Posted On: 03/01/2006
Ilike design. I like symmetry, matching colors and fingertip-pleasing textures. Hence, many times my opinion of a bar hinges on this higher order. Although I enjoy seeing Captain Morgan’s goatee on the Mardi Gras poster while doing Car Bombs as much as the next drunken rube, I also enjoy explicating an obscure painting over a Duvel. Enter The Maryland House at Brennan’s.
Proprietor Kevin Brennan and general manger Justin Simon have taken the vacant space above Brennan’s Wine, Food and Tobacco and, with help from local artists Ben Poremba and Julie Berkbuegler and the creative minds at Centro Modern Furnishings, turned it into an artsy concept lounge. “We wanted to make this bar a more design-oriented experience, as opposed to a liquor-focused [one],” explained Simon.
The high-design concept of The Maryland House begins before you even step inside. Enter through an unadorned maroon door immediately to the right of Brennan’s. The lack of a sign ? and the fact that a combination lock hangs from the door handle ? may lead first-timers to think they’re not at the right place.
Inside, there are two competing sections. The bar side channels a ski lodge with much wood (wood bar top, wood walls) and an ethanol fireplace. The convex bar sits in front of a huge concave silk-screen mural. Absolutely nothing else hangs from the walls. By the bay windows facing the street are two furniture groupings: a quartet of bench-table-chairs and a grouping of chairs-coffee table. By the fireplace are another set of club chairs and a small wine room with nearly 100 for-rent wine lockers.
In the opposing section, the vibe is immediately set with a large, nonsensical photo of a shirtless dude in red Jockey shorts facing a hedgerow. One room presents a super-low coffee table and furniture; countless pictures are tacked to the walls. One tiny room houses only a flat-screen and leather couch. Most interestingly, the room in the far rear is a retail store selling top-notch humidors and high-end sneakers. Yes, you will be able to buy $150 one-of-a-kind white Pumas at a bar.
Honestly, I enjoyed this entire side. But sometimes I couldn’t help feeling like walking room to room was like flipping through Details magazine and wondering what the hell was up with the Prada ad on page 11. Why is that dude wearing tighty-whities on the moon? Basically, just don’t ask. It’s high design.
After design, wine is the focus. The Maryland House carries 70 to 80 wines by the bottle and an ever-changing rotation of about eight by the glass at $7 to $12. Patrons are buying them, too: The vast majority drink wine. The still-evolving beer list has a small selection of premium beers. No rot-gut liquor, only top shelf. The cocktail list is coming, as is a small-plate menu once the kitchen’s up and running.
So far, crowds (mostly single, 25 to 40, evenly male/female and CWE diverse) have been strong enough that the owners recently went from opening three nights a week to five, but they haven’t been overwhelming. Nonetheless, as people figure out the front door, it’s bound to change.
The straight 411 ...
For a high-design space with high-end goods, head to The Maryland House.
If you gave a person with attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder a house in the Central West End to transform into the newest 20-somethings’ nightspot, The Maryland House at Brennan’s would be the end result.
When I first walked up the steep stairs to enter the joint, I was struck by the homey feel, reminiscent of a lofty country cabin. Exposed-brick and wood-plank walls give the main room a warm and inviting ambiance. The comfortable atmosphere is conducive to conversation and features several places to sit and chat with friends while enjoying a cocktail. Getting that cocktail, however, may prove frustrating.
Because there is only one bar in the large space, it can be rather tough to get a drink, though as crowds have grown so has the size of the service staff. My Bud Select might have been lukewarm, but I was happy to have it.
After you have had your fill of the main room and decide to explore, you are likely to encounter a traffic jam in the corridor that divides the space. The open stairway to the right of the passage seems to pose bit of a threat when the hall is bustling. But if you survive the jam, you are free to make your way to the specialty rooms. There is a diverse array of themes and décors in these eclectic spaces, so you are sure to find one that fits your mood.
A rentable date room, complete with a comfy couch and flat-screen television, lets you woo your partner with the DVD of your choice while sipping cocktails and enjoying the scene. Another room, filled with chaotic photography displays and low seating, gives off a stylish vibe in a mod setting.
If you get to The Maryland House in time to score one of these exclusive rooms, you’ve got it made. If not, you are cursed to wander the doorways between rooms, feeling like an intruder.
A search for the bathrooms may prove confusing, but here is a hint: Look for the procession of people standing outside two unmarked doors in the hallway. The line outside the two unisex restrooms is long, but usually anyone waiting is game for chatting while gazing at the illuminated artwork of a man facing a bush in his red tighty-whities.
By far my best experience at The Maryland House was during The AIDS Foundation of St. Louis’ “Wine by Design” event. The eclectic-yet-familiar crowd helped give the space a sense of unity and a comfortable feel. It’s a great location for a private event.
Overall, what this hotspot lacks is fusion; a uniting theme and some work on the specialty rooms would really give the place what it needs to shine. On the other hand, it is the perfect place to hit if you and your friends can’t agree on what scene suits you on a particular evening.
The straight 411 …
If The Maryland House can tie together a few loose ends and add fluidity to its unique space, the owners might just have a hit on their hands.
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