It was only four years ago, when I was somewhere between a City Paper intern and employee, that I read the blurb in CP that led me to Dougherty's Pub. The paper had dubbed it "Best Bar to Drink Alone and Not Get Hit On." It's a place where young women could go and read a book alone and not be badgered. But, the write-up also read, in case your book gets old, "We've never been without meeting a fiftysomething working gent or two who insist on buying at least one of our drinks, expecting nothing more in return than an ear for their Baltimore nostalgia." To my free-drink-seeking mind, this was a bar I needed to visit.
Well, I can't say that any middle-aged man ever bought me a drink in Dougherty's, but I ascribe that mostly to the fact that I never had a hard time getting friends to join me there. Dougherty's is a bar for conversation: The music is never too loud, the patrons rarely rowdy, the bartender always attentive but unimposing. I worked out a lot of life questions while swiveling on a Dougherty's bar stool, nursing a rye on the rocks and munching on fried zucchini. For me, it wasn't a place for hard drinking. Or fancy drinking, for that matter.
After I became a CP employee, Dougherty's became something of a default with co-workers when the "where do you want to go?" question arose at the day's end (or, sometimes, at noon). When I was upgraded from part time to full time at the paper, we went drinking at Dougherty's.
I know that tradition stretches back much further than my own recollection. When a longtime employee of the paper had a goodbye party there, the bar overflowed with CP veterans; a number of tables were pushed together, covered in a heap of Polaroids and photographs of scenes from past years of production.
Yesterday, news broke that Dougherty's Pub, a 21-year-old fixture on West Chase Street, will do its last day of business on Dec. 19, marking the loss of another laid-back Midtown watering hole.
"Regulars can come in there and be comfortable. Strangers can come in and if they want to be a part of it, that's fine, and if they don't, that's fine, too," says Sherry Dougherty, business partner and wife of owner Bill Dougherty. "And I attribute all of that to my husband."
In 1994, Bill and Sherry left a lease at their 10-year-old Irish Pub, at 249 W. Chase St. (now Chase Wine and Spirits), to move their business to a warehouse they had bought up the block. Family members helped build out the space: Bill's brother, a woodworker, constructed the bar; the Doughertys did their own tiling; their young daughter and her cousin painted the pool room.
They opened Dougherty's Pub at 223 W. Chase St. just before St. Patrick's Day. On the first day of business, they had "customers from [the Irish Pub] literally walk the bar stools down the street the day we opened, to say, 'OK, new place, here we are.'"
Since that day, Dougherty's has been a good business for her and her husband, Sherry says. They raised two kids, bought a house in Riderwood, and managed to stay married, to boot. (Of her bartender husband, Sherry says, "I'm sure he was hit on a gazillion times. That's how I met him. I hit on him in the bar down the street. That's how we got married, to be honest.")
The bar and restaurant has been on the market for a while, but Sherry cites a number of reasons as to why the couple grew more serious about selling, including April's riot and restrictive licensing processes. "I think that a big part of it is the issue of the city making it so difficult to run your business," she says. "And for us, more importantly, we've gotten too old to keep up with what's current." The thirsty 25-to-35-year-old demographic is who bars need to market to today, and the Doughertys aren't interested in tailoring their business strategy to that.
The new buyer (who City Paper is working to confirm) is young, Sherry says. She doesn't think you'll be able to pay $4 for a glass of wine at the future occupant of 223 W. Chase St. That's not to say she thinks an infusion of young blood is a bad thing, however.
"I don't think it's going to be the same place, it's going to be something different — and wonderful. We've done our thing, we've been there forever, but I think it's going to be something different."
One hopes that whatever replaces Dougherty's, it still affords Baltimoreans a space to sit on a bar stool, sip a good drink, and muse on life.