5 Restaurants and Bars in Baltimore for Enjoying a Drink

by Meg Massie 
Posted Apr 11th 2011 10:00 AMUpdated Apr 12th 2011 12:15 PM

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Baltimore Bars

Shawn Douglas - Baltimore at Night

When I first stepped foot in Baltimore, I had a good feeling about my prospects of finding a few good watering holes. Historically known as a vital seaport, Baltimore has been influenced by German and Irish immigrants with deep roots in brewing and distilling fine beers and spirits. This influence - combined with the cultural influences of nearby Washington D.C. - left me feeling optimistic about finding quality restaurants and bars in Baltimore for enjoying a drink.

Wharf Rat

My first landing spot was The Wharf Rat in Fells Point, and it didn't disappoint. This late sixteenth-century pub immediately reminded me of some of the eclectic pubs I visited while in Oxford and London recently. From the red telephone box that greeted me at the door to the mammoth fireplace in the rear, I certainly felt at home. As I tugged on a frosty glass of Shipyard Export Ale, I envisioned sailors past clanging pints and telling tall tales next to a generous fire.

The Oliver family now runs this historic pub, serving up some of the best beer specials around. Take advantage of their Thirsty Thursday, a time to try any three of their beers for $5, or Firkin Friday when they serve their hand-pumped cask ales. Hockey fans can get in on the fun as well, as The Wharf Rat serves up $2.50 Canadian beers during hockey games.

801 S. Ann St.; 410-276-8304

Max's Taphouse

Next stop in Fells Point: Max's Taphouse, where I learned that Baltimore beer needs to be talked about. It didn't take long to realize that quality local and foreign beers were welcome at Max's, with 102 beers on tap and nearly 1,200 types of bottled beer. Of those beers many are locally crafted brews like Heavy Seas' Loose Cannon, an American IPA that I happily consider the perfect introduction to a hoppy beer.

Baltimore Bars

The Wharf Rat. Shawn Douglas, AOL

Those new to beer other than your typical American pilsners shouldn't feel overwhelmed by the variety, however. Max's has a very low employee turnover rate; as a result, the place is full of knowledgeable staff who know the inventory inside and out. I didn't make it in time for their Friday Big Ass Draft happy hour, but getting essentially two pints of a draft like Guinness for $6 makes Max's all the more appealing.

737 S. Broadway; 410-675-6297

Mr. Rain's Fun House

I decided later in my quest to move to the other side of the harbor and check out restaurants and bars in Federal Hill, one of Baltimore's oldest neighborhoods. Tucked away in the superlative and eclectic American Visionary Art Museum (a must-see in Baltimore) I stumbled upon the vivacious Mr. Rain's Fun House. Though it shares the same enthusiasm and creative atmosphere of the museum, Rain's shouldn't be confused with a traveling fun house you'd encounter at an amusement park or carnival.

Though known for a wine menu that would make most any connoisseur envious, I opted instead to try out some of Mr. Rain's in-house custom cocktails. A $25 tasting of any three of their custom creations makes it easy for anyone to experience mixology at its finest. Inspired by proprietor Perez Klebahn and his fellow mixologists, the cocktails I supped were all sublime and well-balanced, with little in the way of overwhelming aftertaste or astringency. The Ode to "Joy" and Doyer Alley cocktails (tequila- and gin-based respectively) were superb examples of this concept, keeping the pepper-infused tones silky smooth. After a bit of cajoling, I was also able to get a sneak preview of a creation nearing completion: Sangria Blanco. Having lived in Spain for several years, I was at first a bit skeptical of yet another Sangria experiment. However, my doubts drifted away with this breezy creation. The combination of a crisp Spanish Dominio de Eguren white wine with cucumber-infused vodka, ginger, mint, and lemon set my taste buds to dancing a flamenco that would make any native Spaniard jealous.

800 Key Highway; 443-524-7379

Taverna Corvino

After a pleasant stroll through the Federal Hill neighborhood to shake loose the previous elixir's fine qualities, I spotted the Taverna Corvino. Literally translated as the "Raven Tavern" from Italian, I felt obligated to duck in and see what libations they had. After several glasses of wine and a few delectable dishes, I couldn't help but feeling like I had checked into cloud nine. That's not to say that it was a straightforward process, however. By outward appearances Taverna Corvino looks like a pub and not an Italian restaurant, at least from the front of the house. But don't be deceived: there are tantalizing dishes and smart wine selections to be had here, with a much more intimate setting to be found in the back.

Baltimore Bars

Mr. Rain's Fun House. Shawn Douglas, AOL

I skipped the bar food and tried the roasted tomato shrimp gnocchi with a glass of the Borgo Conventi Pinot Grigio. It was incredible. The staff seemed knowledgeable with the various wines offered, and they even recommended I stop in for their special Wednesday wine tastings to discover even more fine wines. Taverna Corvino offers carry-out beer and wine at a discounted price. Apparently they have a special liquor license that allows for this type of sale seven days a week.

1117 S. Charles St.; 410-727-1212

Bluegrass Tavern

In search of one more drink, I heard of a bourbon bar just down the road that was becoming a bit popular with the Baltimore nightlife crowd. Indeed, after looking at the plethora of bourbon, rye, and whisky options at Bluegrass Tavern, I easily understood how a loyal clientele exists. But it takes more than having a wide selection to keep bringing people into the cozy confines of Bluegrass. I soon leaned the passion the staff has for bourbon is a major contributing factor to the bar's success.

The staff happily educated me on what makes a bourbon a bourbon and made several suggestions based on my personal tastes. As I sat down to partake of some Noah's Mill, an amazing wooden tray of charcuterie emerged from the kitchen prompting immediate interest. The presentation combined well with the décor and my bourbon, providing an authentic relaxed feel. When I asked proprietor Jorbie Clark about the inspiration for Bluegrass, he indicated that experimentation without pretention has been key. "We don't want to try to take ourselves too seriously," said Clark. "We want to have a little fun with it."

As I left Bluegrass, I felt that Clark's down-to-earth attitude and need for fun in the workplace epitomized what I liked most about these five establishments. Why go out for a drink somewhere where the staff seems uptight and isn't having fun? After all, isn't work "the curse of the drinking classes"?

1500 S. Hanover St.; 410-244-5101





Filed Under: Food + Drink

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