ON A RECENT EVENING, we happily descended the outdoor steps to the subterranean space in Fells Point known as the Secret Bar, wondering what cocktails bartender Steve Mavronis had in store for us. In the past few months, we had sipped on a gin cooler with muddled blackberries and a Moscow mule with house-made ginger beer. Soon, we would be savoring a watermelon martini garnished with a wedge of the ruby-ripe fruit.
It’s Wednesday, so a duo is singing sea-shanty ballads during happy hour. The music suits the location in the basement of the Admiral Fell Inn, the foundation of which dates to the nautical neighborhood’s earliest days.
But while the brick pub pays homage to the past, it’s not stuck in time. You’re just as likely to be listening to classic rock or Billie Holiday, who was raised in Upper Fells Point. You also may find yourself sitting next to Millennials thirsting for Natty Bohs, or Baby Boomers relishing Old Fashioneds.
Bedecked in a white shirt, vest, and bowtie, Mavronis is a consummate craftsman, using an assortment of fresh ingredients, many grown in his garden, to concoct classic libations, while regaling customers with tales of resident ghosts, the town’s history, and his days as an oceanographer.
Ten years ago, Mavronis arrived at the Secret Bar officially called the Tavern at the Admiral (888 South Broadway, 410-522-7377) after he found himself without a job. It wasn’t a stretch. He had worked in the hospitality industry since he was a student at the Florida Institute of Technology in the ’80s.
He has since become the face of the bar, whose nickname was coined by local bartenders and servers.
But the secret may not be so hush-hush, after all. Robin Wright, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jim Belushi, Metallica, and Blake Shelton have found their way to the tiny bar. Mavronis was especially pleased when chef Cindy Wolf patronized the place. Wolf and business partner Tony Foreman opened their restaurant Savannah there in 1995. Two years later, they founded Charleston in Harbor East.
Mavronis is always appreciative when people ask, “What can you make me?” “It’s like being an artist,” he says. “I can’t wait to paint the picture you want.”