Food & Drink

25 Best Bars: New Favorites

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

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,

Bond Street Social

Fells Point
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,

DogWatch Tavern

Fells Point
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,

The Harp

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,

Hersh’s Pizza & Drinks

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,

Hudson Street Stackhouse

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,

Kooper’s North

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,

Leinenkugel’s Beer Garden

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,

Liam Flynn’s Ale House

Station North
“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,


Fells Point
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,

Silo.5% Wine Bar

Locust Point
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,

Mt. Washington Tavern

Mt. Washington
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,