339 S. Conkling St., (410) 732-3045
The definition of “dive bars” puts them in basements, so patrons can “dive in” furtively from street-level. Highlandtown’s Venice Tavern fits this meaning precisely, but it also catches the more nuanced understanding of the term: an old-fashioned place where the hooch is cheap, the hours are long, the decor is lost in time, the clientele is properly addled, and the fragrances wrought by generations of heavy substance abuse hang dewily in the air. An 8-ounce glass of macrobrew is $1.25 here, though the barkeep likes to push the pitchers. Signs announce anti-profanity, pro-friendliness policies, but that doesn’t stop a petite barfly from getting in our face: “Got any fuckin’ cigarettes? Nobody got any fucking cigarettes, motherfuckers!” A loud scuffle breaks out, but the impotent pugs are too drunk to fight, so they end up in a mutual headlock until they run out of steam. It’s embarrassing, this being an old boxing bar, with old photos of guys with their gloves up, looking like they could do all work. Another drunk lady begs us for a dollar, then for a lift downtown instead, then resorts to grab-assing us and leaning in close. A portrait of Franklin Roosevelt graces the wall behind the old cash register, a reminder of how long this place has been in the same family. It may have changed over the decades, but what it has become is motherfuckin’ award-winning, so go hold your nose, drink cheap, and get out before something bad happens.