Max’s Taphouse: A Legendary Baltimore Beer Emporium
Max’s Taphouse has been a fixture in Fells Point since 1985. Today, with 107 beers on tap, 5 beer engines, and a seemingly endless, smartly curated selection of over 2000 bottles, it is a destination for beer lovers from around the world. But it’s also a Baltimore neighborhood bar, run by beer enthusiasts, and that is exactly how owners Ron and Gail Furman planned it.
“My earliest memories of beer in our house,” Ron recalls. “My father kept a fridge with a glass door in the basement, and he loved beers from all over the world. He had a beer can collection, all colors and sizes, lined up along a shelf in the kitchen that must have been 15 feet long.”
Ron fell in love with the bar business by working at one of Baltimore’s popular 70s nightspots, No Fish Today. But his family ran a successful auto parts chain, and they expected Ron to carry it on. Especially his grandfather, Max, who made it plain that working in a bar was not a “respectable” job.
By the mid-80s, Ron was laying the groundwork for his future as an ambassador of Baltimore beer culture. He convinced his father to invest with him in a failing discotheque at the corner of Broadway and Lancaster, long before the area was a tourist draw. The first thing he did was transform it from a dance hall to a music hall, with, coincidentally, an impressive beer selection. To close the circle, Ron named it Max’s.
Many of today’s customers would be surprised (or not!) to learn that the Max’s stage saw over 1000 acts. Artists like Smashing Pumpkins, Hootie & the Blowfish, Buddy Guy… too many to name.
“I love music and entertaining,” Ron says. “But right from the start, I wanted a great selection of beer. Glass coolers lined the walls with beers from all over the world. We didn’t call them ‘craft’ beers then; they were ‘imports’ and ‘microbrews.’”
Ten years later, Ron and Gail shifted the focus from live music to beer. Max’s became known for its dozens of taps, hundreds of bottled beers, and the longest bar in Baltimore. The eclectic, multi-level, multi-room bar was designed and constructed using reclaimed materials from many other historic local buildings, including a bowling alley and the defunct Seagram’s Distillery.
“We cultivated a staff of smart, passionate beer experts,” Ron explains. “We wanted to show people that the world was a big place, and there were other beers out there. Life is too short to drink the same beer twice!”
Today, Ron and Gail attribute much of the success of Max’s Taphouse to its staff of “lifers,” some of whom have worked at Max’s for a quarter of a century. “It’s all about our employees and their dedication to Max’s,” Ron says. “These are people whose knowledge and care goes above and beyond. When they suggest a beer, you can bet it will be the exact beer you’re looking for.”
Ron continues: “We set out to make Max’s a place that supported and grew with the neighborhood, and that supported and grew a staff that was as dedicated to the place and the neighborhood as we were. This is how you explain the fact that Casey Hard, now one of the world’s foremost beer-centric event planners, has been with us since 1999.
“And why, even though he keeps saying he’s retiring, Bob Simko has been pulling beers behind our bar for almost a quarter of a century. Jamie: 22 years. Jason: 18 years. Chuck, the big fellow who greets customers at the door: 17 years. Hermes: the guy who keeps the building running and creates all those great displays, over 17 years. And the list goes on…” The Furman’s say it’s been a true joy seeing the Max’s family grow and mature.
“Speaking of maturing,” Ron adds, “in 1986 we probably sold 75% TV beers. Today’s customer is always looking for a new experience.”
Ron concludes: “One of the things we love about the Baltimore beer community today is the camaraderie and pride that local bar owners and brewers take in their places and products. Max’s Taphouse has been a part of this community for over thirty years, and we look forward to a vibrant future!”