Last night I attended the grand opening of Alewife, a beer bar and restaurant that opened across the street from The Hippodrome in the old Lucy's Irish Pub and Maggie Moore's location. Of course, the building dates back longer than that, as it was owned by Baltimore Equitable Insurance since 1889, and before that it was the headquarters for the Eutaw Savings Bank.
Despite its storied past, the building has been somewhat of a cursed spot for bar/restaurants. Its off-the-beaten-path location doesn't make it a desired destination, but more popular for an after-work or after-show crowd. However, what the owner of Alewife, Daniel Lanigan, is seeking to do is a little bit different from the others—create a high-end beer bar with 100 bottles and 40 drafts of excellent and obscure brews from around the world.
The space itself is still beautiful: huge open room with dark wood accents, crimson walls, and historic stained-glass windows. There are a dozen or so tables scattered around, including some in the front windows, others on the second floor, and many in a private room off to the side. The service last night was outstanding; the bar even appeared to be overstaffed. I wonder if the rain put a damper on the opening night crowd that Alewife was expecting. But our bartender was knowledgeable about all the exotic beers on the menu and provided thoughtful recommendations. He even let us sample a few beers before we ordered.
There were 75 bottles (with more to come on Monday) and 40 drafts on the beer menu last night, all listed on two giant chalkboards in the main room. I was in the mood for something light so I tried a Reisdorff Kölsch draft ($6), a clean German beer with just enoguh body and a subtle bitterness. On the hoppier (and closer-to-home) side, we tried Bear Republic's Racer 5 IPA ($6), which was less intense than most IPAs and had a nice balance of sweet and bitter notes. We also tried the fruity Allagash White ($5.50) and the full-bodied Smuttynose Big A IPA ($5). All the beer was extremely high-quality and fresh. There's also a dozen $10 cocktails (including a rotating drink called "The Baltimore") and a decent wine list.
The food menu is interesting, with some upscale entrees that you won't find at most beer bars (Ox Tail, Venison Sausage, Rockfish). But we settled for the crabcake and burger. The crabcake was pretty lackluster. It came out fried (I prefer broiled) and most of it was claw meat, not lump. But the accompanying corn salsa was delicious, like having a side of spicy corn-on-the cob. The smoke burger and fries ($14) was phenomenal: smoked Gouda and gruyere cheese, applewood smoked bacon, caramelized onions, and a chipotle aioli on a brioche bun made for a delicious meal. Not to mention, the duck-fat fries with sundried tomato ketchup was a stand-up side.
So, Alewife has a ton going for it. They have a beautiful space with a stellar staff, an owner who clearly knows his beer, and an impressive food menu. What worries me, though, is how much of a crowd they'll get. The location is obviously pretty tricky, though judging from all the business suits last night, I think they'll get a good after-work crowd. And The Hippodrome's proximity will help. But Alewife needs to be a bar that people go out of their way for, which can be a lot to ask in this town. One thing that will attract attention: On October 1st at 4 p.m., Stone Brewing Company will be at Alewife with a whopping 40 of its beers on tap. I'd say that's a pretty good start.
[Image: photo courtesy of me]