This week, we’ll meet a couple of former teachers who are launching a bar and bookstore in Ellicott City with the help of their dog. I’ll also talk about a Towson restaurant that’s taking orders without a cashier, and touch base on the future of a pandemic-era innovation in Baltimore — the parklet.

I’ll also tell you where to find out who is the fairest of them all — at least when it comes to local craft beer.

Backwater Books arrives in Ellicott City

A bookstore walks into a bar.

That’s the plan for Backwater Books, which will launch soon on Ellicott City’s Main Street in the Times Building.

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Co-owner Matt Krist, who is opening the business with his wife, Alli, said he’s looking forward to bringing back the written word to the building, once home to the Howard County Times newspaper. More recently, the space was home to the Thomas at The Times cigar lounge.

Both Krists are former teachers who left education during the pandemic. For the longtime readers and lovers of mystery novels, the new venture made sense.

“There’s something very educational about bookstores. It’s definitely kind of a romantic idea as well,” Matt Krist said. While the area is home to a used bookstore called Gramp’s Attic Books, he said Ellicott City’s historic district currently lacks a place to buy new tomes. But, given the state of print media, Matt jokes, “It could be a total disaster.”

Backwater Books, a bar and independent bookstore, is set to open on Ellicott City's Main Street in the Times Building. (Christina Tkacik)

In addition to a place to stock up on the latest thrillers, the Krists envision Backwater Books and the upstairs bar as a community gathering place with events for adults and children alike.

Another draw: The bookstore dog, Chomsky. The couples’ puppy-ish Vizsla, a type of Hungarian bird-hunting dog, will greet shoppers as they browse. “We hope people come by and take him for walks,” Matt Krist said.

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For all its antique charms, starting a business in old Ellicott City comes with risks. Catastrophic floods in 2016 and 2018 inundated neighboring shops and cafes. The Krists, who live in Ellicott City, said they are closely watching the ongoing progress of flood mitigation work, which includes digging a tunnel to intercept stormwater.

The bookstore is set to launch sometime in November, with the bar to open at a later date. Backwater Books will go before the Howard County Liquor Board Nov. 8.

Asian night market-inspired concept opening in Towson

Epic lines at this summer’s Asia Collective Night Market in Howard County demonstrated the area’s ravenous appetite for Asian street food.

Towsonites will soon have a new place to grab a bite of such cuisine.

Water Song Yunnan Kitchen, a restaurant in Federal Hill, is opening a new location called Street Food by Water Song at Towson’s 3 West Chesapeake Ave. The restaurant, which launches Thursday, will offer what owners are calling an Asian night market concept.

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Co-owner Colin Liang said he and business partner Andrew Hinton are drawing inspiration from Liang’s hometown of China’s Yunnan province, as well as cuisines of nearby Vietnam and Japan. Liang also ran two Japanese bento box shops in China before he moved to the U.S. in 2014. At Street Food by Water Song, customers will have the option of making customized wraps, bento boxes and stir-fried rice bowls.

The 25-seat eatery is BYOB, but owners expect most customers to get orders to go. Orders are placed via Uber Eats and Grubhub or in person through a touch screen kiosk. Liang says such mobile ordering is popular in fast-paced cities like Beijing and Shanghai. It’s also a labor-saving tactic in the midst of what Liang called the current “chaos moment” labor shortage.

If all goes well, Liang said, the restaurant may expand to Howard County. “I do see the tremendous opportunity and demand from customers.”

Check out Water Song on the PBS series “Start Up” airing Nov. 28.

Baltimore City parklets

Parklets: Love ‘em or leave ‘em?

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During the pandemic, Baltimore allowed restaurants to convert neighboring parking spaces into outdoor dining areas for free and without much bureaucratic hassle. You’ve probably noticed them along Charles Street downtown and in Mount Vernon and Station North, or elsewhere around the city.

With the state of emergency over, Baltimore is planning to require restaurants to start paying “cafe fees” to keep those areas, as well as get Board of Estimates approval.

But first, local officials want to hear from residents. Baltimoreans have until Nov. 14 to share their thoughts on this topic with the Baltimore City Department of Transportation.

Marly Cardona-Moz, chief of communications for DOT, said the department has already received around 1,000 comments through its online portal, overwhelmingly in favor of keeping the program.

Baltimore City Councilman Ryan Dorsey said he is concerned that the fees will mean many restaurants can’t afford to keep up the program.

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The current public comment period isn’t likely to be the last word on the matter. Cardona-Moz said it will be followed by yet another public comment period as the city refines its parklet policy.

Try this: Maryland’s best craft beer

The Baltimore Craft Beer Festival is this Saturday at Canton Waterfront Park, not far from the city’s historic Brewers Hill neighborhood.

It will have over 200 locally-brewed craft beers, ciders, meads and hard seltzers from 60 different breweries. Among the names are Big Truck Farm Brewery, Brewer’s Art, Charm City Meadworks and UNION Craft Brewing.

Also happening at the festival: the final round of judging for the 2022 Maryland Craft Beer Competition, which includes more than 150 styles ranging from British-style barley wine ale to chocolate-flavored beer in addition to best in show. Attendees will be the first to hear the winners, who will be announced from the festival’s stage. Tasting passes start at $45 and include samples from all participants.

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