Hampden’s latest addition, The Bluebird Cocktail Room (3600 Hickory Ave., 667-303-3263), brings a sophisticated cachet to Baltimore while still maintaining an approachable vibe.
Native Marylander Paul Benkert was inspired by his time at Woodberry Kitchen and jazz bar Vie de Boheme in Portland, Oregon, when he opened Bluebird in July. He transformed the massive 3,000-square-foot space above De Kleine Duivel—formerly a sparse gallery spot—into a stylish bistro with navy blue walls, gold accents, communal tables, corner lounges, and a fireplace. In the early evening, natural light spills through the windows. At night, it’s lit only by candles.
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Starting with its cocktail program, The Bluebird does a lot right. The menu reads like an eight-page book, which is appropriate for this literary-themed bar named after a Charles Bukowski poem. Cocktails are divided into four chapters: Simple, More Complex, Long Sippers, and After-Dinner Drinks. A recent favorite in the summer heat has been the Hemingway daiquiri, made the traditional Cuban way over crushed ice (and best enjoyed on one of their outdoor porch swings).
Even ice isn't overlooked here, as bar manager Ben Poole uses a machine that produces a 300-pound block of ice that can be carved, crushed, or cubed depending on the drink. This artistry can be seen in many of the drinks on the menu, including an Old Fashioned topped with a seamless sphere to keep it cold.
Have no fear: Though there is care taken with the bar’s design and cocktail menu, not everything here is overly fancy. There are still $3 Natty Bohs and a Monday-Friday happy hour when draft cocktails are $5 and small plates are half-off. Not one of the bar's food items, including cured salmon and steak frites, is over $20.
Opening weekend—with its excellent service, impressive drinks, and neighborhood locals bellying up to the bar—was a great sign that Bluebird has already hit a sweet spot.