There aren’t many sounds that tickle Tom Leonard’s ears more in Pickles Pub than the roar of the crowd from across the street at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
There’s a slight delay on the television feed of the ballgame, so Leonard, who co-owns the bar, knows that, in a matter of seconds, most of his customers (assuming the Yankees or Red Sox aren’t in town) will break into cheers of their own.
Hearing those hoots and hollers on April 8, when the O’s played their first home game in front of fans in 18 months, was like “a large weight coming off my shoulders,” he says. The bar was packed, which in the spring of 2021 means something different than it has for most of Pickles’ more than 30 years as the preeminent before-, during-, and after- the-game watering hole.
Despite coming off a difficult year, business has been booming since this baseball season began.
“It’s like night and day,” says Leonard, who is also the bar’s general manager. “Weather and baseball are huge factors for us. Things look a lot brighter.”
Leonard and his partner never considered closing Pickles permanently, but they made changes to the way they do business in order to mitigate dramatic drops in sales.
Fans who return this season might notice that pizza is no longer available, but staples like the house-made crab pretzel, wings, fries, and tots still are. (Curiously, fried pickles are absent from the Pickles menu.) One of the biggest changes in the kitchen is that meat for burgers is now ground on site daily. Pickles uses a mixture of 40 percent brisket and 60 percent chuck, and the result is a delicious, flavorful, and juicy patty.
At the many picnic tables outside and tables and bar spots in the expansive interior, no shortage of Budweisers, Miller Lites, and Natty Bohs flow. Buckets of 16-ounce domestics go for $17, while premiums, which include Union Duckpin, Flying Dog’s Snake Dog IPA, and Terrapin IPA, are $24.
Don’t sleep on Pickles’ fresh-squeezed crushes. Lemon, lime, and grapefruit are available, but how could an Orioles fan pass on the orange variety, made with Deep Eddy orange vodka, triple sec, and Sierra Mist. A 32-ounce cup of refreshment costs $9.99.
On a Thursday late in April, about an hour before the Orioles went on to beat the Yankees in a glorious Thursday afternoon extra-inning affair, the crowds were back at both Pickles and the ballpark, and all felt right with the world.
“With us, there was never a question of ‘Are we going to make it?’ It was more like, ‘How much of a sacrifice are we going to have to make?’” Leonard says. “My partner and I both realized that we’re where we’re supposed to be, and we’re doing what we want to do.”
Thousands of baseball fans who have flocked back to Pickles this season know exactly what he means.