Food & Drink

Review: Wiley Gunter’s Does the Neighborhood Bar Right in Riverside

The motto at the South Baltimore staple is simply, “Beer. Jams. Grub.” It delivers on all three.
The Shake, Radler, and Roll cocktail. —Photogrpahy by Scott Suchman

File this under strange but true: The walls of one of Baltimore’s best neighborhood bars are decorated—some would say desecrated—with photos of football players wearing not purple and black, but burgundy and gold.

It can be jarring to walk into Wiley Gunter’s, a Riverside staple for more than a decade, and be subjected to Washington NFL memorabilia everywhere, but after a few minutes of conversation with a bartender or regular who’s bellied up beside you, a pint or two of a hard-to-find microbrew, and a burger that’s among the best in the city, you’ll feel right at home.

The memorabilia, like the former name of the team, is a relic of the past. The owners of the building’s previous inhabitant, the Sly Fox Pub, were Washington fans. Current owner Wyatt Mackie is not, but when he bought the place in 2012, he adopted an “if ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” attitude, according to general manager Dan Zaranski. He kept the unofficial affiliation—and improved everything else.

The Wiley Gunter’s (the name of Mackie’s great-great-grandfather) motto is simply, “Beer. Jams. Grub.” It delivers on all three.

Crushes are the most popular offering on the cocktail list, and each one is made with freshly squeezed fruit juice. A tower of grapefruits, oranges, lemons, and limes is restocked several times a day. But at its core, Wiley Gunter’s is a beer bar. While it doesn’t have the biggest beer program in the area, it has one of the most interesting.

Most of its 17 taps are changed out at least once a week. (Maine Beer Company’s Lunch, an IPA beloved by beer nerds, is always available.) All its draft upkeep—including line cleaning—is done in-house. Selection runs from local to national to international.

“You can come in on a Monday and by Wednesday there are four new beers,” Zaranski says.

Despite operating out of a space the size of a closet, the kitchen delivers quality. The burgers—each a half-pound of Angus beef, served with hand-cut fries or Old Bay pasta salad—are fresh and juicy. The southwest tuna nachos are labeled “award winning” on the menu.

“A few years back we were invited to the Heavy Seas Oyster Fest,” Zaranski says. “We didn’t have oysters, so we brought our tuna nachos. We thought we were going to have a fun day, have a few beers. We ended up being buried for like four hours making tuna nachos. We picked up an award, so you’ll hear some of the regulars call the tuna nachos ‘Wiley’s oysters.’”

Both Mackie and Zaranski regularly attend DelFest, an annual Memorial Day Weekend bluegrass festival in Cumberland. A few years back, they started making a playlist for the drive home. That’s grown to be more than 92 hours of music, which provides the soundtrack at the bar.

“You’ll get Phish, you’ll get Billy Strings, you’ll get some old-school Willie and Waylon,” Zaranski says. “Grateful Dead’s always creeping in there, too.”

Beer. Jams. Grub. Wiley Gunter’s has mastered the art of simplicity. Hail to one of Charm City’s best neighborhood bars.