Food & Drink

Review: Bar Veteran Doug Atwell Hits His Stride with Southpaw

Atwell—who cut his teeth at high-quality cocktail bars—has created a relaxed environment in which neighbors can talk to each other while enjoying an elevated drink that doesn’t break the bank.
The Surfer Rosa cocktail with tequila, hibiscus, and blackberry. —Photography by Justin Tsucalas

Sometimes, you don’t even know something is missing from your life until it appears. While there are plenty of great bars in Fells Point serving cold pints and the occasional Jack and Coke, relatively few focus on making well-crafted cocktails. The ones that do tend to take themselves quite seriously—not that there’s anything wrong with that. We’re fans of many of them. But until Southpaw opened last July, it didn’t really occur to us that another approach was possible.

A handwritten sign on the front door of the somewhat off-the-beaten-path bar at the corner of Fleet and Bond streets instructs patrons to “Pull, Like You Mean It.” You’ll be glad you did.

A laid-back vibe permeates the simply decorated one-room establishment, which has a few tables and a stylish wooden bar. There’s a jukebox along one wall, but as the front of the menu hints, it doesn’t work. No matter. During our two recent visits, a mixture of soul and rock played through a different sound system, providing the perfect soundtrack to what were outstanding experiences.

Proprietor Doug Atwell, who cut his teeth at high-quality cocktail bars like Dylan’s Oyster Cellar, has created a relaxed environment in which neighbors can talk to each other while enjoying an elevated drink that doesn’t break the bank.

The Amen Break, made with aged rum, sweet vermouth, sloeberry, and lemon, is well balanced, with tart and citrus notes. A Café Varo, Atwell’s non-traditional take on an espresso martini, will open your eyes. The Corpse Reviver No. Blue, with dry gin, Lillet blanc, lemon, and Curaçao, is not too sweet and not as in-your-face as its deep blue color suggests. The pink Surfer Rosa with reposado tequila, hibiscus, and blackberry is a sight for sore eyes. Southpaw’s Forever Happy Hour menu of classics—Old-Fashioned, Sazerac, daiquiri, a dry martini, and a Moscow Mule—are always just $9.

“I have a thing about cocktails not being fussy,” Atwell says. “The ingredients are house-made, but there’s nothing too out-of-the-ordinary. They’re either classics or riffs on those classics.”

Beers include locals like Key and Monument, but also old standbys like Coors and Miller High Life. Then there’s the Let’s Get Weird section of the menu. Six bucks gets you a Spagett—a bottle of High Life with Aperol—and for $7 you can enjoy a pony bottle of High Life with amaretto and rum. It tastes eerily like a Dr. Pepper.

If you’re hungry, your best bet, in fact your only bet, is the burgers. The smashburger and accompanying fries are the lone items consistently on the menu—and both hit the spot. They’re only available on weekends when pop-ups and food trucks also occasionally visit. During the week, food from outside is allowed in.

Atwell signed the lease for Southpaw, named for his love of baseball and dogs, a month before the pandemic hit. It’s been a long road since then, and he still has plans to expand the food menu, add outdoor seating, and one day even get that jukebox working. “It’s older than I am,” he jokes.

Based on Southpaw’s rookie year success, he’ll have to fix it.