A city’s bar scene provides some of the most essential insights into its character: their patrons, their atmospheres, their prices reveal much. In this beginner’s guide to Baltimore’s liquored-up landscape, we’ve mapped out the bars by category (dive, sports, booze, swanky, and gay) and included locales in an array of neighborhoods. No matter if you like thumping dance clubs or hushed holes in the walls, we’ve got a bar for you.
1718 Lancaster St.
The black-and-white signage outside this hole in the wall on the Lancaster Street says it all: This is a bar, plain and simple. There’s a pool table in the back of this ultra-narrow establishment, and it’s free of the Saturday-night swells that Fells Point suffers from.
1724 N. Charles St., (410) 727-8815, clubcharles.us
A John Waters favorite and a bar so legendary that it’s nearly not a dive, Club Charles nonetheless maintains all its credibility because of its cheap drinks, well-stoked jukebox, dim interior, and relative lack of pretension. A great launching point to explore Station North, the city’s most up-and-coming arts district.
Frazier’s on the Avenue
919 W. 36th St., (410) 662-4914, fraziersontheavenue.com
Hampden is lousy with dives, and Frazier’s may be the granddaddy of them all, suitable for an Avenue vet and newbie alike. Split into two sections, Frazier’s offers pool tables, booths, beat-up living room couches, Natty Boh and Resurrection, bar food that tastes home-cooked (in a good way), and plenty of copies of Baltimore’s Most Informative Weekly.
201 E. Fort Ave., (410) 468-0357
So laid-back and low-key that it resembles your buddy’s den, Idle Hour provides the prime point of entry to Fort Avenue’s array of dives. Its offbeat specialties—the herb-heavy French liqueur Chartreuse and pickleback shots (Pikesville Rye, a Maryland once-original, chased by pickle juice)—complement its quirky atmosphere. This is the Baltimore bar where you’re almost guaranteed to pet a local’s dog.
Mount Royal Tavern
1204 W. Mount Royal Ave., (410) 669-6686
One of picturesque Bolton Hill’s rare bars, the Tavern, its ceiling mural, and its bombed-out bathrooms loom large in Baltimore’s robust dive-bar scene. Ancient bartenders man its long Formica bar, slinging mostly cheap beers and booze, but you can get a Dogfish Head 60 Minute and a Bombay Sapphire gin and tonic for relatively cheap prices. Cash only.
David’s 1st and 10
3626 Falls Road, (410) 662-7779
David’s, a new addition to Hampden’s fleet of bars, touts 36 flat-screen TVs that line every surface the owner could find a place for, guaranteeing you’ll have a good view wherever you sit. But the bar is so spacious and well-staffed that the flood of blue light doesn’t induce claustrophobia. Bartenders know their beers, wines, and whiskeys too.