Return of the Admiral's Cup disappoints
Renovations don't bring back heyday of Fells Point corner bar
Bartender Chris Baptisteller makes a Jalapeno Margarita at the recently reopened Admiral's Cup in Fells Point. (Gene Sweeney Jr., Baltimore Sun photo / November 28, 2013)
On the Saturday of its opening weekend, the renovated bar was packed with patrons, most clutching Bud Lights and watching college football on the multiple flat-screen TVs illuminating the dark room.
A group of us — all who had missed the former dive bar's heyday of the '80s and '90s — noticed the scene from the street and were lured inside. After a couple of rounds, we couldn't figure out the appeal. No food was served, no beers were on tap and the bar had little personality. We left disappointed and a bit bewildered, ultimately chalking up the large crowd to the buzz that comes with reopening an old favorite at one of the city's most prime locations.
Six weeks later, and the scene remained the same. On a more recent Saturday, Admiral's Cup was filled with a wide-ranging clientele, sipping brews as the ACC championship kicked off. Once again, the Admiral's Cup was lively, without a clear reason why.
Was it the drinks? No, because they were average at best — no cocktail list, still no draft beer. It couldn't have been the food, since the kitchen still isn't open. (Our attentive bartender said that would change "early next year," along with the opening of the upstairs.)
The decor is tastefully nautical, but it doesn't leave a major impression. With the dark lighting, Rita St. Clair's subtle design of rudders and portholes seems like an afterthought. The huge, rectangular bar — perhaps the Admiral's Cup's best and most distinguishable feature — dominates almost the entire floor. This centralized hub can make a crowd of 75 people feel like 100, as it did on this particular Saturday.
The draw certainly wasn't the prices. Both visits left us surprised at the bills, and not in a good way. Of the 21 beers offered, the cheapest was a Natty Boh ($3.75 before tax) and the most expensive was a 15.2-ounce Grolsch ($9.50). Two cans of Resurrection (spelled incorrectly on the menu) were poured into frosted pint glasses and cost more than $14, which just felt unearned.
The selection of beer was fine (bars serving Evolution and Porkslap are always better for it), but the lack of taps was a glaring omission. An employee said taps would be installed this past Monday, but a phone call to the bar revealed that was only wishful thinking. The plan is still to install taps, but there's still no definitive word when. The woman on the phone chuckled when I asked Monday.
Deja vu set in Saturday night as we exited. We left with a stinging sense of dissatisfaction, the kind that can only come from overpaying for beer and not feeling a buzz afterward.
Even stranger was the perception that everyone else was having a fine time. Maybe they were appreciating something I couldn't detect or maybe they don't mind generic bars that don't offer much. Perhaps being in Fells Point on a Saturday night is reason enough to smile. Either way, they all seemed likely to return to Admiral's Cup before I do.
The Admiral's Cup
Back story: Opened in the '80s, the Admiral's Cup was a popular Fells Point destination for years but closed in 2007. After being sold to the Kali's Restaurant Group (Kali's Court, Mezze) and two years of renovations, the Admiral's Cup reopened in mid-October as a sports bar with a nautical theme.
Where: 1647 Thames St., Fells Point
Signature drink: This is a run-of-the-mill bar, so there are no handcrafted cocktails — just beer, wine and standard mixed drinks. A can of Resurrection from Brewer's Art will cost $7, so there's that.
Parking: Metered; free on certain Fells Point neighborhood streets.
Contact: 410-534-5555, theadmiralscup.com
Open: 4 p.m.-2 a.m. daily