Before they head to work at Kenwood Tavern, Matthew Steinberg and his wife, Molly, descend into the basement of their home, where they fill a box with handfuls of records from among the thousands they own. The albums provide the soundtrack at the phenomenal new cocktail bar in Canton that Matthew opened with his friend and business partner Vaughn Weitzman in early spring. (The pair also own Secret Sauce Co. and Bar 1801 in Upper Fells Point.)
Spinning vinyl sets a sophisticated mood that matches the space’s stylish-yet-laid-back aesthetic. Astonishingly, all the tunes here (jazz and world music are favorites) emanate from a turntable, not a phone.
“Everything about the project speaks to our tastes, our styles, what we like to drink and listen to,” Weitzman says. “It’s a place that we would want to go to.”
Us, too. In a neighborhood in dire need of a craft cocktail bar, Kenwood Tavern has delivered every time we’ve been. It’s housed in the spot that once was Mr. Nice Guy—and before that, several other pubs—but Matthew and Weitzman are convinced it’s the right location for them. Aside from painting, they didn’t make many major alterations to the building.
“The interior was great to begin to with. It has great bones,” Weitzman says. “It’s one of those classic rowhome-style bars with an incredible tin painted ceiling, hardwood floors, an old wooden bar. It has lots of interesting nooks and crannies.”
The menu, divided into classic cocktails and house specials, is a work of art in and of itself. Rather than using words to describe the drinks, Molly drew pictures of them by hand. The idea is to harken back to an old tiki bar menu from the first half of the 20th century, and it sets a perfect vibe for the experience.
Classics like the Sazerac, mojito, paloma, and whiskey sour live next to heavyweights like the Old-Fashioned, margarita, and Manhattan. All are made with care and remind drinkers why they are classics to begin with.
The house creations we tried were fantastic. We’ve never tasted anything quite like the Umami Martini with vodka, gin, yuzu, chile oil, and dashi, which is a Japanese soup base. It’s a briny drink that almost tastes like you’re slurping alcohol-infused ramen broth. Another winner is the Watermelon Mezcal, for which fresh-squeezed watermelon juice is the key. It includes lime juice and agave and is served with a big ice cube that is sprinkled with Tajín seasoning. The funky menu also features dark, light, sour, and hazy beers as well as wines, sake, and cider.
In its infancy, Kenwood Tavern has been serving limited food, like hot dogs and a BLT sandwich. Ask what’s available the day that you’re there. As the bar evolves, so will its cuisine. (And its hours. It’s open from 4 p.m. to midnight Thursdays through Sundays for now.)
“We like to think of our space as an extension of our living rooms,” Matthew says. “This is really all about sharing what we love with the world.”