Bradley's of Fells Point might be more well known by its former name of J.A. Murphy's, or as "That bar that was on 'Bar Rescue.'"
Murphy's appeared on Spike TV's bar makeover show in August of 2012. Host Jon Taffer cleaned up the place's rough edges — and added a state-of-the-art beer draught system — but much of the bar's charm was swept away in the overhaul.
Not long after, Murphy's was sold to Sandy Hinsche, who hired Bradley Kirkley as manager — and Bradley's of Fells Point was born.
Kirkley acts as both the general manager and chef, serving food to bar patrons and diners seated in the small dining room adjacent to the narrow bar. When we arrived on a rainy Thursday night, the dining room and bar were empty.
Because we didn't see any staff besides the bartender, we opted to sit at the bar for dinner. Besides, the bar half of the space was the more enticing environment; the warm wood of the bar itself was an improvement over the dining room's generic-looking tables, which seemed more corporate lounge than charming Fells Point gathering spot.
We started with a drink. From Bradley's impressive tap, we tried the smooth Old Dominion Oak Stout ($6), which pleasantly surprised us with its lack of bitter edge.
The Suicide Squeeze ($9), from the brief cocktail menu, was a sunny combination of oranges, brandy, mint and Cointreau, with a couple shakes of orange bitters to take the sweet edge off the mix. It was good enough that we quizzed the bartender about the ingredients — it would be an ideal alternative to a brunch mimosa.
Kirkley's menu is short and sweet, focusing largely on pub standards like burgers and sandwiches. But he has a few additional tricks up his sleeve, including the risotto appetizer ($5.95).
The risotto changes every night, and during our visit, it included sausage and sage. The arborio rice retained a tiny bit of crunch, which gave it structure, and was seasoned exactly enough. Small balls of sausage added a touch of heat, with the sage adding another dimension.
When the bartender handed us the dish, we thought it looked way too big for an appetizer — even for two of us to share. But it was good enough that we polished off the entire thing, without regrets.
Every pub needs a great burger and Bradley's has one. The Juicy Lucy ($7.25) was true to its name and also cooked nicely and stuffed with gooey American cheese that oozed out deliciously as we ate. A fresh bun, just a little crisp on the outside, stood up to the juices.
Unfortunately, the pepperjack chicken sandwich ($6.95) was a letdown. Its components were fine: sliced grilled chicken was moist, the cheese was slightly spicy and sauteed onions and red peppers were soft and sweet.
But the whole thing was served on a grilled hot dog bun — more of a strange decision than a bad one — and the sandwich just felt like it was missing something. Without a spread, each bite was dry and a bit bland. We found ourselves wishing for a little pot of fresh pesto or a sweet and spicy mustard.
The sandwiches came with chips, which we subbed out for fries ($3); we were glad we did. Hand-cut about a quarter-inch thick, they were salty, crispy and with a sprinkle of vinegar, great all around.
Bradley's menu doesn't run to dessert on most weekdays, so instead we relaxed with a Sazerac ($9), the classic New Orleans cocktail. Bradley's version retains a strong scent of anise and wasn't as overbearing and strong as some versions of the drink.
The bartender was friendly but didn't hover. We were the only people dining, but he and the kitchen managed the timing well. Nothing arrived too slowly or too quickly.
By the time we left, the bar had filled a little, but everyone kept to themselves — a quarreling couple at one end of the bar and a man waiting for his girlfriend at the other. The dining room was still empty.
Given its blah atmosphere, and the rainy night, that's not a big surprise. But Kirkley deserves more of an audience. Bradley's might not be Murphy's, with its dive bar fans, but thanks to Kirkley, it has retained some charm.
Bradley's of Fells Point
Back story: After Bar Rescue "rescued" J.A. Murphy's last summer, the owners sold the bar to Sandy Hinsche, who reopened it as Bradley's of Fells Point. The bar's namesake, Bradley Kirkley, plays double duty as general manager and chef; he turns out likable pub grub, including a few surprises.
Parking: Street parking
Signature dish: As its name implies, the Juicy Lucy requires a few extra napkins. A soft burger, stuffed and topped with American cheese, is flavorful and, yes, juicy. With crispy, salty hand-cut fries on the side, the burger is a solid accompaniment to the beers from Bradley's excellent selection.
TVs: Three in the bar, one in the dining room
Where: 1703 Aliceanna Street, Baltimore
Contact: 410-276-3030; http://www.bradleysoffellspoint.com
Open: 3 p.m. to 12 a.m. Tuesday-Thursday; 3 p.m. to 1 a.m. Friday; 12 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday; 12 p.m. to 9 p.m. Sunday
Credit Cards: All major
Rating: 2 stars
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