You could say that Baltimore is a city of regulars. People who are from here tend to stay here. Consequently, our local watering holes are full of lifers, Baltimoreans born and bred, and when they find a place they like, they stick with it. So, we wanted to do as the regulars do, and give you a stool's-eye-view of the best after-hours haunts. And while we're extolling the city's treasures, we also give you a rundown of hyper-local cocktails, made with regional ingredients and Charm City firmly in mind. Plus, we give you insider tips on the best places for late-night eats. This isn't a Fodor's guide.
It's coming straight from the horse's mouth—the people that know the city best, its regulars.
What we're drinking: Bitburger, Allagash White, and the list goes on.
What we overhear: "Every time I come in, there are about a dozen new beers." "We're getting a lot of new people in here tonight." "If there's a show at the Hippodrome, there's a wave between 5:30 and 8."
What we say: Surprisingly comfortable for such a disjointed and soaring space (the building once housed a bank), Alewife's commitment to gastro-glory and world-class beer is right on. In addition to 40 rotating drafts, 90 bottled brews from around the globe are available to the mix of out-of-towners, downtown workers, theater goers, students, and hipsters. The renowned Smoke Burger, 11 ounces of house-ground rib-eye, brisket, skirt, and filet of beef with smoked Gouda and Gruyère cheeses, applewood-smoked bacon, caramelized onion, and chipotle aioli comes with a preparation-time warning: "Your patience is appreciated and will be rewarded." Indeed it will. 21 N. Eutaw Street, 410-545-5112
Annabel Lee Tavern
What we're drinking: The Annabel Lee: Stoli vodka, peach nectar, and fresh lime topped with Poema Cava.
What we overhear: "We were going to Fells but . . . " "I've got one seat left. Maybe I can scoot you in there?"
What we say: The concept of Annabel Lee Tavern alone—A Poe-themed bar! Why didn't we think of that?—is genius, and the execution flawless. Stuffed ravens perch on top of Tiffany lamps behind the bar, which has Raven, Resurrection, and Guinness on tap. Poe quotes are painted in script on the merlot-colored walls, and everything from the outside wrought-iron railing in the shape of a barren tree to the sumptuous drapery is perfectly Victorian gothic. The cocktails on the Edgar Allen Poe drink list and the gastro-pub dishes from the menu (overseen by newly promoted head chef Howard Myers) are inventive and enticing, making certain this cozy row-home bar is not all style and no substance. 601 S. Clinton Street, 410-522-2929
The Brewer's Art
What we're drinking: Resurrection and the current seasonal, Sublimation.
What we overhear: "Upstairs or downstairs?" "I'm not hungry. Okay, maybe just an order of rosemary fries." "What's the seasonal beer?"
What we say: What more can be said about a place that's been revered, both locally and nationally? It's decorative on top and cavernous below. The Mt. Vernon staple is always crowded on weekends, and most of the time during the week. Before 5 p.m. is the best time to go if you want to acquire a barstool. Otherwise a keen eye, total lack of shame, and the occasional bribe will aid in securing a choice spot. House beers are the bar's claim to fame, but it also has a good selection of whiskeys. Insiders' tip: House beers are imbued with some sort of dark magic (and/or high proof) that causes extra-rapid intoxication—adjust intake accordingly. 1106 N. Charles Street, 410-547-6925
Casey's Bar & Restaurant
What we're drinking: A bucket of domestic beers.
What we overhear: "The portions are huge!" "Are there seats left on the bus to the Ravens game?" "You're buying, right?"
What we say: Nestled between auto shops and a bank, Casey's Bar & Restaurant looks about as generic as any suburban tavern. But once you sit down at a bar stool, sip a beer, and look at the menu, you'll realize there's much more here. Owned by 27-year-old Casey Brooks (and his mom), the place feels youthful. The night we're here, Pearl Jam is on the stereo, Miller Lite bottles are $1, and football is on TV. What's more, the menu is every college kid's dream: delicious and generous home-cooked meals. Go for the garlicky chicken marsala or order the chicken pot pie and try not to gasp at its size. But the real charm of this place is the camaraderie. Multi-generational families sit side-by-side with rowdy sports fans—and everyone gets along. 1742 E. Joppa Road, Parkville, 410-668-1616
Cat's Eye Pub
What we're drinking: Oliver's Ironman Pale Ale.
What we overhear: "This is one of the last old-time Fells Point bars." "It's our honeymoon; have a drink."
What we say: Baltimore has plenty of bars along the waterfront, but, of those, the Cat's Eye reigns supreme. It's sort of Irish, but not really. It's sort of nautical, but not really. What it is, though, is all Fells Point. It's a touchstone from a time when the docks were a place to toss drinks back and cares away. So many of the old shoreline saloons have been scrubbed and sanitized, it's hard to recognize them anymore. It's nice to know the Cat's Eye is still there, doing it, as it has done it, all along. At some point every patron wanders over to the Dutch door and stares out at, well, nothing in particular, just Baltimore. Have a drink. Enjoy the view. 1730 Thames Street, 410-276-9866
What we’re drinking: Dogfish Head 60 Minute IPA.
What we overhear: “Always fun, but I miss the barber chairs.” “I like the vibe even more than I like the food, and I like the food a lot!” “I bought my house just to be close to The Dizz.”
What we say: The Dizz straddles the many worlds of Remington. On any night, the off-duty mechanics from the car dealership down the street mingle with the Johns Hopkins grad students from up the street and the staff of Charm City Cakes across the street. Holding it all together are the locals who remember the place when it was Tony’s, or Igor’s, or Buckley’s. But everyone agrees that the old shuffleboard table that used to dominate the barroom was nothing but trouble and no one misses it. Candles glow on the oar bar and Christmas lights hang from the ceiling. Everyone looks good in that kind of atmosphere. In the summer, you can sit and drink at outside tables while the world passes by. In the winter, a fire burns in the fireplace. “Cozy” doesn’t begin to describe the scene. Elaine Stevens, the owner, has dubbed The Dizz “Baltimore in a Bar.” And we can’t help but agree. 300 W. 30th Street, 443-869-5864
What we’re drinking: Magners cider.
What we overhear: “I came to buy art supplies next door and stopped in for a drink.” “Can you watch my drink while I step outside?” “Is that art on the wall for sale?”
What we say: Dougherty’s sits at a very interesting cross section of the city. It’s sort of a MICA bar, but also attracts Mt. Vernon locals. It’s near the Lyric, but also MLK Boulevard. This diversity is reflected in the patrons on any given night—and the place always feels welcoming and relaxed. While the pub is technically Irish (we had a Magners and a Reuben the night we went), it means more to regulars than just that. There are couples here on dates, a girl by herself at the bar, friends catching up over pitchers, a professor grading papers in the corner, and art students playing pool in the back. Dougherty’s doesn’t try hard to be anything, except just comfortable. And everyone—on any end of the spectrum—can agree it succeeds. 223 W. Chase Street, 410-752-4059
What we’re drinking: Durigutti Malbec 2009.
What we overhear: “Above the sink in the bathroom a sign says, ‘It has been proven repeatedly that this sink cannot withstand the weight of a human being.’”
What we say: As part of Belvedere Square Market, Grand Cru does brisk business as a wine store during the day. But when the rest of the vendors shutter their stalls in the evening, Grand Cru keeps serving from its industrial-chic bar, right up until 1 a.m. on Fridays and Saturdays. All of greater Govans—including quite a few soccer moms and dads—can be found clustered around high-top tables nibbling on breads, cheeses, and spreads; imbibing enthusiastically from the extensive list of red, white, rosé, sparkling, and dessert wines; and generally remembering what it’s like to spend a Saturday night not watching a Pixar cartoon. And if that leads to other grown-up pursuits, so be it. Just leave the poor sink out of it. 527 E. Belvedere Avenue, 410-464-1944
What we’re drinking: Peak Organic Brewing Company’s Fall Summit Ale.
What we overhear: “Don’t worry, I’m not going to make you drink pink wine.” “How long until this new menu changes?”
What we say: What’s behind the curtain that greets entrants to cozy Hamilton Tavern? An inventive, ever-changing menu, the new fall variation of which featured fried broccoli and cauliflower, a hearty turkey pot pie, and what have to be Baltimore’s best onion rings. (They’re battered in Boh.) There’s also an array of fine beers and cocktails. Though the beer selection isn’t the biggest in town, it may be the most thoughtful, with organic and seasonal choices. Also, cross your fingers and hope they’ve made a batch of sangria. We love the rustic, vintage vibe of the place—just check the bathroom walls for some literary history. This one-room tavern is a throwback to an era when houses of drink were wooden, dark, and television-less. 5517 Harford Road, 410-426-1930
What we’re drinking: Bombay martini, up with an olive.
What we overhear: “Perfect level of comfort.” “Good mix of locals and tourists.” “Michelle is our Martini expert.”
What we say: Make your way to the corner of Bank and S. Durham Streets and find this gem. It’s the place we bring our out-of-town guests to show what laid-back Baltimore cool is all about. Owner Kenny Vieth greets patrons at the door and his wife, Jane, runs the kitchen—just as they have since 1989. The always crowded bar exudes charm and history. A 1930s mural of a doughboy harkens to a time when the tavern was popular with the neighborhood’s World War I veterans. Today, every inch of wall space is covered with memorabilia. Vintage photos of strippers and prizefighters hang alongside a print of Christ the Savior embracing Pope John XXIII and President Kennedy. Very fitting. The outstanding cocktails and food here border on a religious experience. 1812 Bank Street, 410-342-2172
Hudson Street Stackhouse
What we’re drinking: De Koninck Belgian ale.
What we overhear: “Are the Caps winning?” “Do they tow at Safeway?” “You’ve never been here before? My mom loves this place.”
What we say: Virtually everything about it defies convention. A corner bar in the middle of the block, the Stackhouse is the city’s top spot to watch some puck. Yet with just six TVs and as many people downing Chimay as Coors, it’s most assuredly not a sports bar. Where else can you belly up to a tri-sided concrete bar with a lead-pipe foot-stand under a tin ceiling? With 36 beers on tap, a well-executed food menu, and one spectacularly popular, throwback bubble hockey game, the Stackhouse somehow manages to be several things to many different people, all of whom, like us, love it. 2626 Hudson Street, 410-342-0592
J. Patrick’s Irish Pub
What we’re drinking: Guinness and Powers Irish whiskey.
What we overhear: “I can be home in three lurches and five staggers.” “There have been 42 marriages here. If you want to meet a man, sit at the bar with a Guinness and read a book.”
What we say: Lots of places serve Guinness now, but you can tell the places that serve a lot of it. And Joseph Patrick Byrne has been standing behind his bar pulling perfect pints for a quarter of a century. This quintessential Irish pub turns 25 on January 30 and stands head and shoulders above those fake shamrock and leprechaun joints that are springing up all over town. The tile floor has been worn down by millions of dance steps, and Irish music always fills the air. Baltimore Go Bragh. 1371 Andre Street, 410-244-8613
What we’re drinking: Ron Zacapa 23-year-old Guatemalan rum.
What we overhear: “It’s pretty surreal to be sitting outside having dinner and drinks on North Avenue.” “Sweet, they’re playing here next week.”
What we say: Still churning out gallons of fancy risottos, even more gallons of rums you’ve never heard of, and the thinnest, best-charred pies in Baltimore, Joe Squared continues to be a pillar of the slowly (but surely) expanding Station North neighborhood. Joe Squared itself expanded into Power Plant Live! over the summer and both Joes feature a mind-bogglingly diverse array of live music, ranging from jazz, to ambient, to Dixie, to straight-up rock. The front bar of the original location is the heart of Joe Squared. Perched on a bar stool, you can watch the music go into full swing and ask the expert bartenders to make you a rum drink. Perhaps the best part? For all that, there’s never a cover. 133 W. North Avenue, 410-545-0444
Upper Fells Point
What we’re drinking: Mama’s Little Yella Pils.
What we overhear: “Yeah, I just got this one yesterday down at Saints & Sinners.” “Dude, I remember this song.” “Wait, you have skee-ball?”
What we say: Though the apparent theme is skating—the name is based on an ’80s boarding movie and the doorknobs are skateboard wheels—the food and drinks choose not to be gimmicky, just good. Johnny Rad’s has quickly become known for its pizza, and it is excellent—thin, chewy crust and high-quality toppings. But what we can’t overlook is the stellar service and drink selection. The beer offerings are vast, and feature, along with your typical drafts and bottles, around two-dozen canned options. But that’s not to say the bartenders don’t know their way around a cocktail. Just ask one of the staffers—half are former or current skaters themselves—to surprise you. They won’t disappoint. 108 Eastern Avenue, 443-759-6464
Leinenkugel’s Beer Garden
What we’re drinking: Franziskaner Hefe-Weisse.
What we overhear: “Can I try a sample?” “I can’t believe this is Power Plant.” “Reminds me of the West Coast with all the local beer.” What we say: Leinenkugel’s Beer Garden is a welcome addition to the Power Plant Live! complex, known for its rowdy nightclubs. The steel-and-glass atrium feels like a European open-air market, with long picnic-bench tables and subway-tile walls. Adjustable garage doors make it comfortable in any weather, but the heated floors and outdoor fireplace are especially cozy on chillier nights—as are the 30 draft and 30 bottled beers. Of course, there are beers from Wisconsin-based brewery Leinenkugel, but we appreciate the local options from Flying Dog and Heavy Seas. If you just can’t decide, order a sampler or sit at one of the self-serve draft tables—and try to find a favorite. 34 Market Place, 443-208-3316
What we’re drinking: Mojitos, of course.
What we overhear: “I feel like Fidel is staring at me.” “Another round of mimosas.” “I just went into the wrong bathroom.”
What we say: The gargantuan dimensions of this former warehouse assure it never gets too packed to move. As a Cuban place, mojitos are the specialty, and Little Havana’s are unsurprisingly good, nicely balancing sweet, sour, and boozy. Perhaps to cut down on overall muddling time, they’re served in pint glasses so take heed because they go down real smooth, real fast. The bar also offers TVs galore, shuffleboard, pool, and a large outdoor seating area right on the water, albeit enclosed (perhaps mercifully) by a tall chain-link fence. After enough bottomless mimosas and bloodys during brunch, you might end up finding the bottom of the Harbor were it not there. 1325 Key Highway, 410-837-9903
What we’re drinking: 22-ounce Fat Tire amber ale.
What we overhear: “You still make mix tapes?” “It’s great to see art without all the snobs.”
What we say: The multi-tasking Metro Gallery offers art and multimedia exhibits as well as live music and, as surprisingly few people seem to realize, drinks. Granted, the bar (as well as the place itself) is only open during events, but the events generally cover every weekend. The bar just added taps, the bottled beer selection is excellent (Fat Tire, Lagunitas, Ommegang), and service is welcoming, yet laid back. Although some shows may attract a high concentration of hipster types, the crowd is often very diverse in age and race. Metro Gallery tries to do a lot of things at once, and, miraculously, pulls it all off. 1700 N. Charles Street, 410-244-0899
What we’re drinking: A glass of chilled Riesling and a Yards IPA.
What we overhear: “Cool spot.” “A real pub.” “I am so stuffed.”
What we say: McCabe’s is an oasis on a lonely stretch of Falls Road. It’s a brick and stone hideaway you’ve driven by dozens of times, but once you’ve discovered it, will make you feel like an insider. Cheerful the way a pub should be—thanks in large part to expert bartender Cora—McCabe’s is the sort of place where patrons will shift seats to make room at the bar. And although often crowded, it never feels crowded. Management is tuned-in enough to keep the music level below the level of conversation—a consideration unfortunately rare these days—and there’s a TV at the end of the bar with the sound off. You can even hold the remote, but with great power comes great responsibility. 3845 Falls Road, 410-467-1000
McGarvey’s Saloon and Oyster Bar
What we’re drinking: An oyster shooter and an Aviator amber lager.
What we overhear: “We’re here for the boat show.” “It’s a great spot to relax after a long day.” “It’s quieter now, but the kids get rowdy at night.”
What we say: McGarvey’s is a time capsule for old-guard Annapolis. (It’s been around for 36 years.) Navy pilot helmets line the walls, and the staffers still wear bowties. The night we’re here the conversation in the bar—which is across from Spa Creek—revolves around sailing, the boat show, and what seafood is on special. Our bartender, who resembles Wilford Brimley (bonus!), recommends the $5 happy hour menu, so we try the delicious pork shanks and crab pretzel. We then wash it down with a house-made Aviator amber lager—like a complex Yuengling. As the afternoon fades into evening, salt-and-pepper-haired patrons wander in and start to man their posts at the bar. There’s nothing like a cold beer after a long day on the water. 8 Market Space, Annapolis, 410-263-5700
What we’re drinking: House margarita in a hubcap.
What we overhear: “I live in Reisterstown and I’m here every week.” “They’re not messin’ around with those hubcaps.” “Only here would they still care about the O’s.”
What we say: Nacho Mama’s—one of the original staples of O’Donnell Square—is the ultimate shrine to classic Baltimore. The walls are covered in vintage Natty Boh ads, Unitas jerseys, and News-American clippings. They put a Bob Irsay dummy in a coffin, for God’s sake. So it makes sense that this was the spot where Natty Boh was first tapped this past spring after a more than 15-year absence. The nostalgia and kitsch have certainly worked to attract big crowds—it’s even hard finding a seat at the bar on a weeknight. But that could also be because of the deceptively strong margaritas, the huge portions of Tex-Mex fare, and the helpful attitude of the staff. The Natty Boh man would be proud. 2907 O’Donnell Street, 410-675-0898
What we’re drinking: Resurrection early, Grand Marnier late.
What we overhear: “The food is fabulous.” “The bartender remembers you the second time you come in.”
What we say: There’s only one One-Eyed Mike’s. When you walk in, you know it’s special. The place is a temple to Grand Marnier—a liqueur so venerated, the barroom wall is covered with 400 bottles; each purchased and owned by a customer. And another 1,300 bottles are stashed throughout the building.
Of course, it’s a regular beer bar, too—just stop in and have a drink. You can also have a great meal on their concealed outside patio. Even more charming is last call, appropriately named “a shot in the dark,” at 1:45 a.m. the lights are lowered, the door is locked, and anyone there may purchase one last shot of Grand Marnier. Drink it quietly, and make your way home along the cobblestoned streets of Fells Point. 708 S. Bond Street, 410-327-0445
The Phoenix Emporium
What we’re drinking: Flying Dog Dogtoberfest.
What we overhear: “The wait staff has been here forever.” “It has the feel of a Baltimore bar.” “I can’t believe I walked out of here unscathed Thursday night.”
What we say: “Warm beer, bad food, lousy service since 1979,” reads the black Phoenix T-shirt hanging behind the small bar. Oh-for-three. True, it looks as if not much has changed in 32 years. The TVs are low-def relics, there’s a dusty arcade game in the corner, and the hanging stained-glass panes that decorate the dining room look like antiques. Why mess with perfection? Unpretentious to its core, the Phoenix is a great spot to enjoy a microbrew or savory burger (the meat met its maker just a mile away at J.W. Treuth & Sons) and shoot the breeze with your sweetie, your buddy, or your friendly server. 8049 Main Street, Ellicott City, 410-465-5665
Porters of Federal Hill
What we’re drinking: Maker’s and ginger.
What we overhear: “Whiskey is not a tradition you give up.” “They changed the TVs to our game without us even asking.” “Kevin let me put up an NC State sign in the bathroom.”
What we say: It can be jarring at first. Walk into Porters even on a Friday night, and it’s immediately clear that many of the people enjoying a drink with a bowl of meatballs or plate of Chesapeake fries know each other. Porters is the ultimate neighborhood pub. Though it’s just blocks from the Cross Street bar district, in spirit its miles away from the meathead-ery that infects many Federal Hill spots. The clientele is diverse in age, gender, and alcohol affinity. This isn’t a beer bar, or a wine bar, or a cocktail bar—it’s a bar for people who appreciate good food (the stunningly fresh vegetables tell the tale), a cold drink, and warm company. When you leave, you’ll feel like a regular, too. 1032 Riverside Avenue, 410-332-7345
What we’re drinking: The Beagle: half-peach and half-brown ales.
What we overhear: “Did you do the marathon?” “We’re going to Jacksonville for the game this weekend.” “She can’t come to the wedding because she’s too much of a loose canon.”
What we say: Crowd-pleasing is the word that comes to mind when describing this three-story row-house bar and pizzeria in the heart of Federal Hill. After all, who doesn’t like pizza and beer? Pub Dog makes 11 of its own brews and also allows patrons to mix-and-match flavors on its “mixed breeds” menu. (There’s also house-brewed root beer for the teetotalers.) The pizzas (22 specialty creations) are served until 1:30 a.m., seven days a week. While it’s usually crowded, that’s no surprise in this neighborhood, and Pub Dog seems to pull it off as cozy rather than confining. Throw in exposed-brick and wood-beam architecture, friendly staff, and photo collages of staff pooches on the walls, and it’s no wonder this is a home away from home for post-grad Federal Hill-ites. 20 E. Cross Street, 410-727-6077
What we’re drinking: Burberry cocktail: a gin, pomegranate, and mint concoction.
What we overhear: “This place is nice and smooth.” “Romantic without trying too hard.” “What time can we start using the hookahs?”
What we say: The vibe at Red Maple adapts depending on the night. We’re here on international night, where a Turkish DJ plays Arabian techno and hookah smoke wafts through the air. The crowd runs the gamut: a group of middle-aged ladies laugh on the dance floor, couples in shadows line the walls, and two girls gossip about relationships at the bar. But on a Thursday, the scene is different as younger hipsters fill the dance floor and outside smoking area and enjoy the beats of house and hip-hop. No matter the night, though, there are always flavorful tapas, fruity cocktails, and an eclectic DJ all in a swanky atmosphere. People come here to see and be seen—but rarely do they walk in the unmarked door before 10 p.m. 930 N. Charles Street, 410-547-0149