Unfortunately, this time of year is one of the slowest for restaurants and bars. And that’s due, in my “expert” opinion, to New Year’s resolutions to diet and give up drinking for a little while.
If you’ve managed to make it this far through dry January, kudos to you. If not (no judgment), here is a list of my favorite cocktail bars around town. You can also enjoy zero proof beverages at all of these establishments.
1010 Fleet St., Baltimore
Buzz the doorbell and you might be lucky enough to snag a seat inside Harbor East’s The Elk Room, which is one of the only spots where you can experience cocktails with a side of live jazz music (every Thursday through Saturday). As the name suggests, an enormous elk head sits above the bar, observing the expert mixologists preparing drinks. But even more impressive is the spirit selection highlighting some of the rarest whiskeys, bourbons and other liquors from around the globe.
18 E. Cross St., Baltimore
One of the newest additions to the Baltimore cocktail scene is a speak-easy hidden behind a commercial refrigerator door in Crossbar Der Biergarten, Baltimore’s largest German beer garden. The menu features classic cocktails like the champagne cocktail, French 75 and paper plane, with uniquely beautiful presentations including a martini encapsulated in a smoke-filled bubble that must be popped before imbibing.
5916 York Rd., Baltimore
While we’re on the topic of speak-easies, another newcomer, Clandestino, opened its doors last year, but you may have a hard time finding them. Located behind the walls of Tex-Mex restaurant Zen West in Baltimore’s Belvedere neighborhood, Clandestino offers a much more eclectic “southwestern vibe” where you can sip from one of the city’s most expansive tequila and mezcal lists under a wagon wheel chandelier.
400 W. 23rd St, Baltimore
The cocktail bar has seen quite the resurgence in Baltimore over the past few years, but leading that trend is the O.G., W.C. Harlan, which is celebrating its 10th anniversary this month. It’s one of my favorite date night spots (along with neighboring restaurant, Clavel) because it immediately transports you to an earlier era upon entering. The bar is dimly lit with wax candles providing an intimate glow. An antique upright piano sits by the bar, and the bartenders are experts in mixing beverages based on your favorite flavor profiles.
1639 Thames St., Baltimore
There’s a distinct feeling when you step beyond the cobblestone streets of Fells Point into a dark and moody bar that you just don’t get anywhere else — and Rye is no exception. Maybe it’s the neighborhood’s storied history, maybe it’s the spirits of Fells Point’s past, or maybe it’s because you’ve had a few too many cocktails. Whatever the reason, add Rye to the list of cocktail bars to visit — and if you like it enough, you can rent a locker to store your own personal collection of wine and liquor to enjoy on your next visit.
3600 Hickory Ave., Baltimore
Feeling blue? Head to this fairy tale-inspired cocktail room where each beverage is based on a story authored by The Brothers Grimm — from “Cinderella” to “Little Snow White.” Located in the heart of Hampden, The Bluebird Cocktail Room offers an extensive food and beverage menu featuring ingredients that are produced by local, organic, and sustainable farmers, distillers and producers. And while there is often a wait, in the warmer months you can enjoy a seat on their porch swings, which are great for people watching along the Avenue.
4 W. Madison St., Baltimore
Located a few steps from Baltimore’s famed Washington Monument, Sugarvale is an intimate, 35-seat cocktail bar and one of my favorite spots to frequent before heading to dinner or an event in Mount Vernon. With an unassuming façade, it’s easy to miss this neighborhood gem — which adds to its charm and appeal. Looking for a date night spot where you might not be spotted? This is the place for you.
223 W Chase St., Baltimore
Most people probably consider Wet City more of a microbrewery, but I consider it to be one of the best places to casually enjoy a mixed drink and devour some seriously delicious bar food. While many of our local cocktail bars are comfy and cozy, Wet City offers a more open, lively and lighter vibe where you can order house-made fireball shots to pair with your hot chicken sandwich — or play it safe and stick with one of their very own brews. But no matter what, I always end with the Lil Snickers, a rye-based cocktail served with a single Snickers mini that is locally sourced (from the Rite Aid across the street).
2 E. Read St.
Mirrors, red velvet banquettes, and silver palm trees surround the center bar at Mount Vernon’s swankiest lounge, Bloom’s — one of two bars located inside The Ulysses Hotel. With old-school glamorous charm and classic cocktails ranging from a Midori sour to a French martini, it’s sure to be a Valentine’s Day favorite this year. Just make your reservations soon.
Chris Franzoni is a Baltimore native, resident, food fanatic, and “eater-in-chief” of @EatMoreBeMore, which he started seven years ago with two goals — eating his way through the city and shining a positive light on the Baltimore restaurant and hospitality scene.