Baltimore’s cocktail scene has never been better. Locals are setting aside their “Natty Boh” (National Bohemian) beers in favor of handcrafted drinks that are infused, muddled and shaken.
Scattered around the city, housed in former row homes and staffed by dedicated mixologists, are five of the most creative and atmospheric cocktail bars in Baltimore.
W.C. Harlan, a small, unmarked bar on a residential corner in Remington, has a cluttered, dimly lit interior stuffed with chandeliers and vintage finds. It’s the perfect place for a first date or a long, gossipy catch-up with an old friend.
The laid-back bartenders invent new cocktails on a regular basis, experimenting with ingredients like chili salt and quinine, obscure sherries, and Italian amari. The results are like nothing you’ve tasted before — playful drinks with a sense of humor but always solidly constructed.
Insider tip: Owner Lane Harlan has a second bar, a mezcaleria called Clavel, just down the street. Stop in here before or after for a gourmet barbacoa taco and a cocktail made with mezcal, watermelon juice and basil.
Most Fells Point bars are heavy on cheap beers and televised sports, but Rye strikes a different note. Dark wood and exposed brick, bartenders wearing vests and ties, and events like hosting the occasional doughnut-shop pop-up help Rye stand out from the crowd. And that’s not even counting the cocktails.
The menu of original drinks — try the fabulous Coin Operated Boy, a blend of rye, absinthe, Gran Classico, lemon and caramel — is uber-innovative and whimsical, but it’s fun to ask the bartenders to surprise you. The staff really knows what it’s doing and can whip you up a personalized drink that’s sure to suit.
Standards, classics and seasonal: These are the three sections of the cocktail menu at this Federal Hill bar, created by beverage director Ryan Sparks, a leader in the Baltimore nightlife scene.
Seasonal drinks for winter might include the Chartreuse Hot Chocolate, an audacious mix of herbaceous chartreuse, house-made cocoa mix and house-made whipped cream. Standards like the Old Fashioned get gussied-up, too, with bonded bourbon, dry orange curacao, Demerara sugar and house-made bitters aged in a bourbon barrel.
There’s also an almost overwhelmingly long menu of bourbons, ryes and whiskeys; ask the bartender to direct you to the perfect pick. The bar-food menu here — featuring items like crispy frog legs and Brussels sprouts with candied bacon — is one of the best in the city.
Frequent happy hours and all-night drink deals are just part of the appeal of this three-year-old bar, which manages to retain a friendly neighborhood vibe while also turning out some of the most sophisticated drinks in town.
The well-sourced spirits (you might find Crater Lakes pepper-infused vodka, but not Absolut) become feisty spins on classic cocktails, like the Negroni made with gin from Illinois’ FEW Spirits, Noilly Prat sweet vermouth, Campari and orange bitters.
Plus, the list of seasonally changing drinks gets inventive with extras like violet liqueur. Settling into a cozy sofa in the back lounge for the night, in the glow of the LED fireplace, is a special treat.
Baltimore loves its erstwhile resident Edgar Allen Poe — tributes to the writer are everywhere — but it took a special kind of genius to create an entire bar dedicated to the man.
The Poe quotes and photographs on the walls give the Annabel Lee Tavern an appropriately Gothic vibe, and there’s plenty of upscale pub grub offered, like Maryland crabcakes and duck-fat fries.
Still, it’s the Poe-themed drinks that steal the show. Grab a seat at the long wooden bar, sample a fruity Masque of the Red Death (blackberry vodka, pomegranate liqueur, peach schnapps and cranberry juice) or a Sepulchre (an inventive mix of pear cider and Fireball whiskey garnished with a pear slice) and see how many lines of “The Raven” you can recite from memory.