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City That Drinks

Chartreuse at Idle Hour

The green liqueur hails from France, where it has been distilled by Carthusian monks for over 400 years.

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After glutting ourselves on Old Bay-maple syrup bacon and a half-dozen organic gin-and-vodka sweet teas at City Paper’s Cosmic Cocktail Party, we ventured from the American Visionary Art Museum into the Thursday-night wilds of Federal Hill for one or two drinks more. Eschewing South Charles Street meat markets and the like, we traversed to Idle Hour (201 E. Fort Ave., [410] 468-0357), a watering hole that’s effortlessly cool enough to make Club Charles jealous. The joint is so devoid of pretense, one feels as if she is in someone’s living room. Behind the bar, beneath the front window, a pizza box was balanced on stacks of CD cases.

Idle Hour is exceptionally dim: Pink-bulbed Christmas lights are strung above the bar; minimal recessed lighting runs around the narrow room’s perimeter; bottles of Chartreuse are illuminated on a shelf above the bar. Chartreuse is their specialty—the bartender that night told us Idle Hour is the third largest importer in the country. They can drain two bottles on a busy weekend night. The green (sometimes yellow) liqueur hails from France, where it has been distilled by Carthusian monks for over 400 years. Only two monks are privy to the blend of 130 herbs, spices, and flowers that gives Chartreuse its characteristic flavor. We ordered two shots of the stuff ($6 a pop). It smells a bit like an 85-year-old man’s cologne or gin gone horribly wrong. It’s expectedly syrupy and viscous, but there’s plenty of booze and a mint-heavy finish as well. Tasting notes: Juniper, juniper, juniper, anise flower, and pine.

On our barstool we were grooving to James Brown, spinning in the 5-CD changer. The crowd in Idle Hour was lively, but got even more so when CP publisher Jennifer Marsh walked in. “Jen!” the group erupted in unison. We ordered another shot.

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