Given the exuberant eclecticism of Baltimore’s music scene, it can come as a bit of a shock to discover the city’s general disinterest in jazz — or at least, its lack of the traditional jazz clubs that are ubiquitous in New York and DC. That said, its many live-music venues guarantee something for everyone, and if you keep up with the notice boards you’re bound to find an act you like in your genre of choice.
Such was the case when I went to see Robert Frahm’s jazz/blues trio at the Cat’s Eye Pub last Wednesday. Cat’s Eye bills itself as an Irish bastion of established county comforts: stouts, ballads, and friendly conversation. Its clientele looks British Islesdescended but sounds mostly mid-Atlantic, including the staff; my Irish-radar was far from ringing. I also feel obliged to note that the bartender, though effusively polite and gracious, did not prepare my Guinness correctly. (For you discerning folk in search of a proper pour, head over to the James Joyce Irish Pub on President Street.) But this is just about the only complaint that I can level at the Cat’s Eye, which offers a warm and intimate setting in addition to a musical act every night of the week.
You might be struck by the pub’s tight space as you walk in, but don’t let that fool you: with over 25 taps, the Cat’s Eye presents a veritable who’s-who of classic Irish brews, in addition to some popular domestic and European brands. Its liquor shelves are less impressive, but if you’re a whiskey drinker you’ll find yourself in good company. The pub’s décor is fun and frenzied without seeming too oppressive (I’m thinking of Paper Moon Diner here). A series of Celtic murals line one wall, while the bar itself is covered in police and fire department patches from hundreds of districts. A mish-mash of naval, national, and beer flags hang horizontally suspended from the ceiling, as do two large model ships and (for no discernible reason) a tiny upended Christmas tree. If you plan on staying for more than a few minutes, you should get to the Cat’s Eye early—musical acts start at 9:30 and by ten o’clock the crowds roll in. Some 40 people showed up last Wednesday, despite the workweek.
As for the music, much will depend on the day you go, but I thoroughly enjoyed Wednesday’s lineup. Frahm’s trio played a lively set consisting of some old blues standards with occasional wanderings into jazz and fusion territory. The frontman himself is a talented technical guitarist, as well as the youngest member of the group. Steve Potter set a smooth tone with the bass line and Phil Cunneff kept good time on the drums. After several songs and just as many brews, some of the pub’s younger patrons began dancing on the middle of the floor.
Speaking of age, perhaps the coolest aspect of the Cat’s Eye is its generational diversity: within a 25-to-60 range all ages were well represented. Not surprisingly, this is a defining aspect of true Irish pubs, where younger folks traditionally mingle with a middle-aged crowd.
So if you’re on the lookout for a music spot with energy and pizzazz, look no further than the Cat’s Eye Pub, located at 1730 Thames Street.