• Benji Sills

Power Plant Live!

Updated: Feb 25, 2020

I don’t like crowds and I’ve never tried alcohol, so my evening at Power Plant Live!, Baltimore’s premiere complex of bars, was sure to be interesting.  Paige and I were spending a long weekend in Baltimore with some of my closest high school friends and assorted significant others (all lovely). They wanted to spend the night dancing and as always, we were game for anything.  Game is not the same as prepared however: my experience with bars was essentially limited to unconvincingly playing a club patron during my background acting days. So naturally we Ubered the fifteen minutes to the bar only to be reminded by the bouncer that ID’s are indeed required to get in.

Paige and I dutifully Ubered back to our Airbnb, where I’d left my wallet so my pants wouldn’t be too heavy to dance (it’s very weighty from all the small change and half-stamped rewards cards).  We snagged my ID and Ubered back again, arriving three minutes after ten. Of course the formerly free entry had started a hefty cover charge right at 10 and I was getting gloomy about all the extra cost I had accrued.  We received a godsend of luck however when the friendly bouncer recognized me as the confused fool with no ID from 30 minutes ago and let us in free of charge.

Once inside, the night began to swing immediately for the better.  Our friends were already largely drunk and were excitable and boisterous, enthusiastically roping us in to a variety of wobbly selfies.  It’s a wonder there’s enough space left on my phone to type this post out, with the volume of blurry snaps clogging my storage. We were having a lovely time however: there was an oversized wooden chair designed for goofy photo ops and Paige discovered it was extremely frightening to get into, so we spent some time clambering over it and taking pictures.  We were even joined by a merry band of twerking strangers for a few snaps.

Not wanting to deal with storage, nobody had brought a jacket and the January air was starting to get to us, so we went inside the first bar.  For people that like bars and nightclubs, Power Plant Live! is an exceptionally cool idea that I’ve never seen before. It’s comprised of a number of bars all loosely connected across an outdoor complex, sort of like a strip mall for nightlife.  After entering the complex, you can wander freely between the bars, each of which comes with a different theme.

First we went to Luckie’s Tavern.  It rocks the vibe of 'karaoke bar where the machine broke and they hired a last-minute DJ on Fiverr'.  Towards the back is a small stage where a number of lost-looking patrons gyrated weakly. It had the feel of a lost-and-found where people separated from their groups in other bars could wait to be picked up.  For no reason at all, a soccer game was being projected across the entire wall behind the stage. Of course it was unwatchable, as most of the game was left to bubble and ripple across the people onstage, which proved nauseating for everyone involved.  Our entire group clambered up and happily jumped around for a bit, while Manchester United tried to rescue their ball from my forehead.

Significantly less tacky was Tin Roof, a live music venue and the next bar on our list.  This one feels the most standard of the pack - colorful bar seats in one section and an open dance floor fronted by a band in the other.  The band was talented and loud, exactly the combination you would expect in this setting. My friend Michael grabbed me by the waist and we waltzed around the otherwise empty dance floor, which was slightly incongruous with the blaring accompaniment of “Stacy’s Mom”.  The vocalist audibly muttered “what’s going on back there” over the mic.

Next was the grungy and unpleasant Angels Rock Bar, which immediately felt like the kind of place where you should avoid the bathroom.  Paige, rife with knowledge from her basement show days, filled me in on the process. “The band will take 40 minutes to warm up, then they will ask how everyone is doing and banter randomly with each other over the mic for another 20, while they continue to tune their instruments”.  She was spot on. “Why didn’t they warm up before they got here?” I asked her. She shrugged and confessed “most of my life has been spent watching bands set up”.

While we waited for the straggly haired guitarist to figure out his amp, we explored the venue a bit.  It was filled with stringy people who looked like they might use their shower to store a drum kit. Two huge TVs played compilation videos of people getting hurt on skateboards.  I asked Paige what the people in here would most likely be arrested for and she nailed the vibe with “tattooing a minor”. The band babbled for several minutes about a lottery the bar was running (apparently for free tickets, never mind the fact that the bar is free anyway) and then they began to strike up the first few chords.  It was heavy metal, so we left.

Through the rear of Angels Rock Bar there is a hallway leading to the nightmarish exercise in claustrophobia that is PBR.  PBR is a country-themed rager: dripping with American flags, animal skulls and dancers wearing minimalist interpretations of the cowboy; it’s the sort of bar where you would expect fireworks to be set off indoors.  In fact, that’s exactly what was happening: a number of employees were waving sparklers enthusiastically around the wooden scaffolding. Paige started off energetically dancing the Cotton Eye Joe with a genuine disregard for the actual music playing, whilst I apologized profusely to everyone who bumped into me.

Paige pulled me kicking and screaming into the crowd, where people bumped and grinded loosely across a suspiciously sticky dance floor.  We worked our way through the horde to the other side of the bar, where Paige wanted to ride a mechanical bull. Paige handed her phone off to our friend Lauren for a video, but she was a bit tipsy and promptly wandered off into the crowd and got lost.  Paige and I had ridden a mechanical bull before at an adult summer camp, but there we were in the calming presence of a number of other inept people. Here we waited anxiously in line as pro after pro hopped on and wiggled hands free on the bucking monster.

The operator was either very friendly with all of the female participants or a bit of a pervert and seemed to relish in moves that aimed less to eject the riders and more to jiggle specific areas.  Paige watched in horror, praying that she wouldn’t be subjected to the same enthusiastic wobbling. Luckily, the operator seemed to have very little interest in Paige and instead spun her around in wide circles for about 20 seconds, before deciding he’d had enough and bucking her off violently.  I was next and tentatively approached, still frightened from the all-encompassing waiver I had just signed my life away on. I flopped awkwardly onto the saddle and looked back at Paige in desperation. The bull began to gently whirl and immediately I started to scream and made a face like I was on the verge of tears.  Paige described my attitude as if I had just realized my lap bar wasn’t secured on a roller coaster and was desperately trying to signal for the operator. After a short period of audible weeping I flopped unceremoniously onto the mat. On my way out I received a sympathetic round of applause and a supportive high five from a stranger.

After thoroughly shaming ourselves in front of suave Westerners, we decided it was time to leave.  Paige realized that Lauren still had her phone and was wandering helplessly somewhere within the bowels of the bar.  Slightly worried that her cell might get pawned away for a drink, we set off to find Lauren. We found her on a balcony outside the bar being reprimanded by Michael for taking a drink out of an abandoned cup.  “I don’t know who’s phone this is” she giggled, thrusting Paige’s phone out. “That’s mine” Paige said, gently wrestling it away. Everyone’s phones in order, we regrouped and headed towards another club.

Next up was Mosaic, a high-end style nightclub that felt like DJ Khalid’s birthday party.  A thick layer of smog hovered over the sweaty crowd. EDM blared and strobe flashed. Our friends pulled us onto the unspeakably crowded dance floor.  “If I wanted this I would ride the 6 train at rush hour,” I grumbled and so Paige supportively began to dance as if she were holding a pole on a crowded subway. After a few moments of uncomfortable floundering, we decided we’d had enough and wandered out for fresh air. Our friend Alex dutifully followed us out, like a puppy, but seemed unsure of why he’d done so when we asked him. He wandered back inside, leaving Paige and me to casually peruse the remaining bars.

We window shopped a couple of the remaining venues looking for a more relaxed setting. We passed slowly by Howl at the Moon where a spritely man at the front desk cheerily waved us in. We looked at each other and shrugged a ‘why not?’ and stepped inside. “What’s the deal here?” we asked. He explained that upstairs was a dueling piano bar, which caught our fancy. Howl at the Moon may be familiar to some: there are currently 15 locations speckled across various US cities and even an additional one aboard Norwegian Cruise Lines.

Upstairs we found two pianos and a drum kit on a slightly raised stage surrounded by tables and bar stools, most of which were entirely empty. The space had a very ‘divorcee’s night out’ energy, but it was relatively calm and quite pleasant. Two musicians jammed away on the instruments, largely ignoring audience suggestions but playing well nevertheless. Paige and I grabbed two bar stools at the back and took to planning our own multi-venue complex. Paige was insistent that a grand idea was to have a bunch of restaurants, each of which had a different floor. She got quite excitable as she discussed all the types of flooring there could be, including glass and stone and even soil.

Eventually our friends got tired of the pulsating bass and noxious fumes in Mosaic and also wandered over to Howl at the Moon. We saw them enter and waved them enthusiastically to the empty stools around us. “How was Mosaic?” I asked Michael as he plopped down next to me. “It’s the worst place I’ve ever been” he responded, winded.

There were a couple of other places we didn’t get the chance to try: a beer garden called Leinie Lodge and a music venue named Rams Head Live! You can even apply your impaired wits at the Charm City Clue Room, an escape room. Altogether it was a deliriously fun night out with great friends and as everyone stumbled home, swerving around EMTs scraping incapacitated stragglers off the floor, I reflected to myself: “why would anyone ever want to do this?”

Power Plant Live! is located at 34 Market Place in Baltimore, right in the city center by the docks.

Generally it is free, although Friday and Saturday nights have a cover charge of $10 starting at 10PM.


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