2013 Best of Baltimore: Fun

The best bars, parks and more

By Jess Blumberg and Amy Mulvihill - August 2013

2013 Best of Baltimore: Fun

The best bars, parks and more

By Jess Blumberg and Amy Mulvihill - August 2013

Cocktail mixed at Wit and Wisdom. -Photo by Ryan Lavine

Bar Crawl

Charm City Pedal Mill

The newest trend making its way down the cobblestones in Fells Point is the Charm City Pedal Mill. Inspired by “pedal taverns” in Europe, this 16-person bike has its passengers doing the work, pedaling along to any of a dozen bars in Fells Point, usually starting at Ale Mary’s and ending up at The Point. The tours can last anywhere from two to four hours and prices vary, but usually end up costing each passenger about $25. Perfect for birthday or bachelor parties, the Pedal Mill also partners with each bar to provide drink specials for its passengers. charmcitypedalmill.com.

Bar Food


Willow dubs itself a cantina. And that’s accurate, considering the menu items. But don’t expect any cheesy sombreros. The décor is beautiful with earth tones, vintage furniture, and tin lanterns. While there’s a nice variety of tequila, the food at Willow is the real showstopper. We recommend starting with the guacamole, which is made tableside with a molcajete (mortar and pestle) and turns out chunky, garlicky, and just right. We also like its tacos with various proteins, including duck confit, petite filet, and tequila-lime chicken. All of the food is spicy and filling—perfect before (or after) a night out in Fells. 811 S. Broadway, 443-835-4086.

’Burbs Bar

The Ale House

Like many things in Columbia, The Ale House is located in a strip mall. But, what sets it apart are the 50-plus beers on draft, in bottles, and in casks. The bar’s sister location is Pratt Street Ale House near Camden Yards, which brews Olivers Ales. So there are 10 of those beers on tap, including Bishop’s Breakfast and Draft Punk. Along with Olivers, the Ale House features local breweries like DuClaw, Flying Dog, and Stillwater. The best way to experience it is during happy hour (3:30-7 p.m.) on its outdoor patio, where the servers are attentive and prices are low: $4 Olivers pints, $5 house wines, and $6 apps. 6480 Dobbin Center Way, Columbia, 443-546-3640.


Hersh’s Manhattan

Sometimes it’s smart to spice up an old classic, which is exactly what bar manager Jamaal Green does at Hersh’s in Riverside. The Hersh’s Manhattan ($11) is a refreshing twist on the original. Instead of rye whiskey, there’s House Spirits White Dog Whiskey; instead of Italian vermouth, there is the citrus-y Dolin Blanc; and instead of a maraschino cherry, the rim is garnished with a lemon peel. One thing that Green doesn’t mess with is the necessary Angostura bitters. The result is a light, clean, and elegant cocktail. The best part? During Hersh’s happy hour (weekdays 5-7 p.m., weekends 3-5 p.m.), the drink is just $5. 1843 Light Street, 443-438-4948.

Day Trip

Middleburg, VA

This tiny, affluent hamlet in Loudoun County, VA, is famed for its quintessential Ralph Lauren lifestyle, and it certainly earns its designation as the “Nation’s Horse and Hunt Capital.” It’s the home of the National Sporting Library and Museum, which preserves literature, art, and culture of equestrian, angling, and field sports, as well as Fox Chase Farm, a storied horse farm that puts on multiple shows each month. Plus, the town hosts “Twilight Polo” every Saturday night throughout the summer. Even if you’re not horse crazy, Middleburg’s historic, meticulously preserved village center offers plenty of diversions including fine dining (Red Fox Inn, French Hound), antiquing, and wineries. And, with this month’s opening of the 340-acre Salamander Resort & Spa, there is plenty of TLC to be had as well. townofmiddleburg.org.

Designated Driver

Uber Technology

Baltimore doesn’t have the best mass-transit system, so we were sure glad when Uber came along. A mobile application that was started in 2009, Uber connects users with drivers of luxury vehicles. It was popular in D.C. and New York (though not with cabbies) before making its way to Baltimore earlier this year. The process is simple: Download the app, enter your credit-card information and a pick-up address, and voilà a Town Car picks you up. Tip is included and a receipt is automatically e-mailed to you. While it’s a tad pricier than traditional taxis, the service is prompt, and you’re able to track your car’s location as it approaches. uber.com.

Dance Spots: Blues

Cat's Eye Pub

Though the bands at Cat’s Eye Pub cover a variety of genres, blues is its bread and butter—whether it’s Steve Kraemer and the Bluesicians rocking out on Sunday afternoon (a slot they’ve held for 30 years) or Nothin’ But Trouble playing to a packed house on Friday nights. While the space is cramped, you’re bound to make friends with whomever is shaking and shimmying next to you. 1730 Thames Street, 410-276-9866.

Dance Spots: House


Electronic dance parties have been gaining popularity as of late, but Paradox has been around since 1991. This enormous warehouse space has been the mecca for house music fans and recently upgraded its sound, lighting, bar, and lounges. The spot is open until 4 or 5 a.m. depending on the event. Check out the second Saturday of every month when the club hosts Ultra Naté’s Deep Sugar party. 1310 Russell Street, 410-837-9110.

Dance Spots: Swing

Mobtown Ballroom

If you’re interested in swinging (we mean 1920s-style, not 1970s-style!), Mobtown Ballroom is the place to be Monday and Friday nights. For $5 on Mondays and $7 on Fridays, you can shake your tail feather during the Swing & Lindy Hop Dance. No experience or partner is necessary to attend, but if you want some instruction, beginner lessons are offered before each dance for an extra $5. It’s as easy as that. 861 Washington Boulevard, 443-699-3040.

Dance Spots: Soul

Lithuanian Hall

It’s hardly a secret anymore, but the monthly Save Your Soul dance parties at the Lithuanian Hall still retain that patina of underground cool. The music—always a stellar mix of vintage R&B and soul—helps. The hipster crowd (sometimes including patron saint John Waters) helps, too, as do the honey liqueur shots and shabby rec-room décor of the Lithuanian Hall. Shine on, you crazy diamond! 851 Hollins Street, 410-685-5787.

Event on Wheels

Baltimore Bike Party

It’s common knowledge that biking is the au courant urban transport of choice. But did you know it can boost your social life, too? Since starting in spring of 2012, the Baltimore Bike Party has become one of the city’s hottest social events, attracting thousands of cyclists of all ages and abilities to the monthly ride. Each ride takes a different route around the city and has a different theme, ranging from pajamas to ’80s to prom. Post-ride festivities are standard, and it’s always free, as the best things in life generally are. baltimorebikeparty.com.

Hidden Tourist

Attraction Tyson Street

For what is essentially an alleyway running north from Monument Street to Cathedral Street, Tyson Street certainly boasts a colorful history. The tiny row homes were originally built in the 1830s to house Irish immigrants who came to work on the railroad. Fast forward 75 years, and the Hotel Brexton offered temporary lodging to a young Wallis Simpson (the future Duchess of Windsor). On the opposite corner from Hotel Brexton is Leon’s of Baltimore, Baltimore’s oldest gay bar, which opened in 1957 when the neighborhood was ground zero for the city’s beatniks. But it was in 1972 that the street reached the summit of counterculture notoriety. Yes, Tyson Street is where the infamous final scene of John Waters’s Pink Flamingos was shot. Oddly, no plaque marks the site.


#9 Trolley Trail

Connecting suburban Catonsville with Main Street, Ellicott City, the #9 Trolley Trail is 1.5 miles of sylvan heaven. On a recent summer evening, the wooded trail was full of after-work joggers, dog walkers, stroller-pushing parents, and even a few cyclists. The gently sloped, paved path wends its way down to Ellicott City terminating on Oella Avenue right behind The Trolley Stop restaurant. Then, it’s just a short stroll over the Frederick Road bridge to all downtown Ellicott City has to offer. Or, if you have no time for dawdling, you can just return up the trail, a three-mile jaunt under your (slightly looser) belt. cantonsvillerailstorails.com.

Multi-Use Space

Metropolitan Kitchen & Lounge

From the outside, you’d have no idea that this Annapolis bar had so much going on. The bottom floor is a farm-to-table restaurant and bar. The second floor is a lounge with its own bar and 2,000-square-foot music venue that features bands, comedians, and DJs every night of the week. Travel up to the third floor to Metropolitan’s rooftop (open daily at 4 p.m.), which includes an outdoor dining space, lounge areas, and a bar. Not to mention that it has a stellar cocktail program—try the General Lee. The only problem is deciding which floor to enjoy it on. 169 West Street, Annapolis, 410-280-5160.

Music Festival

Hot August Blues and Roots Festival

There are many music festivals held in the area. Some get bigger names, but is there one that is more fun than Hot August Blues? Held at Oregon Ridge, there’s a laidback vibe to the festival that is hard to find elsewhere. It could be that everyone is too hot to cause a ruckus. Or it could be that the performers (always a mix of blues, Americana, jam bands, soul, and R&B) set a tone of relaxation and celebration. This year’s event, with Grace Potter & the Nocturnals headlining, seems poised to continue the tradition. hotaugustblues.com.

New Bar

Moonshine Tavern

When we heard The Gin Mill was closing in January after nearly 16 years of service, we were disappointed. But, in the blink of an eye, Moonshine Tavern opened in its place. We can’t get enough of the tavern’s creative moonshine menu, with more than 20 concoctions of high-proof liquor with ingredients like mint, cherries, and honey. A great deal is the moonshine sampler with five shots for just $18. The bar features swill from distilleries around the country and house-made recipes. There’s also yummy bar snacks (like bacon-wrapped dates) to soak it all up. 2300 Boston Street, 410-327-6455.


Aaron Joseph, Wit & Wisdom Tavern

Like the drinks they sling, the right bartender is all about balance. Aaron Joseph, who was just hired as Wit & Wisdom’s bar manager, strikes it perfectly. He is friendly without being overly chatty, and savvy without being pretentious (though his résumé is impressive—with stints in the Caribbean, on the Eastern Shore, and in D.C. during its craft-cocktail craze). In between sipping a modern gin fizz and a creative beer cocktail, we asked Joseph why he came to Baltimore. His answer was simple: “This scene just got started. It’s more exciting here.” We knew we liked him for a reason. 200 International Drive, 410-576-5800.

Brewery: Old School

Heavy Seas Beer

In 1994, Hugh Sisson founded Clipper City Brewing, which makes Heavy Seas Beer and its ever-popular Loose Cannon. The brewery announced an expansion in August, adding 15,000-square feet and doubling its beer production. 4615 Hollins Ferry Road, Halethorpe, 410-247-7822.

Brewery: New School

Union Craft Brewing Company

These new kids on the block have done a lot in a year. Since opening, Union has brewed 1,400 barrels, 14 different styles, and hosted tons of events including a bluegrass festival and first anniversary party. 1700 Union Avenue, Suite D, 410-467-0290.


Manny Machado

It’s safe to say that the Orioles have a prodigy on their hands. Manny Machado, who was drafted by the O’s in 2010, made his debut last year with highlight-worthy defensive plays at third base. But it’s this year that the All Star’s bat has really come alive. At barely 21 years old, Machado leads the major league in doubles, among a slew of other records dating back to the days of Ty Cobb. His defensive skills have been compared to Alex Rodriguez, Cal Ripken Jr., and even Brooks Robinson. But Machado confidently told Sports Illustrated: “I’m just trying to be myself. Maybe someday, someone will say, ‘He’s the next Manny Machado.’”

Outdoor Drinking

McFaul’s IronHorse Tavern at Sanders’ Corner

Oh, how Baltimoreans of a certain age rejoiced when it was announced last year that the erstwhile Sanders’ Corner location would be revived as a family restaurant. The back deck was hopping one recent Friday night, as patrons of all ages congregated around the outside bar to watch the O’s beat the Red Sox. The beer selection——12 on tap——features tried-and-true options like Guinness and Resurrection. But, once those cool evening zephyrs start blowing up from Cromwell Valley and the moon rises through the treetops, your beer will be an afterthought. 2260 Cromwell Bridge Road, Parkville. 410-828-1625.

Movie Night

Summer Moonlight Movie Series

Baltimore is lucky to have so many outdoor movie screenings. They all have their charms, but we feel the film series at The Shops at Kenilworth deserves special kudos. Since it’s held at Kenilworth, parking is free and a breeze, which is not always the case in the city. The films are screened twice a month on Fridays, which makes it easier for those with weekday commitments. We also applaud the selection, which ranges from Oscar-winning fare such as Lincoln to blockbusters like The Avengers. Pre-screening festivities with WBAL radio personalities, games, a photo booth, and giveaways only add to the fun. 800 Kenilworth Drive, Towson. 410-321-1909.

Place for Fido

Patterson Dog Park

With more young professionals calling the Patterson Park area home, it was only a matter of time before it got the ultimate signifier of gentrification: a dog park. Residents—and more importantly, their pups—have embraced the facility. There’s a tennis-court-sized pen for large dogs and a slightly smaller area for small and senior dogs. Both are equipped with water fountains, benches, and Astroturf mounds for climbing. The large-dog pen even has a water feature. Black Lab Toby had a grand old time hoarding tennis balls on his Astroturf mountaintop. But even Toby eventually abandoned his stronghold to run wild with his pals—because nothing beats that. Corner of S. Linwood and Eastern Avenues.

Little Laxers

McDonogh Girls' Lacrosse Team

It’s good to be kings—or rather queens. And that’s just what the McDonogh girls laxers are after the No. 1-ranked team won its fifth straight conference championship. Coming from behind against St. Paul’s to preserve a 91-game (!) winning streak, the Eagles rallied and, when all was said and done, the 17 seniors on McDonogh’s roster completed their high-school lacrosse careers with perfect records. As senior defender Maggie Preas told The Baltimore Sun, “It’s pretty awesome to be able to say that we . . . didn’t ever lose.”


Ray Lewis

No matter how many games we win, this upcoming football season just won’t feel right—and that’s because No. 52 won’t be on the field. As the Ravens’ second draft pick ever, Ray Lewis has been synonymous with our team since 1996. And he didn’t quit last year, even after suffering a torn tricep that some whispered was a career-ender. The middle linebacker returned for the wild-card playoff game and his retirement announcement was just the motivation the team needed to bring home the Lombardi. We’ll certainly miss his tackles on the field, exits from the tunnel, and preaching on the sidelines.


Scunny’s Natty Boh Can

We couldn’t think of a better way to honor the life of Patrick “Scunny” McCusker, former owner of Nacho Mama’s and Mama’s on the Half Shell, who passed away a year ago. This past March, Pabst Brewing Company released a silver and white 16-ounce Natty Boh can in his memory that depicts the Baltimore skyline, Calvert coat of arms, a write-up of Scunny’s life, and the phrase “Oh Boy What A Guy!” The can is available at both Canton bars and a portion of the proceeds goes to Scunny’s favorite charity Believe in Tomorrow. We’ll drink to that, Hon.


Millstone Cellars

Maryland’s hottest new winery isn’t a winery at all. It brews alcoholic cider, as well as mead, an ancient drink made from fermented honey. The brainchild of father-and-son duo Curt and Kyle Sherrer, Millstone Cellars is less than two years old but its brews are already carried at a plethora of restaurants, liquor stores, and farmers’ markets. Made from heirloom apple varietals and local honey, flavors range from ciderberry to gingeroot. And the Sherrers are always experimenting with new flavors to be aged in oak barrels in their renovated 19th-century gristmill in Monkton. 2029 Monkton Road, Monkton, 443-470-9818 .

Worst-Kept Secret

W.C. Harlan

When this Remington bar opened in January, it was all very hush-hush. But insiders started talking and word quickly spread. After just two weeks, W.C. Harlan was wall-to-wall packed. And it was easy to see why. The craft cocktails are handled with care—a delicious Old Fashioned takes the appropriate few minutes to make. There’s a European-influenced beer menu. The place is decorated with reclaimed furniture. And conversation flits about like it should—on the quieter side—while candles provide minimal light. Since the initial buzz, the crowds have calmed, but it’s refreshing to know that word-of-mouth can still be more effective than a fancy ad campaign. Psst, here’s the address: 400 W. 23rd Street.

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Cocktail mixed at Wit and Wisdom. -Photo by Ryan Lavine

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