McGarvey's Saloon in Annapolis: A welcoming stop for 40 years

McGarveys Saloon and Oyster BarBy Joe Duley

Long before everyone knew the names at Cheers, there was McGarvey's Saloon & Oyster Bar in Annapolis.

The green and white hue of McGarvey's Saloon has been a warm, welcoming beacon to locals and tourists alike for the past 40 years.

Whether seeking camaraderie, conversation, crab cakes or cold "locals" (McGarvey's verbal shorthand for beer), McGarvey's Saloon is the place to find it – all while enjoying lively conversation about anything from politics to propellers to thrust versus drag.

What else would one expect from a saloon and oyster bar nestled in the shadow of the U.S. Naval Academy at 8 Market Space and helmed by a maritime-loving pilot in the nation's "Sailing Capital"?

McGarvey's subtly displays decidedly aeronautical and maritime themes — flyboy gear and charts of The Seven Seas (or at least a couple of them) adorn the walls — while filling tables with its famous black bean soup, crab balls and Aviator beer.

Celebrities, sailors and worker bees rub elbows and raise a wrist here, celebrating whatever the hell there is to celebrate on any given day or night. As different as St. Patrick's Day and New Year's Eve may be, both are celebrated with equal fervor. People from all walks of life, all socioeconomic backgrounds, and both sides of the Eastport bridge know this saloon and oyster bar!

Throughout the seasons, McGarvey's has weathered every storm, hurricane and flood that swept into or out of Maryland's capital city. It has rolled with ebbs and flows of an ever-changing Annapolis, yet has miraculously maintained its McGarvey's-ness decade after decade.

However, in the not too distant past, Annapolis's City Dock, Market Space and a few of the "downtown public houses" were considered by some to be, let's say, less than reputable and a little rough around the edges.


McGarveys 40 Anniversary logoIn the late 1970s, the Iranian hostage crisis was all over the news, a saucy sitcom called Three's Company was considered "too risqué with its subtle gay agenda" to be seen by a puritanical American audience, and video was indeed about to "kill the radio star," MTV notwithstanding.

The 1980s were fast approaching: The town needed a sudsy social sanctuary.

Enter: McGarvey's.

This new establishment changed the vibe, pulse and personality of Ye Old Annapolis's public houses,

When McGarvey's first swung open its saloon doors, yours truly wasn't old enough to [legally] drink booze. But I was able to order a Shirley Temple – adorned with maraschino cherries – and sit near the bar with a friend's parents (who enjoyed their happy hours on a regular basis). "Happy Hour" back in the day meant when the five o'clock whistle blew, the joint would soon be jumping.

Now, 40 years later, McGarvey's is still paramount when it comes to pleasing palates and quenching thirsts for virtually everyone . Whether land lubber, working class, white collar, blue collar, no collar, or maritime maniac, all are welcome.

The atrium side of the restaurant boasts of the Chesapeake's bounty, perfectly steamed or shucked behind the famous Raw Bar as you watch in awe. Hanging out under the glass ceiling as the sun shines in or raindrops patter down is what the atrium areais all about. The old fashioned belt-driven ceiling fans twirl and spin and move in synchronized splendor to keep things cool.

Whether quiet or bustling, it's always bright and breezy on the Atrium side.

The saloon side is my favorite. Long and lusty, tables on one side, bar stools on the other. The aisle is narrow, so it's a little cozy – some would say cramped – but is easily navigated by an extraordinarily talented wait staff and seasoned bartenders who I'd put up against any others in the region.

As an under-aged "idle young ruffian" (a moniker bestowed upon me by neighborhood parents, teachers and clergy) I was able to take in the splendor and fascination of sitting in a real Annapolis saloon – replete with a happy hour crowd entranced by my friend's parents' oratory skills and large bar tab. And I still savor it.

In the 1980s, McGarvey's was where I chose to have my first legal drink. I have fond memories of ordering my very first (legal) beer, pulling my legitimate ID from a tattered Birdwell Velcro wallet. Displaying a pomposity one would associate with a well-bred diplomat beating a speeding ticket, I said in a most articulate manner, "Yo barkeep, beer me."

Inside McGarvey's Saloon by Joe DuleyOver the years at McGarvey's, I met very interesting characters from around the globe, just by sitting at the bar and talking. My friends and I happily broke bread with many a stranger there — who then became friends.

The first time I saw a beautiful waitress dressed in a tie and long-sleeved McGarvey's shirt, I was smitten. Back in the '80s, that was sexy! Sometimes I'd sit at a table (instead of the bar) just to chat-up the androgynously sexy server. Hey, it was the '80s!

Some of the greatest memories of my life have been shared there with longtime forever-friends. It's still part of the tapestry of many of my friends' lives, and when I'm back in town, our mantra is, "See ya at McGarvey's."

It's also part of the travelling experience for many people from all over the globe, who make McGarvey's a mandatory stop on any leg of their tour when in Maryland or visiting Washington, D.C.

McGarvey's: Where everybody knows its name.

Let's raise a glass to another 40 years!

May McGarvey's never have its last call.

Cheers!

For information, including the menu, happy hour and late night deals, and events, visit the McGarvey's Saloon & Oyster Bar website.

Joe Duley is a freelance writer and creative content producer. His website is joeduley.net.

Find more ideas of places to go and things to do on the town in Annapolis.