25 Best Bars: New Favorites

Old gems and new favorites. Plus the 10 top craft-beer havens & where bartenders like to drink.

By Jess Blumberg, Jim Burger, Rebecca Kirkman, Amy Mulvihill, Christine Stutz, & Mike Unger. Photography by Ryan Lavine. - December 2012

25 Best Bars: New Favorites

Old gems and new favorites. Plus the 10 top craft-beer havens & where bartenders like to drink.

By Jess Blumberg, Jim Burger, Rebecca Kirkman, Amy Mulvihill, Christine Stutz, & Mike Unger. Photography by Ryan Lavine. - December 2012

Rye’s bar manager, Doug Atwell, takes a drink order in this new, yet old-school, spot. -Photography by Ryan Lavine

Bluegrass Tavern

Federal Hill
Far from the chugging frat boys of Cross Street, just two blocks from the western terminus of Fort Avenue, sits Bluegrass, a warm and welcoming piece of Appalachia plunked down in Federal Hill. Decorated like an upscale hunting lodge, Bluegrass stays on theme with a vast selection of bourbons, ryes, and whiskeys and a southern-inflected menu. (Try the cornbread, served in a cast-iron skillet with molasses butter.) On a recent evening, singles and families, young and old alike, could be found at the 12-seat bar, high-top tables, and sidewalk seats. And the staff seemed to know them all. The cocktail menu changes seasonally, and we happily imbibed the new Fall Shandy with Templeton Rye, Carpano Antica Sweet Vermouth, spiced brown-sugar simple syrup, and brown ale, reveling in its autumnal richness. 1500 South Hanover St., 410-244-5101, bluegrasstavern.com

Bond Street Social

Fells Point
It should be no surprise that the owners of Bond Street Social, which opened in October 2011, include investors in Mad River Bar & Grille, just across the harbor. While Bond Street is more upscale, the bars share a similar meat-market vibe. There is no mistaking why patrons flock here—guys still dressed in their investment-banking suits and girls all gussied up in barely-there dresses. But there are certainly other reasons to enjoy the chic spot. The interior was thoughtfully remodeled and the décor reminds us of an urban ski chalet: indoor fireplaces, dark red walls, and log-cabin accents. The menu is filled with contemporary concepts, like shared plates and drinks. (Cocktail pitchers are a whopping 80 ounces.) We’re intrigued by a liquid-nitrogen martini, which arrives smoking, and we’re warned not to drink it for two minutes to avoid cold burns from the -320-degree-liquid. Sure, it’s contrived, but the peach-flavored cocktail is delicious. While the house music pulses, we realize it would be easy to judge this place, but it’s way more fun to play along. 901 S. Bond Street, 443-449-6234, bondstreetsocial.com

DogWatch Tavern

Fells Point
Drink at DogWatch Tavern 30 straight days and they’ll put your name on the back of a bar stool. We start our streak after another miraculous O’s victory on a Tuesday night in September. The place is filled with fans, many drawn, no doubt, by the $5 Boh-and-brat special. With leather couches more comfortable than what we have at home facing a bank of TVs bigger than ours, it’s a fantastic place to watch a game. Or play one. From a host of the board variety (we could spend all day playing Trivial Pursuit while sipping $2 Natty Boh drafts) to skee ball, DogWatch is the perfect bar for those who like a little competition with their drink. After polishing off nachos with chicken chili, we plop down on one of the couches and decide we’ll never leave. They politely bounce us at closing time, but we’ll be back. Twenty-nine more visits to go. 709 S. Broadway, 410-276-6030, dogwatchtavern.com

The Harp

No one at The Harp—or anywhere else on Earth—is having more fun this Friday night than the six fiftysomethings sitting around the tall table in the back corner of the massive bar room. The place is packed with drinkers of all ages, none of whom are downing car bombs with as much enthusiasm as this bunch. While people who were born in the ’80s drink draft beer and watch the O’s, the golden group is partying with purpose sufficient enough to make the Irish, who inspired the theme here, proud. They’re not fooling with plates of meaty wings, fat waffle fries, or sensational crab fritters. That would only distract from the libation. They don’t care that they’re in a suburban strip mall, or that the blaring band makes conversation difficult. They know a great bar is about service, surroundings, and soul, all of which The Harp has in plentiful supply. 8706 Belair Road, 410-529-4277, theharprestaurant.com

Hersh’s Pizza & Drinks

This new addition to the South Baltimore landscape—which opened just over a year ago—is known primarily for its wood-fired pizzas. But it’s also evident that Hersh’s quickly has become a quintessential neighborhood bar. On this warm fall night, young families and groups of friends gather at the eatery’s picnic-style tables outside while, inside, they cozy up to the rectangular bar—with its smoky gray walls, mirrored background, and a sign that reads “Pizza for President.” Another nominee should be head bartender Jamaal Green (formerly of Charleston), who is whipping up drinks like a scientist in a lab—a muddling station here, a chopping area there. In between his lightning-speed work, he greets us with a friendly smile and tosses down two napkins, “What can I get you?” We tell him about our weakness for ginger beer and he expertly crafts the complex, spicy-sweet Eva Peron, one of many creative cocktails on the menu. But, don’t ignore the beer selection: On tap tonight are gems from Union, 21st Amendment, Dogfish Head, and Ommegang. We soak it all up with a specialty pizza and, as we look around, are envious of most of the patrons, lucky enough to live just around the corner. 1843 Light Street, 443-438-4948, hershspizza.com

Hudson Street Stackhouse

Camouflaged in the neighborhood’s brick uniform, you might mistake Hudson Street Stackhouse for just another Canton row home. But, one step inside, and you realize this place is special. The huge Natty Boh mural painted on the wall signifies that beer is taken seriously. Indeed, there are nearly 40 brews on tap, with a focus on Belgian varieties. We order a Chimay Tripel and it’s served to us in a proper goblet. The Stackhouse could be described as a sports bar—most patrons are clad in football jerseys and usually it’s the go-to destination for Baltimore-based Capitals fans. (Alas, the NHL strike has prevented such excitement this year.) However, that hasn’t stopped locals from piling in, for the knowledgeable bartenders, cheap food specials, and those rare, high-proof beers. 2626 Hudson Street, 410-342-0592, hudsonstreetstackhouse.com

Kooper’s North

The original Kooper’s Tavern in Fells Point found a winning combination with its appetizing pub grub, robust beer selection, inviting waterfront location, and friendly barkeeps. Could it recreate the magic in the ’burbs? The answer is yes. Though Kooper’s North isn’t a carbon copy of the original—the décor is more modern and the location is between a dry cleaners and a picture framers in a Mays Chapel shopping center—it’s still got enough of the original’s easygoing charm. The bartenders are amiable and happy to chat when things are slow. The flat-screens are most often tuned to sports. And the daily food specials popularized by the original Kooper’s (fajitas on Mondays, burgers on Tuesdays, etc.) remain intact. Try to make time for Belgian Thursdays, when the bar’s many Belgian beers are discounted and the kitchen serves moules frites (mussels and fries), $9, three different ways. 12240 Tullamore Road, 410-853-7324, koopersnorth.com

Leinenkugel’s Beer Garden

Unlike most downtown bars, Leinenkugel’s feels open and airy. The glass-and-metal structure resembles a greenhouse, and, on nice days, the roof retracts and doors open onto the beer garden, merging the indoor and outdoor spaces. Outside, you’ll find groups huddled around picnic-style tables or lounging in Adirondack chairs (with built-in cup holders) by the fireplace. Its location adjacent to the Power Plant Live! complex packs a lively crowd on weekend nights and before shows. The bar boasts more drink options than its neighbors—more than 30 drafts (priced by the pint, liter, and pitcher) include a respectable mix of domestic craft brews and the bottle list has some import options. Heavy on Leinenkugel’s own beers, of course, the selection also includes regional favorites alongside well-known national breweries. In true German biergarten style, plenty of communal seating provides the opportunity to meet new people over a pint. Don’t miss the tables installed with pour-your-own taps, because, let’s face it: No one likes waiting for the next beer. 34 Market Place, 443-208-3316, leiniebeergarden.com

Liam Flynn’s Ale House

Station North
Some “Irish” bars come on too strong. You feel like the owners would punch you in the face with a shamrock if they could, so desperate are they to impress you with their “Irishness.” But not Liam Flynn’s Ale House, and, paradoxically, it’s all the more convincing for it. The 17-month-old Gaelic-themed watering hole, with soft yellow walls and the eponymous Flynn almost always behind the bar, specializes in British Isles ales, whiskeys, and ciders, but also saves two taps out of its 15 for locally brewed, cask-conditioned ales. It hosts live Irish music every Wednesday, but you can find Beyoncé on the jukebox. It is a base for fans of Glasgow Celtic and London’s Fulham football clubs, but will also show the O’s game should patrons request it. In short, it does what any actual Irish pub does and just focuses on being a good bar. Mission accomplished. 22 W. North Avenue, 443-956-1702, pintsizepub.com


Fells Point
Fells Point has enough suds-and-spuds bars to satisfy the college kids, the happy-hour crowds, and the weekend warriors watching the games, but where do you go if you want a grown-up night out? Until recently, the options were few. But rejoice! There is now Rye. With its dark woods, Edison light-bulb fixtures, and handsome (but sadly non-working) stone fireplace, Rye is a perfect venue for a first date, anniversary celebration, or other intimate occasion. An honest-to-God cocktail bar (it doesn’t even have any taps, just a well-edited selection of bottled beers), the bartenders really know their stuff. When we dithered about what to order, the barkeep whipped up a refreshing, beautifully blended gin fizz in a jiff. It’s easy to dither over a menu where cocktails from the Gin-Gin Mule (Bluecoast American gin, ginger syrup, fresh lime, mint, ginger ale) to the Freestone (Old Overholt rye whiskey, peach liqueur, orange peel, and plum bitters on the rocks), all sound delicious. Also, the small but sophisticated menu of small bites, flatbreads, and sandwiches will keep us coming back. 807 S. Broadway, 443-438-3296, ryebaltimore.com

Silo.5% Wine Bar

Locust Point
Even if you were expecting Silo.5%—located in the ritzy Silo Point building—to be ultra-cool, a step inside confirms that you still might not be wearing enough black to truly belong. The soaring ceilings, phosphorescent under-bar lighting, techno-ambient soundtrack, and hard-edged furniture underscore the cold, quasi-industrial nature of the space. Thankfully, there’s warmth to be found in the accommodating demeanor of the servers. Want your Key-lime martini without the requisite splash of cream? No problem. Worried about the caffeine in your espresso martini? They can make that with decaf coffee and go easy on the espresso vodka. The ambitious menu includes more than 30 wines by the glass, 200 by the bottle, an extensive selection of draft and bottled beers, and a cocktail list reflective of all the current trends. Food choices range from something as Spartan as cheese and crostini to salads, pizzas, and entrees like Kobe culotte steak. Silo.5% seems ideal for groups of four to six, all clad in your favorite black outfit, of course. 1200 Steuart Street, 443-438-4044, silo.5winebar.com

Mt. Washington Tavern

Mt. Washington
Just over a year ago, the venerable Mt. Washington Tavern suffered a two-alarm fire and several million dollars in damages. But, somewhat miraculously, the neighborhood staple is up and running again after just 12 months. The new incarnation has a much more open and fluid feel, which is evident upon entrance—gone is the claustrophobic, wooden bar room. Instead, there’s an airy, rustic space with stone accents and barn siding. The garden room in the back now feels cozy—with a raw bar, fireplace, and communal table for dining. Venturing upstairs, you’ll find the Pimlico Room, a dining space that’s a virtual monument to the race track. In the back, of course, is the ever popular “sky bar,” now open year-round (with heating and air-conditioning, much to our delight). This space feels more organic, with accordion doors that swing open to the balcony. Fittingly, the reopening party is on Thanksgiving Eve, a time when patrons—no matter their college graduation year—have always returned to the tavern. 5700 Newbury Street, 410-367-6903, mtwashingtontavern.com

You May Also Like

Food & Drink

Local Flavor Live Podcast: Baltimore Farmers Market Returns With Social Distancing Measures

Plus, supporting Black Lives Matter in Baltimore, details on Whitehall Market, and best bites of the week.

Food & Drink

Local Flavor Live Podcast: Remembering City Café

Plus, more on the new Bottoms Up Bagels space and al fresco dining.

Food & Drink

Fancy Feast

Get your food to go and recreate the restaurant experience at home.

Food & Drink

Local Flavor Live Podcast: The Thrill of Foraging

Chef Chris Amendola talks indoor dining reclosures and foraging tips for beginners.

Food & Drink

Local Flavor Live Podcast: Restaurants Get Creative in the Age of COVID

Unique approaches to serving diners while keeping up with ever-changing restrictions.

In Good Taste

Without Reservation: Tark’s Grill

Co-owner Gino Cardinale discusses the restaurant’s survival and memories of his beloved City Café.

Rye’s bar manager, Doug Atwell, takes a drink order in this new, yet old-school, spot. -Photography by Ryan Lavine

Connect With Us

Most Read

How These Surprise Quarantine ‘Flower Bombs’ Are Helping Families in Need: The paper-plate flowers have become a massive fundraiser for the Ronald McDonald House.

Design for Distancing Competition Aims to Revive The Beauty of Public Spaces: Forward-thinking social-distancing structures could be built in the city as early as this month.

Amid The Economic Chaos, Downtown Partnership’s New President Has a Plan: Shelonda Stokes was just named president after serving in an interim leadership role.

The Womanist Reader Creates an Online Library of Black Literature: A Baltimore writer curates an evolving list of women writers for her women followers.

Five Things to Know About Democratic Mayoral Nominee Brandon Scott: The 36-year-old City Council President rallies past Sheila Dixon to win Democratic mayoral primary.