Bartender Scarlett Knopf strikes a pose near iconic skateboarder Bart Simpson. - Photo by Danielle Sweeney
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If you grew up in the 80s and early 90s in suburban America you probably either rode a skateboard or hung out with kids who did. The skatepunk subculture, known for punk rock music, skateboarding, and a DIY aesthetic, is alive and well, if in a slightly more mature incarnation, at Johnny Rad’s, 2108 Eastern Ave.
Steve Ball, who co-owns Rad’s with Rich Pugh, says the pair did not plan to open up Johnny Rad’s on Eastern Ave. They simply thought they had a good pizza recipe and wanted to open up a bar.
“Honestly, the building was up for auction. We found it on Craigslist,” says Ball. “But it’s a great location and neighborhood.”
The skate punk theme is an homage to their youths, Ball adds, a serious skateboarder in his youth.
“Myself,” he says, “I still push around a little, but there’s a lot of people our age [40 -ish] who don’t skate anymore but still enjoy the culture. Here’s an example: shortly after we first opened up, a guy walks in off the street dressed in a suit and tie. He’s with his wife and sits at the bar. Then he says: ‘Hey, man. I saw your Black Flag-inspired logo. I had to stop in.’”
The customer was referring to Johnny Rad’s (and the band’s) signature black-and-white checked sign.
Pugh, who collects skateboards and skater memorabilia, is responsible for the dozen or so board decks that decorate the walls of the bar-restaurant, while much of the 80s-era collectibles—Star Wars memorabilia, ET figurines, and a large boxy cell phone, to name a few—were donated by friends.
Pizza-wise, Rad’s is in a class by itself. “We are bordering between NYC style and Neapolitan, so we call it Baltipolitan: a think-crust center with a soft puffy cornice, fresh, bright sauce with little seasoning and spotty fresh mozzarella,” explains Pugh.
The pizza is baked on a stone in a stone-lined oven at temps close to 650 degrees.
“It’s not pretending to be Neapolitan,” Pugh clarifies, “but it’s pretty darn close.”
Rad’s menu is not limited to pizza, and has a surprisingly inventive range of dinner-sized salads, such as the Root Veggie Salad: roasted beets, and baby parsnips and turnips with a balsamic vinaigrette and crumbled chevre ($11) and vegan choices.
“We have friends who are vegan and we know that they will drive 30 miles uphill in a snowstorm for good food. We wanted to offer something that shows more imagination than a veggie burger,” says Ball.
Rad’s most popular vegan items are the vegan steak and vegan chicken cheesesteaks ($6 on Tuesdays; $9 other times). Another vegan fave and bestseller, even among the carnivores. is the
“Templeton” pizza, a marinara style pizza with tomato sauce, fresh garlic sauce, parsley, oregano, olive oil and basil.
Rad’s is known for its skateboard videos, movie night, inspired bar snacks such as homemade Cracker Jacks, and skeeball.
“We got the skeeball machines in 2011,” says Ball. “Skeeball is contemporary—or maybe retro-contemporary is a better way to describe it.”
Rad’s is open seven days a week. Happy hour is Mon.-Thurs., 5-8 p.m., 2-7 p.m. Fri., and includes $3 rail drinks, $4 house wines, and $2 off draft beers. Don’t forget to try the Highlandtown lemonade— a shandy made with sparkling lemonade, pilsner, with a splash of soda.
What better drink to sip at one of Johnny Rad’s outdoor tables as you people-watch on Eastern Ave.?
by Danielle Sweeney