+ By Geoffrey Young  Photos by Alison Harbaugh

A strolling couple turns one evening down the red brick of West Street’s vibrant first block, deliberating on where to stop in for a tipple. The lady points vaguely and says, “Let’s just go there.” “Go where?” the gentleman asks. “There.” The gentleman huffs. “There are a lot of ‘theres’ around here.”

Stan and Joe’s Saloon stands out among the “theres” on this lively strip of historic Annapolis. Out front, large windows invite the eye of the passerby. A murmur of conviviality beckons, and once inside, the visitor is welcomed by a generous dark wood bar, its edge worn pale by ages of elbows. The walls are decked with musical nostalgia and Maryland pride, with nods to the saloon’s “Irish twist,” with homages to police and fire and military and local characters, to heroes, and to hipsters. Such diversity shows in its customers—to the right, a passel of rough buddies holler over a game of darts; at the bar, an older couple solemnly monitors the Ravens on the flat screen, while behind them a youthful bunch does likewise but with far less reserve. The odd patron may hunch over a drink, turned contentedly inward, but most are here for the community.

Stan and Joe’s Saloon in Annapolis. Photo by Alison Harbaugh

“We always said, ‘We want to build a bar that we would want to hang out in,’” says Joe McGovern, who opened the saloon with Stan Fletcher in 2007. Self-described “pro bartenders and wannabe surfers,” both men had decades of experience in the hospitality business, and they knew what kind of atmosphere they wanted to create. Company copy describes “great food, great service, and a lively atmosphere that makes everyone feel welcome.” An affable regular at the corner of the bar simply states, “It’s, like, a bar, a real bar.”

Alongside the dart board, a framed poem honoring “the man behind the bar” describes the Stan and Joe’s creed more eloquently: “And when you walk into his bar he’ll greet you with a smile, be you a workman dressed in overalls or a banker dressed in style.” 

The poem might serve as the employee handbook. Bartender Kelvin Lucas, who approaches his tenth anniversary at the saloon, aptly articulates what a dedicated team can offer: “We treat [Stan and Joe’s] like our home. The staff and owners truly love welcoming people into our place to enjoy themselves.” Serving the spectrum, from workman to banker, means the staff face a multi-faceted challenge every day. “We have to wear many hats,” says Lucas, “and be prepared for literally anything. Carnival barker, mixologist, fundraiser, listener, advisor.”

Stan and Joe’s Saloon. Photo by Alison Harbaugh

Stan and Joe’s doesn’t simply play up the lore of bartender-as-counselor, it’s in the DNA. Standing on the deck of Stan and Joe’s Riverside, the team’s new venture in Galesville, McGovern describes how his father, who served as a psychologist for police and fire departments in his hometown, often provided therapy for officers and responders struggling with the job’s stresses simply by inviting them to the McGovern home. “Giving them a traditional Irish dinner . . . was sometimes all they needed,” he says. Seeing McGovern make the rounds in the dining room, the legacy is apparent—and cultivating a casual, relaxing experience is the name of the game.

But it isn’t the only game. If you’ve come in early and posted up at the bar, one eye on a game of darts, the other on perhaps a boozy romance in progress by the jukebox, you’ll soon hear the thump and groove of the evening’s live band and maybe even join the bump and sway of the crowds packing in to hear the music.

Over the years, Stan and Joe’s has established itself as an important venue in the Annapolis music scene. “They say Annapolis is a sailing town, but it’s really a music town,” McGovern says. Fletcher, longtime front man for the band A Classic Case, agrees. “Our music scene easily eclipses those of many larger cities.” He adds, “Joe and I decided early on that live, local music would be a focal point of our [saloon].” 

The decision has paid off for more than just the business and its patrons. Ruben Dobbs, of the duo Swampcandy, lists Stan and Joe’s among the key elements of his early success. “I got my start there,” he says. Of the long-lived open mic night held every Monday, Dobbs says, “It’s where I’d go to test my new material. That open mic has started so many people’s careers.” 

Stan and Joe’s Saloon in downtown Annapolis. Photo by Alison Harbaugh

Listing such notables as Pressing Strings, Higher Hands, and Shawn Owen in addition to Swampcandy, McGovern chuckles. “Stan and I watched these kids grow up in front of our eyes. And now we can’t afford them!”

With music, dining, and a sense of community firmly in place at Stan and Joe’s, visitors always have options for how to spend an evening. As the regular at the corner says, describing the array of bands, fans, and locals that pass through its doors, “It’s a different bar every day.”

But the warmth and the welcome are constant, and in a town with plenty of “theres,” McGovern seems pleased with what he and Fletcher have accomplished. “At the end of a night, someone will say [to me], ‘Well, where do you want to go, do you want to go to this bar or that bar, or wherever?’ And I look around and I say, ‘I like here.’” █

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