When the Charles Village Pub and Patio, a staple for Towson students since 1985, was destroyed in January 2011 after a kitchen fire, its patrons mourned the loss as if it were a rock god who had tragically died too soon.
An outpouring of concern and memories came through Facebook messages, phone calls and voice mails. There was even a memorial in front of the wreckage that included carnations and, of course, plastic shot glasses. CVP was a Towson institution — one frequented by middle-age regulars and college kids alike — and its loss, albeit temporary, was keenly felt.
Those mourners should be relieved: CVP reopened last month, and it is more ambitious and impressive than the original. Everything about it is bigger — there's now a large upstairs area with two bars (to accompany the two bars downstairs), a new menu and what owners say is Towson's only rooftop deck.
In other words, it's the type of place that should — and probably will — be one of Towson's hottest bars for years to come.
CVP's biggest draw is its size. On a recent Thursday night, a couple of friends and I had no trouble grabbing a seat at the downstairs bar closest to the entrance. Like those around us, we were able to talk — not yell — and enjoy our drinks and an NBA playoff game. There's a charm to CVP's no-nonsense sports bar approach, with large flat-screen TVs everywhere you look and plenty of seating. It gets extra points for the framed yellow Len Bias jersey hanging on the wall.
The other bar areas gradually filled up, while the pub maintained its comfortable atmosphere. Still, the size and attractive setting hinted at the huge potential for a night full of sweaty dancing to cover bands and DJs.
Every Thursday is Ladies' Night, which is the type of shockingly good deal you typically see only in college towns. For $6, women receive a plastic cup (smaller than a normal cup) that they can have refilled with rail drinks and domestic beers all night. It's a smart, effective way to draw a crowd, and it seemed to be working on this particular night.
The drink menu promotes the bar's "famous crushes," including the standard orange and a "Merry Cherry" that uses Bacardi Torched Cherry rum and Midori. These drinks may be "famous," but my orange crush ($7.50) tasted pretty standard — too sweet and a bit watered down. A mojito ($7) had similar problems.
On the bright side, the beer selection, with prices ranging from $2 to $6, was better than it needed to be, with Angry Orchard Hard Cider and Sierra Nevada IPA on tap. The bar didn't forget its core clientele either — there's Keystone Light and Coors Light flowing freely, too.
The food menu mirrors the cocktail list — it's familiar but ambitious enough to make a customer appreciate the effort. There's plenty of traditional pub food, including the Nacho Mountain appetizer we tried. The Monterey Jack cheese sauce was tastier than the typical melted shredded cheddar, thanks to a spicy, addictive kick. A vegetarian friend tried the Greek flatbread, a mixture of grape tomatoes, feta cheese, black olives, banana peppers and Greek dressing. It was filling but only slightly satisfying, as the excessive dressing drowned out the other flavors.
The food and drink, though imperfect, take the bar beyond what it was before the fire. The only glaring problem was with our bartenders, two men who seemed bored. Even while we ordered drinks, they seemed distant, more interested in chatting with each other than striking up a conversation with customers.
Another strike came when a friend wasn't asked whether she wanted salt with her margarita. This isn't a deal-breaker, but it's an example of a bartender forgetting — or even worse, ignoring — the small details. When we walked out, we all agreed that the staff was the worst part of an otherwise enjoyable experience.
Owners Melony and Eric Wagner and Rick Bielski deserve praise not only for reopening their beloved bar in under 15 months but for going beyond what longtime fans had come to expect. Now it's time for the staff to step up its game, as well.
Charles Village Pub and Patio
Back story: Located in the heart Towson, CVP has been a local favorite for Towson University students since 1985. Last month, less than a year and a half after it burned down, CVP reopened, maintaining the same owners and many of the same wait staff. The new CVP features a large upstairs bar with outdoor seating.
Parking: Metered. There are parking garages in the area as well.
Signature drink: This is a sports bar mainly dealing with the usual beers and cocktails but CVP's menu touts its "famous crushes."
Where: 19 W. Pennsylvania Ave., Towson
Contact: 410-821-8155, cvptowson.com