Sure, rooftop bars are all the rage once the summer scorchers start to set in. But if there’s one thing we remember from grade school science class, it’s that lesson about how heat rises. If you’re looking for a chill—and likely less crowded—substitute to the sweaty sky-high spots, these basement bars are ideal hideaways.
Avenue Kitchen & Bar: Hampden locals have seen this eatery on the Avenue change hands multiple times within the past few years. (It was home to the beloved Dogwood Restaurant and Le Garage before opening as Avenue Kitchen & Bar in 2017.) But despite the shift in concept, the general layout has remained the same. Snag a table in the downstairs dining room—equipped with dim lighting and plenty of exposed brick—to enjoy worldly dishes, craft cocktails, and weekend brunch.
Bluebird Pub: After a stint as a European cafe, the space that sits below the Bluebird Cocktail Room in Hampden was recently transformed into this handsome whiskey bar. Decorated with playful sketches of speakeasy bartenders that date back to 1932, the bar serves local beers, killer Manhattans and Old Fashioneds, and a pub menu that lists options like fish and chips and a foie gras burger.
The Brewer's Art: For more than 20 years, regulars have enjoyed being able to choose their own adventure at this Mt. Vernon brewpub. Upstairs, they can feast on elevated bar fare in the posh dining room with soaring ceilings. But in the cavernous basement below, patrons sit under brick archways to enjoy the house-brewed beers (think Beazly, Resurrection, and the like) paired with orders of rosemary-garlic fries and soft pretzels with beer mustard.
Matthew’s Pizza: As a result of its reputation for having some of the best pizza in town, this Highlandtown institution is typically packed to the gills. If all of the tables are taken, slip downstairs on Friday and Saturday nights for ridiculously cheap wine, whiskey, beers at the basement bar. And no matter where you settle, always always order the crab pie.
Mount Vernon Stable & Saloon: Let the neon “Saloon” sign lure you in to this 35-year-old neighborhood haunt off of North Charles Street. The gathering place is known for its discounted drinks during happy hour, nightly food specials (everything from soft shells to barbecue ribs), and old-school pinball in the back. A TouchTunes system solidifies the modern dive bar vibe.
Melody Cafe: By day, this cozy Mt. Vernon basement is a go-to for teleworkers who like to sip lattes and nosh on local Bottoms up Bagels while taking in the street-level views. But when the sun goes down, neighbors gather for open mic nights, karaoke, TV watch parties, and community meetings. As an added bonus, Melody offers a beer and wine list with happy hour specials.
The Sidebar: This downtown punk club gives underground music an entirely new meaning. Located a stone’s throw from City Hall, the basement venue has long been a hub for after-work gatherings, cheap drafts, and frequent punk and metal shows. Venture here during the sweet spot around 7 p.m. when government works start to mingle with mohawked musicians. Best people-watching in town.
Sugarvale: Retreat from the sunny sidewalks by stepping down into this candlelit cocktail room in Mt. Vernon. The offerings rotate with the seasons, but you can always count on the expert bartenders for a strong drink when you need it. This summer, cool off with shaken sips like the “Boot Snake”(aquavit, pear, Salers aperitif, celery seed, lime, and cane syrup) or the “Sundance Kid,” mixed with Ford’s gin, rum, creme de banane, tiki bitters, coconut water, pineapple, lime, and honey.
Tavern at the Admiral Fell Inn: Beneath the bustling streets of Fells Point sits this full-service bar at the historic Admiral Fell Inn. Escape the hubbub and sample one of the tavern’s “long forgotten recipes,” including Manhattans, martinis, Irish coffees, and a “Ghost Punch” that pays homage to the property’s reputation as one of the most haunted hotels around.
Venice Tavern: With roots dating back to 1933, this windowless watering hole is easily one of the oldest still standing. Husband-and-wife owners Frank and Mary DeSantis opened the Highlandtown dive bar soon after Prohibition was repealed, and it’s been cracking open cold ones ever since. (Fourth generation owner Damion DeSantis is expanding the legacy with a second Venice Tavern in Little Italy this fall.) Be sure to hit the ATM before stopping by the cash-only hangout, which boasts a classic chalkboard menu and age-old pool table.
The Marble Bar: It’s not slated to open until the fall, but we’d be remiss without mentioning the return of this iconic German rathskeller-turned-punk-rock-haven beneath the Congress Hotel in Mt. Vernon. Sarah Sullivan and Michael Seguin—the owners of Mobtown Ballroom in Pigtown—are currently in the process or reactivating the historic venue. Their hope is for it to become a community cafe that offers coffee during the day and a stellar bar program at night.