long to open the Ale House is mainly because of new city requirements,” said Flynn. “A few years ago it wasn’t necessary to have a sprinkler system to open a bar. Now every new one does.”
In addition, typical construction and inspection delays plagued the project, in common with quite a few other bar and restaurant projects throughout Baltimore City in recent years.
The bar was constructed in a section of the former North Avenue Market building, which was once home to scores of stalls selling produce, fish and meat. A six-alarm fire heavily damaged the building in 1968, and it never fully recovered. Two years later, a large portion of the rear of the market was razed to build a low-income housing high-rise that stands today. The center part with two towers reminiscent of a southwestern adobe church, which Flynn’s now inhabits, was even used as a church in recent years.
“The Ale House was first designed to be in another section of the North Avenue Market Building,” said Flynn. “We had to do a redesign for its current location, and then again to allow for handicap access and a better fire egress. … I can see why people like a new clean build out, but reclamation is worth the aesthetic in the end.”
An art-gallery-and-performance-space bar, The Windup Space, preceded Liam Flynn’s in a section of the market building further to the east, and offers a respite for those looking for concerts or dancing.
The bar incorporates a great deal of architectural salvage and adaptive reuse, much of it from the former landmark Chesapeake Restaurant just south on Charles Street, as well as attractive industrial-and maritime-themed metalwork sculpted by local artisans. The interior sports the requisite green and Irish-themed décor without the overdone clichés of the prefabricated “Irish pub décor” common to many a Guinness-centered establishment.
The bar does not yet have a television, in common with many pubs in Ireland where conversation and live music dominate over sports, but Flynn hopes to install one for the sports seasons–the sports in question being Association, Gaelic and Rugby foot_ball. The bowling-alley-lane-topped bar has 15 taps, two being beer engines for hand-pumping cask-conditioned ales, expected to be supplied primarily by local microbreweries such as Oliver Breweries and
Heavy Seas. The remaining beers are a nix of standard Irish-American pub standbys (Guinness, Harp, Kilkelly), American and local standards (such as the recently resurrected National Bohemian) and craft beers (a surprise early best-seller: Summer Session Ale by Delaware’s Evolution Brewing). It will also offer British, Irish, and American whiskies and ciders.
With all the delays, the Ale House was forced to open before the full visions of the owner were realized, simply to start producing income. “We just needed to get open for financial reasons. A long delay can kill a project before it starts. I just wish the government would appreciate that more,” said Flynn.
The bar opened just in time for Artscape, the gigantic city-sponsored arts festival held south of nearby Penn Station, where Amtrak and MARC train stops. It pumped through four “firkins” (kegs of cask-conditioned ale) over three days. The casks became a salvation for Flynn that weekend when a carbon-dioxide line sprung a leak; until emergency repairs and a re-supply were delivered, patrons eagerly gulped the naturally-carbonated alternative offering.
Live entertainment, most likely with a folk bent, is planned pending the appropriate licensing. There are eventual plans to add a kitchen and expand seating, should traffic warrant, but for now the bar, and its owner, seem content growing comfortably. And until the clatter of kitchenware or the strains of a traditional Irish session echo through the pub, it seems content being more a common community lounge and meeting place, just like the real Irish pubs that a raucous Se. Patrick’s Day can’t hope to capture.
Alexander D. Mitchell IV is an author, photographer, and writer living in Baltimore. He is also the Baltimore columnist for Mid-Atlantic Brewing News, and maintains the blog “Beer in Baltimore” at BeerInBaltimore.blogspot.com.