If you've never been to the American Visionary Arts Museum, go.
The museum is small, but intensely cool. It features "outsider" artists from around the country. The work is often weird, but incredible.
The museum is obviously a special place. Outside, the facade is covered with neon letters quoting the Star Spangled Banner ("O Say Can You See") and there's mirror mosaic all over the place.
Over ten years ago now, my friends Joyce and Rob got married in the museum, on the staircase connecting the main floor to the restaurant upstairs. Their ceremony took place under a chandelier made of dining utensils. It was so cool.
Back then, the restaurant on the top floor was called Joy America - it was owned by Spike Gjerde, who has gone on to become the most famous restaurateur in Baltimore (thanks, Woodberry, for helping to put Bmore on the culinary map).
Joy America has been closed for a few years; the restaurant that reins over the the museum these days is called Mr. Rain's Fun House. We had dinner there a few weeks ago, celebrating Jeff's birthday.
I didn't take notes - this definitely isn't a formal review - but I will say that everything we ate was very good. The space is small, but it suits a party. There were ten of us altogether, and we weren't the biggest group at the restaurant that evening.
We liked our meals - the very tender octopus appetizer, house-made pickles and shrimp and grits were the standouts, in my opinion. Nothing crazy or wildly surprising, for a cool, newish Baltimore restaurant, but everything was done well.
It's the drinks that set Mr. Rain's apart.
We arrived on the early side, so we headed for the small bar area for a pre-dinner cocktail. As soon as we walked in, Cooper leaned to me and said, "That bartender has been on TV."
He was right. The bartender in question is Perez Klebahn, the beverage director and one of the owners of Mr. Rain's. We'd seen him mix it up on the Baltimore episode of Drinking Made Easy, which originally ran last December.
Klebahn's drinks are creative and intriguing - but sometimes challenging. Of those we tried, my favorite was the Doyer Alley, which combines bell pepper-infused gin with lemon, honey syrup and the aperitif Cocchi Americano (odd aside: Cail brought us a bottle of that day before yesterday).
The gin was the key to the drink. The bell pepper flavor gave the drink a sweet freshness that was interesting, but also very drinkable.
I also tried the Ask the Dust - a mixture of whiskey, Aperol, absinthe, lime, tamarind syrup and bitters. I liked it, but I have to admit it was a lot of cocktail for me to handle. While the Doyer Alley was easy to drink, the Ask the Dust was more of a challenge. More of an intellectual pursuit, I guess you could say.
Easy vs. challenging aside, dinner and drinks were both fun and it was nice to check out a drinks menu that contained some actual surprises. We go out to dinner so much these days - menus start to blend together. There's only so much that's new.
But Mr. Rain's Fun House - on the drinks side, at least - delivered some surprises. Fitting for the location, and a great way to celebrate a birthday.