In 2010, then-Midnight Sun reporter Erik Maza reviewed the newly opened Alewife (21 N. Eutaw St.,  545-5112, alewifebaltimore.com), noting that the interior looked "like the Treasury Department after a Pottery Barn makeover" and questioning, "without weekday crowds, for how long can it stay open?"
Maybe Alewife will be here longer than The Sun. The erstwhile b awarded it "Best Burger" in 2011, and it outlasted that toy newspaper. As for Maza, he's now writing on fashion far away from Charm City, but he'd probably be surprised to know that the winner of City Paper readers polls for best downtown bar in 2011 and 2013 is still going strong with its 115 beers and extensive menu, thank you very much. Last week, Alewife owner/operator Bryan Palombo spoke with me on his time in Baltimore since opening in 2010, when I was the chair of the city's liquor board which granted him the license.
"We got reviewed by Midnight Sun and they came about 9:30 on a Monday night a month after we opened and they said everything was great but the place was empty," Palombo recalls. "Then [Maza] put up a blog post the next day that said 'How long until Alewife fails?' That was five years ago, and I'm going to be five years old next week. Fuck you, Erik Maza."
Biting blogging aside, Palombo admits that there were other pitfalls along the way. "Still today, there are a lot of zombies walking around" the neighborhood, he says, "but it's come a long way in the five years I've been there. More foot traffic, more dinner customers. We used to live and die by the [Hippodrome] theater and that's not the case anymore. It's great to be sandwiched between two theaters [Everyman and Hippodrome] and we've got two stadiums down the street." Stadium business "depends on how the O's are doing" and the Ravens "are only eight days a year," he says. Palombo agrees that his product, not the production of theaters or professional athletics, draws his crowds.
Easily, his biggest tribulation was the curfew that the mayor instituted for a week in April and May. "I paid my taxes like I always do," Palombo reflects, his tone changing to a somber one. "I paid them on that Monday, and Monday afternoon, they shut me down. Shut me down for a whole week. I had the Army and New Jersey State Troopers posted up out front. I did zero business for the entire week. It put me back a lot and it dragged on. Conventions in town dried up and no one was going to games. It was a long spring and a long summer." Palombo notes that he did "everything he could" to keep his entire staff employed and he accomplished that goal.
Things are good enough for Palombo that he opened an Alewife in Queens, New York, a few years ago, and I assisted him in filing an application at the Liquor Board last week for his newest project, the Publick Library in Highlandtown (3323 Eastern Ave.). The 85-seat restaurant, which he expects to open this fall, will be in the "same vein" as Alewife, which Palombo describes as "world-class beers and good food. Food I think tastes good."
Neither bloggers, nor zombies, nor curfews can keep him down. Move over, New York, because if you can make it in small business here, you can make it anywhere.