Grand hotels should have grand bars. Call us old-fashioned, but there's something about walking through a well-decorated lobby and heading to a cavernous and equally stylish room with a long, fancy bar top that elevates the experience of grabbing a cocktail. Such a setting makes us feels like we're in a Humphrey Bogart movie, and it's one of the reasons the Owl Bar is one of our favorite spots in town.
Many of the elegant, staid spots of yesteryear are gone, save the Owl Bar, but B&O American Brasserie, Wit & Wisdom, and the recently resurrected Lord Baltimore Hotel have revived the stylish hotel-bar concept in Baltimore and added a bit of a modern twist. Add to that list Poets, the restaurant and bar on the ground floor of Hotel Indigo, housed in the beautiful Second Empire building on West Franklin Street that was once the central building for the local YMCA.
With its interior, Poets seems to be toying with the idea of Mount Vernon's ornate plaster past—the pictures of landmarks from the neighborhood that have the bottom halves painted over with a solid color seem to do this explicitly—and injects a modernist style. There's a long marble bar, shelves behind it that are designed to look like armoires with the drawers pulled out, and big, comfy leather armchairs, but there's also a carpet with a color and pattern that resembles army camouflage and lamps that look like they're from a steampunk sci-fi movie. This mishmash aesthetic aside, the space is large and inviting, with plenty of seating options.
While Poets offers a great selection of wines and local draft beers and bottles, which are more than reasonably priced at happy hour, we ordered from the 12-drink cocktail menu. The build-your-own Manhattan ($13), one of our favorite drinks, immediately caught our eye. Patrons are given a checklist to mark off their choice of bourbon (there was at least one rye, too), vermouth, bitters, garnish, and serving (up or on the rocks). Our custom drink was expertly crafted, with the cherry flavor—it was our garnish and the flavor of our bitters–more tastily pronounced than usual without being overbearing. We also tried El Matador ($10), a mixture of tequila, lime juice, muddled strawberries, a small amount of pilsner beer, and ice. It starts out with a burst of citrus and berries for a smooth, pillowy finish. Delicious.
For round two, we ordered the Charm City Sparkler ($9), a local take on a mimosa that mixes mead from Charm City Meadworks, orange juice, prosecco, and an orange peel. It's a bit more tart than its OJ-and-champagne relative, but it goes down just as easy. We also had the Blackberry Smash ($9), citrus vodka, blackberry liquor, Fever-Tree bitter lemon soda, ice, and a lemon wedge. Our guess is the name comes from the way the drink starts with the taste of citrus and finishes dark and fruity.
Given the quality of the cocktails we had, and the fact that we still have more than half the menu to try, we're sure we'll be back the next time we need a drink and want to class it up like Bogey.