Our region has many nicknames. One of them is “A City of Firsts,” which generally refers to Baltimore’s historically innovative spirit. And we are happy to see that it's alive and well today in the first bar inside a city distillery (that uses another nickname as its moniker).
The owners of Old Line Spirits opened their distillery in February 2017, but the bar debuted in Highlandtown this summer. Old Line was able to piggyback onto a bill in District 46 this past legislative session to allow consumption of mixed drinks on the site where those very spirits are being made.
The result is The Ready Room Cocktail Bar (200 S. Janney St.), a nod to the Naval pilot backgrounds of owners Arch Watkins and Mark McLaughlin. The cocktail menu pays tribute to their military service with categories including “port calls,” “midrat drinks,” and “bravo zulus.” (They even have a handy glossary of terms to educate us civilians.)
Industry vet Steve Lamb—who has poured drinks at Rye and Verde—uses Old Line’s whiskeys and rums to full effect. One showstopper is Liberty Risk, which combines three kinds of rum, grapefruit, lime, cinnamon, and grenadine and is served in a tiki glass with a flaming lime and two wheat straws for sharing. Unlike a lot of tiki drinks, this one isn’t too sweet and is nicely balanced. But, as is the case with many tiki drinks, pace yourself.
A tamer cocktail is the Starboard D, a mix of Old Line’s single malt whiskey, aged Caribbean rum, and house-made root beer with slight molasses notes. The mixer doesn’t mask the flavors of the liquors and is delicious on its own. There is also a curated selection of (local!) beer and wine, but you come to The Ready Room for the cocktails.
When it comes to décor, the bar itself is pretty bare bones, though some thoughtful touches like vintage Baltimore signs and upcycled aircraft items add a touch of élan. But it feels how it should—more like a brewery taproom than a full-blown bar. The idea is for patrons to tour Old Line’s production facility in one room and then try the spirits in various cocktails in the next.
On the night we went, a trivia host was getting started and local food truck Dough Boy Fresh was selling pretzels left and right. This whole bar-in-a-distillery thing really works. Here's hoping other districts in Maryland soon follow suit. Clearly, we’re ready.