The Absolute Best Bars in Baltimore
From laid-back neighborhood spots to a church-themed cocktail bar, here’s where you should be drinking.
Bars are the backbone of Baltimore. Sure, there are great restaurants, breweries, and, of course, seafood spots, but you can’t walk a block in this town without passing a tavern or two. And after a tumultuous few years in the service industry, we are ecstatic to see signs of new life in the bar scene.
Undersung neighborhoods are becoming food and drink destinations, abandoned spaces are being converted into community hubs, and old standbys have been completely reinvented anew. As the temperatures dip a bit and the fall chill rolls in, we sure could use a drink to warm our bodies and souls. Here are some of our favorite spots to do just that.
The Royal Blue
Step one foot into the new Royal Blue and you’ll feel like you time traveled back to the ’70s. With a disco ball overhead and retro decor throughout, this renovated space was opened by Randy Coffren of skate-punk dive Johnny Rad’s and sausage bar Snake Hill. Here, the smash burger is just as impressive as the plant-based options. There’s a thoughtful, throwback cocktail menu featuring drinks like a Oaxacan Colada and Midori Sour, as well as a $5 tots and ’tinis happy hour. The bar’s back room is ideal for private parties, DJ residencies, and vinyl nights—and its bartop is adorned with old show flyers from beloved music venue Charm City Art Space.
Good things come to those who wait. That’s certainly how we feel about Southpaw, which opened on a Fells Point corner after a couple years of COVID-related delays. Opened by Baltimore bar veteran Doug Atwell, this no-frills neighborhood spot is exactly what you want in a bar: well-executed classic cocktails (like a Last Word and a Smoky Negroni), cheap canned beer from local breweries, a stunner of a jukebox in the corner, and the Orioles playing on TV. Future plans include a full food menu, but for now we’re happy to snack on Zapp’s chips and sip on a Key Brewing pils.
Between Fadensonnen and Dutch Courage (see below), Old Goucher is becoming a bar destination—and Church Bar is the latest reason to head to the neighborhood. Founded by hospitality pro Chelsea Gregoire, the space hints at a theological theme, but think more community and less communion. The bar will act as a gathering space for the surrounding area, as well as a great place to sip modern twists on classic cocktails, like the Golden Gate, a gin drink with vegetal notes and a Chartreuse wafer, or The Host, a large-format martini served tableside for 4-5 guests. Rotating resident chefs will serve everything from Carribean fare to vegan options. Most importantly, Church Bar is reimagining the service model by offering higher wages, a tip pool system, and educational enrichment to its staff. A welcome addition, indeed.
Belvedere Square Market has experienced a huge renaissance over the last 15 years, anchored by bakery and cafe Atwater’s, smoked food specialists Neopol, and wine bar Grand Cru. Now, a recent renovation has brought us Market Bar, an open and airy gathering space with communal tables to enjoy all the food the market has to offer, as well as a full-service bar featuring specialty cocktails, high-quality wine, and craft beer. We especially appreciate the organic wine on tap, with two different sized pours, and the fact that you can easily pick up a bottle next door before you leave.
The Cocktail Gallery
What started out as a tiny distillery then graduated to a larger warehouse space has now expanded once again with its very own cocktail bar. The creative minds behind Baltimore Spirits Company—known for the popular Shot Tower Gin and signature Epoch Rye—have transformed a neutral space inside Union Collective into an intimate, artful bar experience. A light sculpture by artist Greg St. Pierre bathes the entire space in ambient pink and violet while guests can sip on inventive cocktails from bar manager Hannah Baker. Try the gorgeous Matchadieu made with barrel-aged gin, yuzu, green tea, and rose syrup while you peruse local art on the walls.
How to book: Seating is first come, first served and the bar is open Thursday through Sunday
Set in a beautiful building that once housed the historic Brass Elephant restaurant, The Manor had the unfortunate timing of opening at the beginning of 2020. While most of its life as a bar and lounge has been on hold, The Manor has been able to have some fun this spring and summer with Baltimore Pride events and weekend drag brunches. Though there are many spaces to enjoy, the spacious marble bar upstairs is an ideal place to sip classic cocktails, or ones with a fun twist—like Moira’s Rose featuring earl grey tea and hibiscus syrup or the Oaxaca Old Fashioned with blanco tequila and mezcal.
Opened by two former bartenders from B&O American Brasserie, this luxe rowhouse bar is a gin lover’s dream. Though a full bar is available, the juniper-laced spirit is the star of the show and there are more than 100 varieties and a beautiful cocktail book (including stellar NA options!) to change any skeptic’s mind. After pivoting in the pandemic, DC now also acts as a bottle shop and seats guests both indoors and in a spacious and tented courtyard out back. Don’t sleep on the food, including deviled eggs, toasts, and a vegetarian muffaletta.
No memories of growing up in Baltimore are complete without a night at the Ottobar. From its humble beginnings as a tiny rock club downtown to its current two-story location in Remington, the venue has gone through a lot of changes in its 23 years. One constant is its commitment to the local community and music scene. Check its calendar for an epic lineup of musical acts on the mainstage downstairs and a bevy of options—from DJ nights to karaoke to trivia—in the upstairs lounge. Or just go and get 2-for-1 drinks on Tuesdays and play a game of pool. The Ottobar is truly a place that fits every mood.
The Bluebird Cocktail Room
We know that fancy cocktail bars can sometimes feel like a drag (read: stuffy and expensive), but local residents often flock to Bluebird. On three floors of a building right off Hampden’s main street, the cocktail bar is downright beautiful in both sunlight or candlelight—and the porch swings out front are a lovely touch. Perusing the literary-themed menu is a fun adventure in itself and it rotates often, but a safe bet is the Old Fashioned with citrus and vanilla poured over a house-carved ice sphere. Check out the bar’s basement pub, which specializes in whiskey drinks and cured meats, for an even cozier vibe.
Johnny Rad's Pizzeria Tavern
This pizza pub at the cross-section of Canton, Fells Point, and Butchers Hill fulfills all of our adolescent dreams with punk rock on the stereo, skateboards on the walls, and a diverse but approachable beer selection. Beers—like Mama’s Lil Yellow Pils or Monument City 51 Rye—come on draft and in a lot of canned varieties here and safe bet snacks include the fried risotto balls, Trainwreck pizza, or any vegan option. The bar features inside and outside seating, and offers its entire menu for takeout.
29th Street Tavern
They say it’s impossible to open a dive bar, but what if one gets spiffed up and keeps all its character (and its carryout packaged goods)? Such is the case with 29th Street Tavern, which maintains blue-collar roots in a gentrifying neighborhood. That means friendly bartenders, great burgers and wings, and drinks specials during the O’s game. While it’s hard to replicate the beauty of a dark pub exterior, we give kudos to the “boardwalk” built for outside seating.
How to book: Seating is first-come, first-served or walk up for carryout
The bright and beautiful cocktails that Sugarvale has been posting on Instagram have been a welcome oasis in our news feeds. While people may not be able to pack into this cavernous cocktails bar like the elixir gods intended, we’re grateful that we can still get gems—like the Lucky Cloud with amaro, white vermouth, grapefruit, ginger, and sparkling wine—outside on its sidewalks tables.
Mr Nice Guy Cocktails
This Canton corner spot did the reverse of most bars. At the beginning of the pandemic, bartender Anthony Nastasi Jr. started offering to-go cocktails only and has since expanded, opening a brick-and-mortar spot, adding outdoor seating, and now offers beer, wine, and even a food menu.
Frazier's on the Avenue
If you want Baltimore in a bar, Frazier’s might just be it. Its walls are adorned with every kind of local sports memorabilia you can think of, bartenders are brusk but remember your drink order, and the drinks are as strong as they can legally get away with. Most hazy Frazier’s memories involve the pool tables and/or jukebox, and the bar is keeping the spirit alive with trivia nights and outside seating.
How to book: First-come, first-served
This is a neighborhood bar through and through. For one, Pigtown really needed a community hub like this, where customers frequently host book clubs, attend open mic nights, and even help the bar raise money for charitable causes. While right now is a tricky time for these types of places, Old Major is still offering takeout options for its delicious pub grub, local beer and wine, tropical cocktails, and even to-go shots. Thanks for reading our minds, per usual.
The team responsible for dimly lit cocktail haven W.C. Harlan and golden-hued mezcaleria Clavel have another hit on their hands with this beer garden, natural wine, and sake bar. It might seem like the concept is all over the map, but the throughline is interesting, small-batch drinks of the highest quality. You can try Georgian wines, beer from Austria, or sake from Brooklyn (plus sample food from its delicious neighboring concept Chachi’s). Sit at the picnic tables or at the bar at the on the top floor.
How to book: Seating is first-come, first-served or you can get carryout from the online shop
Is it just us or does it seem like everyone canceled a trip to Spain or Portugal this summer? Here’s your chance to experience the Iberian Peninsula at this long-standing tapas bar. Of course, the requisite order is a pitcher of sangria and a sampling of classic starters like patatas bravas, chile rellenos, croquetas, and anything with Serrano ham. Our favorite way to pregame a movie at the Charles Theatre, Tapas Teatro offers indoor and outdoor seating at lovely sidewalk tables. Salud!
There actually aren’t a ton of waterfront bars in Baltimore, despite it being a coastal city. But Little Havana just south of Federal Hill has to be one of the best. Its deck is generally filled with many hair-of-the-dog groups putting back mimosas and mojitos or hoping generous portions of chilaquiles or the famed Cubano will do the trick. Now tables are spaced six feet apart with groups no larger than six people, but the drinks are still flowing and the sun is still shining plenty.
How to book: Call 410-837-9903 for Sunday brunch reservations
We know, it’s a strange name. But Wet City actually used to be Baltimore’s nickname during Prohibition when many of its residents and businesses continued to pedal alcohol. The party is still going strong at this airy, minimalist space that brews its own beers on site and has a menu of fabulous cocktails to match. If you like sour sessions, get anything from its Making Out With series, which features berries and tropical fruit. And don’t miss out on food that would satisfy the strongest of munchies, including Nashville-style hot chicken and a pulled pork krunkwrap.
Papi's Taco Joint
This is one of those spots that lands somewhere in between a restaurant and a bar, but it’s so damn fun we’re calling it the latter. What started out in pretty small quarters in Fells Point now has another Hampden location with a covered deck in the back for social distance dining and drinking. Sip on one of the best house-made margaritas in town (frozen or on the rocks with a ton of flavor additives to choose from) and snack on queso fundido with chorizo, esquites dip, or street-style tacos.
Old Line Spirits
Makers of single-malt whiskey and Caribbean-aged rum, the brilliant distillers at Old Line Spirits decided to add cocktails into the mix and, most recently, a courtyard bar called The Flight Deck. Featuring wooden picnic tables, Adirondack cheers, and, fittingly, high-top barrels, the distillery’s parking lot has been transformed into a spacious outdoor drinking space. Try booze-forward cocktails like the seasonal Maple Flag Cider with Old Line’s single malt, apple cider, maple syrup, lemon juice, and walnut bitters.
How to book: Seating is first-come, first-served or you can order bottles and cocktails to-go
Most people recognize this corner gem by its sticker-plastered front door. You just know you’re going to have a blast inside. And that’s true, between its vinyl night dance parties and plentiful shots of green Chartreuse. Indoor seating is back at Idle Hour, though the beloved dive has pivoted pretty brilliantly, opening a carryout bottle shop, hosting virtual wine classes with local experts, and even throwing a socially distant dance party in a tailgate parking lot. We are happy to be aglow under red string lights anymore. True legends never die.
How to book: First-come, first-served
Cat's Eye Pub
Something truly missing from our souls this year is live music. And Zoom concerts (even by the most talented musicians) just don’t cut it. Thankfully, the nearly 50-year-old Cat’s Eye Pub has reopened and, like all of Fells Point for now, even has tables on the cobblestones out front—all within earshot of whatever blues or funk band is playing inside the bar. Walk up, order some cheap beer and a couple shots, and dance your heart out.
How to book: Just mask up and walk up. Check the website for a live music schedule.
Sports bars tend to all blur together, but excellent food, customer service, and a great view of the water set The Chasseur apart. Take it in while you chown down on chicken tinga nachos, crab mac and cheese, or the apple and fig flatbread. There are crushes galore (including the standard orange and grapefruit), boozy milkshakes, and a drink called Baltimore Water that tastes better than it sounds. Tented sidewalk seating and, of course, the rooftop bar are ideal places to watch a Ravens games.
How to book: Call 410-327-6984 for reservations and takeout
We’ll forgive the fact that this is a Washington Football Team and Virginia Tech bar simply because we always end up having a great time. With about 100 beers available, there is always something new and crafty to try. Recent favorites have been the Cushwa New England IPA, Diamondback Beer’s Zlaty pilsner, and Checkerspot’s Maximum Fruitage with pawpaws. Whatever you’re drinking, chase it with pub grub classics like the Buffalo chicken wrap or Chesapeake burger topped with crab dip—and hang in its “streatery” of shaded picnic tables.
How to book: Seating is first-come, first-served or call 410-637-3699 for takeout
The Brewer's Art
Way before craft beer was cool, a cavernous brewhouse was being built on North Charles Street with the radical idea that white tablecloth fine dining could co-exist with incredibly strong Belgian beers. More than two decades later, the dichotomous Brewer’s Art is still kickin’—with some of the most refined food and beautiful architecture to enjoy upstairs and a nearly pitch-black gritty basement bar down below. Now, the bar has added outside seating so there’s even a third way to enjoy its rosemary garlic fries (hint: bring a mint) or steak frites. Fun fact: The bar’s Beazly Belgian Golden Ale used to be called Ozzy until the Black Sabbath singer himself hit them with a cease and desist. This place must be pretty good if he’s paying attention.
How to book: Call 410-547-6925 to make reservations or order takeout online
Known as a brunch and date-night destination on bustling Harford Road, Maggie’s Farm should also be heralded for its creative bar program. Cocktails like a smoked Sazerac with cinnamon-ginger simple or the barrel-aged pecan Old Fashioned take time and technique. We love to snack on a good cheese board while we sip and this one with house-made preserves, focaccia, and pickles is just right. Savor them in the red-hued bar or outside on sidewalk tables under an awning and charming string lights.
How to book: Call 410-254-2376 for reservations or takeout
Of Love & Regret
If you like getting weird, Of Love & Regret is the bar for you. The bar is chock-full of rare beer, wine, and spirits from all over the world and one conversion with a knowledgeable bartender could lead you down a booze-filled rabbit hole. Cocktails are unusual, seasonal, and visceral including Coffee & Cigarettes with Islay Scotch, coffee liqueur, Fernet, and black walnut liqueur and old favorite The Artist Formerly Known As (The Smirk) with gin, elderflower liqueur, lime, and egg white. Food here is equally impressive and you’ll surely be in need of a hearty meal.
Every town needs that beer bar. You know the one that has a superlative number of bottles and drafts, where patrons of all kinds can geek out on Belgians and sours, and people might actually spend more time on Untappd than Tinder. Max’s fits all the requirements with thousands of bottles and nearly 100 rotating draft lines that lean just as heavily on rare imports as they do on local favorites. In normal times, this is a great spot to watch sports, play pool, or even sing karaoke. We also so much appreciate the homemade, outdoor booths they constructed.
Annabel Lee Tavern
While Baltimore might not be the most romantic city that comes to mind, love is always in the air at Annabel Lee, named for Edgar Allan Poe’s object of affection. The interior is dark and intimate with merlot-colored walls, flickering candles, and lines of poetry pretty much everywhere you look. Ideal for date night, Annabel Lee has excellent food options, including duck-fat fries, Buffalo mushrooms, and plump crab cakes with little filler. Cocktails are all Poe-themed and we love the Evening Star with Pikesville Rye, smoky apples, cinnamon, and habanero bitters. Look for local beer on draft including, yes, the Annabel Lee White.
How to book: Sidewalk tables are first-come, first-served or call 410-522-2929 for takeout