Published: September 4, 2013
A city’s bar scene provides some of the most essential insights into its character: their patrons, their atmospheres, their prices reveal much. In this beginner’s guide to Baltimore’s liquored-up landscape, we’ve mapped out the bars by category (dive, sports, booze, swanky, and gay) and included locales in an array of neighborhoods. No matter if you like thumping dance clubs or hushed holes in the walls, we’ve got a bar for you.
1718 Lancaster St.
The black-and-white signage outside this hole in the wall on the Lancaster Street says it all: This is a bar, plain and simple. There’s a pool table in the back of this ultra-narrow establishment, and it’s free of the Saturday-night swells that Fells Point suffers from.
1724 N. Charles St., (410) 727-8815, clubcharles.us
A John Waters favorite and a bar so legendary that it’s nearly not a dive, Club Charles nonetheless maintains all its credibility because of its cheap drinks, well-stoked jukebox, dim interior, and relative lack of pretension. A great launching point to explore Station North, the city’s most up-and-coming arts district.
Frazier’s on the Avenue
919 W. 36th St., (410) 662-4914, fraziersontheavenue.com
Hampden is lousy with dives, and Frazier’s may be the granddaddy of them all, suitable for an Avenue vet and newbie alike. Split into two sections, Frazier’s offers pool tables, booths, beat-up living room couches, Natty Boh and Resurrection, bar food that tastes home-cooked (in a good way), and plenty of copies of Baltimore’s Most Informative Weekly.
201 E. Fort Ave., (410) 468-0357
So laid-back and low-key that it resembles your buddy’s den, Idle Hour provides the prime point of entry to Fort Avenue’s array of dives. Its offbeat specialties—the herb-heavy French liqueur Chartreuse and pickleback shots (Pikesville Rye, a Maryland once-original, chased by pickle juice)—complement its quirky atmosphere. This is the Baltimore bar where you’re almost guaranteed to pet a local’s dog.
Mount Royal Tavern
1204 W. Mount Royal Ave., (410) 669-6686
One of picturesque Bolton Hill’s rare bars, the Tavern, its ceiling mural, and its bombed-out bathrooms loom large in Baltimore’s robust dive-bar scene. Ancient bartenders man its long Formica bar, slinging mostly cheap beers and booze, but you can get a Dogfish Head 60 Minute and a Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic for relatively cheap prices. Cash only.
David’s 1st and 10
3626 Falls Road, (410) 662-7779
David’s, a new addition to Hampden’s fleet of bars, touts 36 flat-screen TVs that line every surface the owner could find a place for, guaranteeing you’ll have a good view wherever you sit. But the bar is so spacious and well-staffed that the flood of blue light doesn’t induce claustrophobia. Bartenders know their beers, wines, and whiskeys too.
333 W. Camden St., (410) 843-7901, dempseysbaltimore.com
Located in the heart of Camden Yards, Dempsey’s is where you can probably take a picture with either Mr. Boh or the Baltimore Oriole mascot whilst enjoying the conviviality of Oriole Park. Their house-brewed beers—Wild Pitch Wheat, Rain Delay IPA, etc.—aren’t the cheapest or tastiest in town, but the proximity to the roar of a packed stadium can’t be beat.
2900 O’Donnell St., (410) 675-9235, looneyspubmd.com
This is where Southeast Baltimore goes to watch sports. With UMaryland, Notre Dame, Ravens, and O’s logos dotting the menu, Looney’s in Canton is a natural place to watch a Ravens or Orioles game and immediately get a sense of what Baltimore fans are like. Their 50 TVs and projectors are almost matched by the 24-beer draft system.
Mother’s Federal Hill Grille
1113 S. Charles St., (410) 244-8686, mothersgrille.com
When the Ravens won the Superbowl in January, the wall-to-wall crowd in Mother’s—one of the most formidable Fed Hill bars, in a proliferous network of such—exploded onto the street. During football season, their Purple Patio, a parking lot painted to look like a football field, hosts enormous tailgating throngs. Sporting News Magazine placed Mother’s in the top 25 sports bar nationally.
520 Washington Blvd., (410) 752-1784, picklespub.com
There is no other bar worth considering when pregaming an Orioles game. Pickles’ crowd bleeds out onto Washington Boulevard before and after they throw out the first pitch; they sell beers—not the cheapest, but cheaper than the ballpark’s—and food outside to accommodate the masses. And the walk from the Inner Harbor is practically negligible.
1317 N. Charles St., (410) 347-0349, turpsonline.com
A young crowd sourced from Mount Vernon’s vibrant residents and law students (it’s only a block away from the heart of University of Baltimore’s campus), Turp’s is the neighborhood’s sole sports bar and claims plenty of Maryland pride. It’s a great place to watch college sports especially, but it’s packed for Ravens and O’s games too. Good deals on wings for when you get filled up with Natty Boh.
13.5% Wine Bar
1117 W. 36th St., (410) 889-1064, 135winebar.com
The hip vibe that emanates from the orange-accented 13.5% Wine Bar suits Hampden’s only wine bar, one of the city’s absolute best, with 200 bottles stowed on the wine wall and 40 available by the glass. Servers are very knowledgeable; simply describe your favorite vino characteristics, give them a price range, and they’ll pick a few, describe them for you, and voila—we have seldom gone wrong with their guidance. And check out its sister to the south, Silo Point’s Silo .5% Wine Bar.
21 N. Eutaw St., (410) 545-5112, alewifebaltimore.com
For sophisticated beer-drinkers, Alewife should be a destination. Whether you walk there after an Orioles game or you plan to go for a brewery’s tap takeover there, Alewife offers the selection and atmosphere you’d want in any city, and it’s a stone’s throw from the Hippodrome, the Everyman Theatre, and Lexington Market. The 40-beer draft list changes significantly every day, so talk to your server. The bottle selection is nothing to sniff at either.
Birds of a Feather
1712 Aliceanna St., (410) 675-8466, abs.net/~scotchjh/
120 kinds of whiskey. Need we say more? OK, there’s a cozy back room where you can sit and chat by the fire over a glass of whiskey. With the lion’s share of the selection devoted to single-malt Scotches, Bird’s of a Feather promises peat and an authentic Baltimore bar experience. Southern Living has named the Fells Point spot one of the country’s best whiskey bars.
The Brewer’s Art
1106 N. Charles St., (410) 547-6925, thebrewersart.com
Heralded by Esquire as America’s best bar, The Brewer’s Art is held dear to the hearts of locals and out-of-towners alike. The purveyor of top-notch Belgian-style brews, which it makes in the back of its restaurant and ferments in the basement, offers two different scenes: the swanky upstairs bar, with its gorgeous black-and-white mantel; and the dim downstairs bar that’ll make you think: Why don’t I have a bar in my cellar?
1500 S. Hanover St., (410) 244-5101, bluegrasstavern.com
With a wine director who lists a similar post at Corks—the erstwhile Fed Hill wine bar—on his résumé, Bluegrass Tavern has their wine list down pat. (Monday-night wine tastings happen on the regular, hosted by the aforementioned director, Chris Coker.) But don’t sleep on its hard liquor selection: This Southern-tinged establishment deep in Federal Hill carries 30 craft bourbons too. Get a snifterful and enjoy by the fire.
Hudson Street Stackhouse
2626 Hudson St., (410) 342-0592, hudsonstreetstackhouse.com
Just a short walk from the hubbub of O’Donnell Square, Hudson Street Stackhouse is home to a large, diverse beer list—one that changes every day—accommodated by one of the more unique draft setups we’ve seen. Naturally, you can get all your beers in a taster glass, so you can taste a local brew in addition to a Belgian import and still not pay through the nose. A domed air hockey table adds to the fun-loving nature of this Canton gem.
737 S. Broadway, (410) 675-6297, maxs.com
Max’s is the last word on beer in Baltimore. The bar touts 1,200 bottles and five casks, but clearly the biggest draw is the draft list, which can often contain as many as 140 options and is sourced from breweries as close as Halethorpe and as far as Denmark. The bartenders here should not be missed either, as they’re just about the most knowledgeable and friendly beer guys you could hope to meet in this town.
1 E. Chase St., (410) 347-0880, 13floorbelvedere.com
One of the absolute best views of the city awaits those who make the ascent up the old Belvedere Hotel. Recently renovated, the 13th Floor offers luxe digs, well-crafted cocktails, and live jazz (a piano player most times, sometimes a three-piece). A word of caution before you hit this upscale Mount Vernon spot: You must be clothed appropriately or the doorman at the elevator will turn you away.
1520 Clipper Road, (443) 708-1934, bmorebirroteca.com
A newcomer to the out-of-the-way Clipper Mill area, this old quarry building-turned-bar is as swanky as laid-back Hampden gets, really. The gorgeous stone-and-hardwood interior is matched by the carefully curated wine and beer selection, all complemented by a lively, youthful patronage.
The Get Down
701 S. Bond St., (443) 708-3564, getdownbaltimore.com
The dark, neon-lit environs of this Fells Point dance club, complete with sleek, modern leather furniture, attract the beautiful people, who proceed to get sweaty while working it out on The Get Down’s two levels of bar-and-DJ space.
3134 Eastern Ave., (410) 276-1651, creativealliance.org/marquee-lounge
Housed in the old Patterson Theatre and intended as an after-show hangout, Marquee Lounge draws in a diverse, art-appreciative crowd from its unpretentious Highlandtown neighborhood even when it’s not showtime. An immense mural, painted by one of the Creative Alliance’s resident artists, and salvaged wood, plus good service, complete the bar’s thoughtful vibe.
4 Market Place, Power Plant Live, (443) 468-5308, mosaic-baltimore.com
One of Baltimore’s best-known nightclubs, Mosaic’s owners (those of Power Plant Live) sank close to a million dollars into renovating this once-outdoor nightclub in 2006. Drinks can get on the pricey side and the DJs vary in quality, but you’ll rub elbows with some of the better-dressed movers and shakers the city’s got to offer. Plus, its proximity to the Inner Harbor makes a sloppy cab ride back home or to the hotel that much easier.
807 S. Broadway, (443) 438-3296, ryebaltimore.com
Definitely not a club, but certainly the sort of bar that compels you to wear wingtips, a pearl necklace, or some kind of finery, if only because its cocktails are so highfalutin (and tasty). This ultra-narrow Fells Point bar gets very crowded on weekends, so prepare to jockey for a seat—but we promise, it’s worth it.
205 W. Read St., (410) 225-3100
Don’t be deterred by the fleet of pigeons perched above this bar, the longstanding Drinkery has one of the most convivial, least pretentious atmospheres in the gay-bar circuit in Mount Vernon. It’s a cornerstone of the scene and a good place to dip your toes in if you’re new to it.
1 W. Eager St., (410) 547-0069, clubhippo.com
With its rotating schedule of nightly events—trivia on Tuesdays, gay bingo on Wednesdays, karaoke on Fridays and Saturdays—and DJs, Club Hippo keeps it interesting. A good spot for dancing.
870 Park Ave., (410) 539-4993, leonsbaltimore.tripod.com
There’s two entrances to Leon’s, perhaps the oldest gay bar in Baltimore, one (on West Chase Street) which proclaims it’s Leon’s Leather Lounge and Bar and one (on Park Avenue) that’s plain ole’ Leon’s. Whichever entrance you choose—it’s all going to the same place—expect super-affordable prices, especially on Sundays, and some bears and leathermen.
3607 Fleet St., (410) 563-2617, questbarbaltimore.com
One of the city’s few gay bars outside the Mount Vernon hub, Quest has Skee-Ball (your tickets can be turned into food and beverages!) and a claw-machine game, catering to a fun-loving Canton-ish crowd. Monthly talent contests draw in some drag kings and queens for cash prizes, so if you’re partaking, bring your best game.
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