Food & Drink

Review: The Royal Blue is a Popular New Bar With an Old Soul

Named for a midcentury train (a nod to its location near Penn Station), the bar manages to simultaneously appear retro and completely of the moment.
The Fuego and Oaxacan Colada at The Royal Blue. —Photography by Scott Suchman

A distinct sense of style permeates almost all aspects of The Royal Blue, the popular new bar with an old soul in Station North.

It starts with the space, a former club that had a funky feel of its own. While renovating it, co-owner Randy Coffren and his partners tried to preserve as much of the building’s spirit as possible.

“We liked what was here, we actually left one of the murals,” he says. “It was important to us that people come in and can’t tell whether it was redone or if they are walking in [and it’s] 1980.”

Named for a midcentury train (a nod to the bar’s location near Penn Station), The Royal Blue manages to simultaneously appear retro and completely of the moment. Work from local artists hangs on the walls. Beth-Ann Wilson, whose Night Owl Gallery is on the building’s second floor, curates the displays. The contemporary pieces are joined by kitsch like a pay phone and an old-school slot machine that add to the aesthetic.

A large disco ball looms over the dance floor in the back, which is where a deejay spins tunes on Thursday, Friday, and Saturday nights. The rest of the week, loudish music permeates the front bar and small lounge area, above which a neon sign helpfully reads “the party.”

It all makes for a good-time vibe that has been attracting big crowds since the bar opened last Halloween. But as it approaches its first anniversary, it’s clear that there’s plenty of substance behind The Royal Blue’s style.

Coffren and his partners also operate Johnny Rad’s in Fells Point and Highlandtown’s Snake Hill, so they had a distinct vision for the cocktail program here. Coffren
describes it as “’70s-esque.”

Among the most popular drinks is the Fuego Fuego, a twisted take on a traditional Tequila Sunrise. The Royal Blue’s version uses habanero-infused tequila, orange juice, blood orange, and Tajín. The Oaxacan Colada is made with mezcal, coconut rum cream, lime, pineapple, and blue Curaçao. It’s a party in a glass. We wanted to dish out a high five to our bartender after downing a Hi-Five, a refreshing mixture of cucumber vodka, melon liqueur, lime, pineapple, and soda.

Cocktails also flow from taps, including a trendy nitro espresso martini, red sangria, and a house negroni. Plenty of local, craft, and macro brews are available, including Miller Lite for $4. We’re fans of that “retro” pricing.

Devotees of the owners’ other establishments might recognize some of the items on the food menu, including mac and cheese and a vegan BBQ sandwich. Smashburgers are ubiquitous these days, and The Royal Blue’s version holds up to others in the city. In addition to the quality of the meat and the gooeyness of the cheese, the bun is an often-overlooked component of a burger. Not here. The sesame seed variety we had was terrific.

After a fulfilling dinner, we opted for classic nightcaps: Old-Fashioneds. One of the well-made drinks contained a large ice cube in the shape of the letter R. The other had a B. You can even sip the style at The Royal Blue.