Cat's Eye Pub
1730 Thames St., (410) 276-9866, catseyepub.com
When Cat’s Eye Pub’s founder, Tony Cushing Sr., passed away in 2008 and his son, Tony Cushing Jr., took over, we worried the place would morph into yet another Fells Point get-drunk, get-laid bar. But the son’s respect for the father’s traditions has kept it the same as it always was: few cover charges (only on weekend nights after 9 p.m.) to enjoy the roots bands that’ve always played there; a wide range of beers; dusty old decor; and a core set of regulars and longtime staffers who warmly welcome newcomers and tourists alike. The patio out back, where the marriage of smoking and drinking continues to consummate, is a bonus. About the only thing changing—as it always has—is the bathroom graffiti. That this institution survived its passage to a new generation unscathed is a testament to Tony Jr.’s youthful wisdom, and to Baltimore’s drinking culture, which makes the place an ongoing success.
400 W 23rd St.
At W.C. Harlan, every detail has been attended to. Two crystal chandeliers, hung high above the bar, provide the only electric light. Tea candles are strewn about the bar and the tables at dusk. Antique glass jars and objets d’art are tastefully arranged around the room. An upright piano, sometimes manned by someone playing gypsy-jazz tunes, caps one end of the bar. The cocktail glasses look like they were sourced from your grandmother’s breakfront. The two-beer draft system is outfitted with rustic tap handles and metal housing that disguises any modernity that might mar the impeccably decorated Remington speakeasy. It serves the kind of carefully composed cocktails that dissuade Miller Lite meatheads from infiltrating its environs, making it even more of an enclave for aesthetes.
BEST DIVE BAR
The Friendly Harford House
7509 Harford Road, (410) 444-6712
The Friendly Harford House is one of those bars people drive by and wonder what it’s like inside. And they’ve had plenty of opportunity—the place is over 100 years old. What they should do is go in. It’s the quintessential dive bar: just dark enough without being too dark, just loud enough without being too loud. The imitation-wood Formica bar imitates the imitation-wood paneling on the walls. Peanut shells crunch underfoot, and the Orioles or Ravens always seem to be on the TVs. Astoundingly cheap draft beer comes in 9-, 16- or 22-ounce glasses, served by women named Stubbie, Trish, and Germaine—together they’ve logged half a century behind the bar. “The customers give us shit and we give it right back,” says Stubbie. “We’re just like a family.”
BEST DIVE BAR TO MAKE YOU THINK IT'S STILL 1961
2 S. Decker Ave., (410) 342-5226
Roman’s Place has always been a hidden gem, tucked away on a tiny street in an East Baltimore rowhouse. Its roots date back to when the Hess family ran it as a speakeasy during Prohibition, and it never really made the jump to the modern era. On a dark night, a lone neon sign will guide you to the door. Beer bottles and shot glasses cover an oak bar scorched by decades of cigarettes long extinguished. The ancient National cash register is frozen in the “No Sale” position but still serves as a shelf for the bottle of Crown Royal. In the back dining room, meals of pork chops or fried chicken are all homemade, and club sandwiches have cool names like the Lexington or the Calvert. It’s been like this as long as anyone can remember and doesn’t appear to be changing anytime soon.
BEST GAY BAR
870 Park Ave., 227 W. Chase St., (410) 539-4850
Leon’s has been open since the 1930s, run by the same owner for 50 years, and operating as a gay bar since 1960. A few years ago, the down-home main room took over its backdoor neighbor, the former New Age Dine and Dance (with an entrance beside Dougherty’s on Chase Street), and turned it briefly into a dining room called Singers. It quickly became Leon’s Leather Lounge, catering, as one would imagine, to the leather-and-hair bear set. With its campier sense of queer, the Leather Lounge is always welcoming and always fun, but we’re still partial to the no-nonsense divey main bar and we love the two-for-one happy hour. And it’s close to the Drinkery, Hippo, Grand Central, and Jay’s on Read. Let’s face it: Leon’s is probably the reason all of those places set up shop in the neighborhood to begin with.
BEST BACKROOM BAR
"The Secret Bar" in Charles Restaurant and Carryout
2500 St. Paul St., (410) 366-1600
Tucked off in the corner of the Charles Carryout, behind a swinging door, is a little 12-seat bar, decorated with a mix of art, old bar signage, Boh memorabilia, and tons of Christmas lights. It has a no-frills beer and booze selection, but this is the kind of place where you want to order a domestic beer or a rail drink anyway. You can draw on the bar (or the walls) with chalk, or order a chicken tikka masala pizza to munch on. Rarely crowded, not too bright, it’s the perfect place to duck in for a quick one or to take that date you aren’t quite ready to reveal to the crowds at the Club Charles or the Ottobar.
BEST REMINGTON BAR THAT SEEMS LIKE A REMINGTON BAR
3 Miles House
2701 Miles Ave., (410) 235-4275
As the Remington neighborhood catches on, it’s the little things right under our noses that we appreciate. Hidden on the corner of 27th Street and Miles Avenue, the 3 Miles House is our go-to for a cold can of Natty Boh or a glass of jug wine. Operated by Jack and Anne Norris for the past 11 years, the bar is the de facto family room of the surrounding blocks. Everyone stops in to see “Mr. Jack” and “Miss Anne,” and as long as they’re there, have a drink and buy a lottery ticket. Sit on a stool for even a minute, and Missy the bar cat will curl up in your lap. Christmas tree ornaments hang from the ceiling year-round. The patio, decorated with plastic flowers, is an urban oasis. And the restroom? Cleaner than you can believe.
BEST COUNTY BAR
4421 Washington Blvd., Halethorpe, (410) 247-4977
The entrance to this old school Baltimore ’burbs hangout is a portal to another world, a closer-knit one, with less emphasis on frills and more on community and enjoyment. Most Coolahan’s customers know each other and want to get to know you too, if you act right—it has a country club-sorta vibe, sans membership fees, a dress code, or a minimum. Here, someone can buy you a drink (cash only), and if you’re not ready, you get a Coolahan’s chip. Often, they have free mini-buffets, but don’t sleep on the 35-cent coddies or the assorted low-price sammies. Bartenders rotate frequently, but when you catch them a second time, they’re apt to remember you, and they might hook you up with a shot of homemade Vyritos on the house. Also: karaoke night.
BEST DRINKS MENU
807 S. Broadway, (443) 438-3296, ryebaltimore.com
Rye co-owner and bartender Doug Atwell has distilled his heart and soul into the ever-shifting offerings at the Fells Point bar: He curates a mix of traditional liquor libations (Pimm’s Cup, Last Word, etc.), house-invented drinks, cocktails whipped up by the bartenders around the city and the country (contributors hail from New York and San Francisco), and the usual orders of Rye regulars. The various sources of inspiration lend to a textured drink menu, fleshed out by well-rounded lists for shots (going for a flat rate of $6 apiece), beer (including the obligatory Boh tallboy), and wine. Plus, if you’re really after that mint julep or sidecar not appearing on the menu, the bartender will gladly mix it up for you.
BEST BOURBON BAR
2218 Boston St., (410) 534-2337, bartendersbaltimore.com
For those of you who want to plop down on a barstool and enjoy some good ol’ American-grown corn spirit, few places are as dependable as Bartenders. Opened almost a decade ago by four former bartenders, this spot has become a hub for local bourbon fans. They keep more than 20 bottles on the shelf, and it’s one of the few bars in the city sporting the likes of Triple Smoked and hard-to-find fave Black Maple Hill (they generally have Red Label handmade available, and the 14- and 20-year varieties are constantly on order). They even carry super-small-batch Belle Meade, whose owner happened to be sitting at the bar, drinking, on a recent evening. And the knowledgeable staff will help you decide if you’re new to the whole single-batch bourbon thing. Who needs the snooty Macallan Scotch when you can down a shot of smooth Kentucky gold?
BEST RUM BAR
133 W. North Ave., (410) 545-0444, joesquared.com
More than sodomy and the lash, rum is much maligned. Diluted to almost tastelessness, rum is almost never taken straight. But it should be. Known mostly for its pizza and wings (“Best Wings” 2012), Joe Squared is also known to a small group of rum fans for its extensive selection of fermented cane-sugar goodness. Topping out at about 50 bottles, Joe Squared sports rum choices from pretty much every Caribbean island save Cuba, from where importing is still banned. The rarest of the lot is Plantation XO from Barbados, which is NOT to be mixed. Barcardi is to rum what Boh is to craft beer. Next time, forgo the Coke and get a nice rum on the rocks. You won’t be disappointed.
BEST SCOTCH WHISKY BAR
Birds of a Feather
1712 Aliceanna St., (410) 675-8466, abs.net/~scotchjh
We fancy ourselves a good Scotch every now and then (easy on the peatiness, please), and few places compare to Birds of a Feather. Whereas most bars fail to stock anything beyond your Dewars or Johnnie Walker, Birds of a Feather boasts more than 120 varieties of single-malt Scotches from the four regions of Scotland. There are blends, too, of course. But no matter the style or smokiness of the particular label, the bar staff is helpful in finding the perfect match for your palate. Drinking Scotch has an air of pretension about it, but you wouldn’t know it at Birds of a Feather. The comfy atmosphere and nautical decorations give it that certain homey feel that makes a small Baltimore bar a home away from home.
BEST IRISH WHIKSEY BAR
The Life of Reilly
2031 E. Fairmount Ave., (410) 327-6425, thelifeofreilly.com
At this relatively obscure Butchers Hill gem, you may be tempted to order a properly poured Guinness—it’s one of the few places that gets it right every time—and enroll in the Guinness club (drink 100, get your name on a plaque), but then you would miss out on the fine selection of Irish whiskey they’ve culled at the Life of Reilly. “Culled” might not be the right word, because the folks at Life of Reilly have tried to get every Irish whiskey possible in stock: Connemara, Redbreast, Michael Collins, Powers, Tyrconnell, and more. The bartenders know their stuff and their tasting notes are on the whiskey list, so you can order based on your preferences for peaty, smoky, sweet, etc. Also: flights of three varieties for $12.
BEST SHOT THAT WILL KNOCK YOU ON YOUR ASS
Vyritos at Mum's
1132 S. Hanover St., (410) 547-7415
This dark and hazy old school dive is exactly the kind of place you’d expect to find the traditionally homemade Lithuanian spirit Vyritos (pronounced “vid-it-us”). The house recipe for the high-powered grog blends grain alcohol, honey, ginger, whole cloves, allspice, cinnamon sticks, whole peppercorns, lemon and orange zest, caraway, cardamom, and nutmeg. The flavor profile is like no other. The texture is silken. The burn, barely noticeable, more like a pleasant warmth. You can knock back four or five and feel A-OK, but you will pay for them dearly later on. Consider yourself warned.
NIGHTLIFE HALL OF FAME
737 S. Broadway, (410) 675-6297, maxs.com
For us, perhaps the best thing about Max’s is not merely its beer selection (though we’ve awarded it “Best Selection” every year, save for one, since 2005), but that, despite being the undisputed champion of Baltimore’s beer bars, Max’s remains a bar you can hang out in as if it were your local pub. If you log enough hours and display enough curiosity, the knowledgeable bartenders here (we’re particularly fond of Bob Simko and Jamie Ritter) will establish shtick with you and key in on your stylistic preferences; they’ll also let you know if there’s something on the list you need to try. We’ve benefited from their wisdom at Max’s’ many annual celebrations: Belgian Beer Fest (including Sour and Wild Day), German Beer Fest, and HopFest, among others. But a festival doesn’t need to happen for you to sample some of the hardest-to-find beer in the nation here—it just needs to be a day of the week.
BEST $35 SHOT
1 E. Chase Street. (410) 347-0880, 13floorbelvedere.com
Let’s face it: A $35 shot is a $35 shot is a $35 shot. No matter what, you’re going to lay down 35 hard-earned dollars for the privilege, so you might as well drink it someplace nice. For our money, we prefer the 13th Floor of the Belvedere Hotel. Ask for a table by the windows so you can take in the view at dusk (sit at the bar when you’re drinking the cheap stuff). Tell the server “Johnnie Blue”; they’ll know what you mean. Take a sip and run your fingers over the velvet upholstery. Take another and watch the city lights come on. Put your feet up if you want. Now order a second round. Nobody said you could only have one.
BEST BLOODY MARY
Slainte Irish Pub
1700 Thames St., (410) 563-6600, Slaintepub.com
In this age of mixologists, why doesn’t the poor Bloody Mary get any love? Maybe it’s because the Bloody Mary is the official drink of the alcoholic, traditionally consumed after a hard night of libations. But one sip of the red drink served up by a bleary-eyed bartender by the name of Nate is to fall in love. Oh, how it sits there, with just the right pepper injection dancing with that vodka. Even the celery defies its useless rep and gives the drink an earthy tone. How does he do it? He’s not gonna say. So shut your mouth and ponder the oddballs sitting next to you in their Liverpool scarves so early in the morning, and think, You know, this drinking-in-the-morning thing isn’t so bad. After all, ain’t there a little alcoholic in all of us?
BEST CASK ALE
Heavy Seas neer's Loose CannonThe beer zealot needs no explanation for cask ale, but for those unfamiliar with the naturally carbonated, unfiltered suds pumped through the special pull-down tap systems that you see at places like Max’s, Wharf Rat, Liam Flynn’s, and Bertha’s, you’re missing out. The serving style—sometimes through a special draft system, sometimes through a gravity pour (when a cask sits on top of the bar)—hails from England but is increasingly popular in Baltimore’s bars. The method particularly suits the Halethorpe brewery’s omnipresent Loose Cannon. The format softens the body and the hoppiness of the IPA, resulting in a creamy texture and a superbly balanced hop-malt character. Plus, Heavy Seas reportedly produces the most cask ale in the country.
BEST OLD FASHIONED
Red Star Bar and Grill
906 S. Wolfe St., (410) 675-0212, redstarbar.us
Cocktail drinkers will find several fine establishments in Baltimore that serve a formidable Old Fashioned mixed the right way. W.C. Harlan offers a fine one that starts off smooth and finishes with a slightly bitter flourish. Rye’s Old Fashioned, too, is a nice one, and those tending bar will prepare it always with Buffalo Trace, a decent bourbon, if you don’t ask for something grittier (Knob Creek) or something more mellow (Woodford Reserve). For our money—about $10—the best Old Fashioned to be drunk is at Red Star in Fells Point. A cherry and orange peel muddled generously, but not to a pulp; a respectable amount of sugar added after; the bourbon of your choice; and then the contents of the glass swirled a few times within a room temperature cocktail shaker. The result one Sunday night in August? A damn good drink.
BEST HAPPY HOUR
415 W. Cold Spring Lane, (410) 235-3433, alonsos.com
The Roland Park mainstay can be pretty uneven when it comes to quality of food and service, but when you’re dealing with booze and happy-hour prices, Alonso’s prevails every time. The ever-rotating selection of always-good, always-interesting craft beer (plus the obligatory [probably paid-for] Bud taps) go for anywhere between $1.50 to $2.50 for a pint. Plus: $4 margaritas, rail booze, and wine. Get there early, because the stools at the downstairs bar fill up fast, and if you have to go upstairs, the specials are different (still good, though) and you’re more and more likely to run into some rowdy Loyola bros capitalizing on the nightly bargains.
BEST HAPPY HOUR (COUNTY)
The Oregon Grille
1201 Shawan Road, Hunt Valley, (410) 771-0505, theoregongrille.com
For city-dwellers, it’s a pretty torturous tease finding such a great happy hour all the way out in Hunt Valley, but if you can somehow arrange for a cab or DD to get you there and back, this is a no-brainer. It’s kind of hard to believe that the Oregon Grille has a happy hour at all, given its special-occasion feel (jackets required in the dining room) and baller prices—indeed, here it’s referred to as “Classic Cocktail Hour,” which is 4-7 p.m. weekdays, incidentally. But the deals are, like, kind of crazy: On Thursdays it’s $5 martinis—and not some crappy rail hooch, any gin or vodka you want (!). And get this: free oysters. Fridays they have a free sushi bar and Wednesdays, free steamed shrimp—like, what does that even . . . how? Note that this is in the bar only, which can get a bit tight. But the excellent drinks and impeccable service are likely to impress even more than the free food.
BEST SOCIAL HAPPY HOUR
Brews and Board Games Happy Hour
Fourth Tuesday of every month, the Windup Space, 12 W. North Ave., (410) 244-8855, thewindupspace.com
Mostly, happy hours are about shoving cheap food and booze into your food-and-booze hole. There are drink specials to be had at Brews and Board Games Happy Hour, held monthly at the Windup Space, but there is also a much greater sense of community and, to be honest, much more fun at hand. Organizers bring a slew of titles, new and old, to choose from, and the convivial mood fosters an environment where total strangers sit down and enjoy a game of Power Grid, Risk, or Scrabble—just to name a few—with each other (if you have a great game at home, feel free to bring it). As if that wasn’t enough, host Martine Richards hands out Cheap Ass Prizes (and some good ones too) to anybody who wins a round. Even if you don’t leave with one of those, it’s hard to walk away feeling like you’ve lost anything.
Lane Harlan at W.C. Harlan
400 W 23rd St.
There’s a lot that goes into being a great bartender. Here are two essentials: First, a certain level of affability, a friendly demeanor that makes customers feel welcome. Second, technical skill. Sure, anybody can open up a cocktail guide book and learn to pour a martini. But who can pour a classic cocktail like that in both a timely and consistent manner? For both counts, we’ve found ourselves as repeat customers at W.C. Harlan, where proprietor Lane Harlan has brought a new level of thought and care to Baltimore’s drinking scene. Simply put, she gets everything right time after time, including the inventive new ways she crafts the cocktail of the day.
BEST DAYTIME BARTENDER
Linda Ditzel at Zissiomos
1023 W. 36th St., (410) 467-4707
Thursday through Sunday mornings, starting at 6 a.m., Linda—a teensy, wiry lady with thick spectacles that look like they’re out of the ’70s, perhaps—mans the bar at Zissimos, the Hampden dive where you can always expect to find some patrons playing the gambling machines in the back, icy Bud product in hand. As the Bard wrote, “though she be but little, she is fierce.” We watched Linda, in all her wee glory, induce fear in a tardy Utz deliveryman, sullen and head-down. But she is also gentle—a kind, listening ear for many patrons—and she’ll hustle to fix you a drink or retrieve the Zissimos wifi password if you so much as wonder aloud about it. If low-key day-drinking with guaranteed entertainment is what you’re after, seek out Linda.
BEST NEW BARTENDER
Jeff Levy at Tavern on the Hill
900 Cathedral St., (410) 230-5400, tavernonthehillmtvernon.com
You’ll want to visit Jeff Levy, the bar manager at new Mount Vernon restaurant Tavern on the Hill, on Wednesdays, which entitles you to whiskeys discounted by $1.50. A Wednesday visit also enrolls you in a punch-card program, another of his inventions, and you’ll need just 10 more mid-week visits to get yourself a free tumbler of whiskey (provided it’s not the 15-year-old Balvenie or Johnnie Walker Green Label). Imported from Baltimore County, Levy has been a bartender off and on for nine years. He’s precise, informed, and inventive. Order his Manhattan, and you’ll never want for a fine drink. His knowledge of small-batch bourbons and obscure gins is impeccable. What’s more, he’s a proper conversationalist. Calling him Baltimore’s best new bartender is probably an understatement
BEST MEATBALL SUB
846 W. 36th St., (410) 814-0652, luigisdeli.net
Start with half a loaf of crusty, fresh-baked Italian bread. Hollow out the middle. Add pitch-perfect marinara, authentic provolone, and two enormous homemade meatballs, halved, prepared with meat possessing the perfect lean-to-fat ratio. Top it off with grated Parmesan. Toast it. You have the most superb meatball sub imaginable. And it’s so mammoth, you will be able to ration it into enough portions to last you for about a five meals.
BEST JUKEBOX-AND-POOL TABLE COMBO
Butt's and Betty's Tavern
2200 Gough St., (410) 276-9186
OK, sure: When you want to take your wife/special someone out, there’s always tired standbys like romantic dinners or artisanal cocktails. But if you really want to have a casually fabulous time, head over to upper Fells Point and take over Butt’s and Betty’s pool table. The cold draft beers and liberally poured whiskeys are easy on the wallet, and the jukebox provides a smorgasbord of classic rock (AC/DC, Led Zeppelin) and contemporary nonsense (uh, the Tings Tings’ “That’s Not My Name”) to soundtrack an evening of laughs and fist pumps after sinking that banked eight into the corner pocket. Plus, the memory of your wife excusing a missed shot with “I was distracted by Rush” lasts forever.
BEST PLACE FOR AGING BABY BOOMERS TO HOOK UP
527 E. Belvedere Ave., (410) 464-1944, grand-cru-baltimore.blogspot.com
You’re sick of being the creeper or cougar in the bars you used to hang out in your 20s, Match.com keeps sending you losers, and you’re starting to think that 50 is the new 80. Despair not, AARP members. Seek refuge at Grand Cru, a wine bar that’s a port in the storm catering to well-preserved baby boomers with most of their hair and teeth. Sit at the bar and you’ll immediately feel welcomed. People smile at you here, and not in a sleazy way. On a recent night, a group of professors from Morgan State shared bottles of wine next to two women in their 60s. The restrooms don’t have Viagra dispensers, but if you get lucky, it’s a fair bet you could score some just by asking around.
BEST MONDAY NIGHT
Liam Flynn's Ale House
22 W. North Ave., (410) 244-8447, pintsizepub.com
It’s Gaelic meets Gallic on post-weekend North Avenue. You’d expect an Irish bar to get its fiddle on with a trad-music night, and Liam’s beats the bodhran each Wednesday for a real good time. But on Monday evenings, this working-man’s Celtic drinkery swaps jigs for gypsy jazz and transports patrons to a throwback Parisian nightclub with Django Reinhardt manouche jazz sessions. From 8 until 11, it’s all about celebrating the jumping, acoustic guitar-driven jazz stylings Reinhardt birthed in the 1930s and ’40s (despite his having only two fingers to work the fret board). As at a true jam session, you never know what musicians will turn up, though members of the Hot Club of Baltimore, a skilled ensemble specializing in Django ditties, are regulars. We’ve also heard clarinetists, bassists, vocalists, and even someone taking on the role of violinist Stéphane Grappelli (albeit on a light-up, clear-plastic instrument). Need more enticement to separate butt from sofa on a Monday night? This is the evening when Flynn’s serves hand-pumped pints of cask-conditioned ale for $3 each until 8 p.m., and $4 a pint after that.
BEST CHANGE OF PACE
Beatnik Bar and Restaurant
2101 Maryland Ave., (215) 870-2839
When the guys who ran Bohemian Coffee House announced they were opening a bar called Beatnik, we started to hear murmurs that, based on the sometimes-lackadaisical service at the coffee shop, it might take months. Instead, it opened immediately and inside, the service is super-fast and super-friendly. We loved Bohemian, which has since closed, and its laid-back vibe, but we really, really love Beatnik, not least because we like to drink our coffee at work and our drinks in public. Plus, the food is better. And the bartenders, Grant Shprintz and Steve Carson, can both make a mean drink and are down for a good conversation.
BEST REASON YOU THINK YOU COULD BE A PROFESSIOINAL MURAL PAINTER
David's 1st and 10 Sports Bar
3626 Falls Road, (410) 662-7779
Ever feel a bit stumped by life? Get caught wondering what to do with your time on this pale blue dot? Wander over to David’s 1st and 10 Sports Bar and you will find motivation. The mural, a menagerie of Baltimore sports icons, is a testament to the power of believing in yourself, despite all evidence to the contrary. Cal Ripken Jr. stepping to the plate looks like it was drawn by a 5-year-old who believes Ripken played with rickets. The life model for the Ray Lewis portrait may have been Emmanuel Lewis. And the scene from the Super Bowl? Dear God! Little Ray Rice is nearly three times the size of Joe Flacco, and apparently their jersey numbers were tattooed on their abdomens. Just one look will leave you marveling at the power of the human spirit and firmly believing you’ve got what it takes to be a professional artist.
BEST DANCE PARTY
Glitter ThighsAnother sturdy arm of Baltimore’s multitudinous, queer-friendly music culture, the monthly dance party Glitter Thighs, which began this February, has become the all-inclusive event for LGBT and open-minded allies. In addition to providing a spirited space for partying, Glitter Thighs focuses on Baltimore-centric artists and DJs (Abdu Ali, the Dandy Vagabonds, DAZZLESTORM, the Deep in the Game crew, and more have appeared), drums up killer themes (June’s was pool party; July was “When I grow up I wanna be . . .”), and maintains a conscience. The first party raised money for FORCE, an activist-art duo intent on raising awareness of rape culture and promoting a culture of consent. And its organizers, Michael Farley (a CP contributor), Myloh Jackson, Rebecca Nagle, Sarah Tooley, and Victor Torres, are just plain ambitious: Last month, Glitter Thighs left its regular Station North locale to take place on a Tiki Barge in the Inner Harbor.
BEST UNDERGROUND VENUE
2800 Sisson St.
While it may not be operating right now—mostly due to some incidents with Baltimore police raids—the BFF held some of the best DIY shows and parties Baltimore has seen in a while. Conveniently tucked in Remington, it was home to raves, punk shows, color-themed parties around the holidays, and all-inclusive ragers. The tight space (only packing in around 200 people) all but forced everyone by some cosmic power to dance uncontrollably until the orange tint of sunrise started to peek out. It was also a magnet for popular out-of-town punk-rap acts like RatKing, Antwon, and Cities Aviv. R.I.P.? We hope not.
BEST NIGHTLIFE PLANNER
ShowspaceDutifully focused on shows, performances, and occasionally talks and readings that take place at Baltimore D.I.Y. and artist-run spaces, ShowSpace is a down-with-it Tumblr that dives a bit deeper than the events calendar of all the major Baltimore websites and publications. Updated weekly and when appropriate, linking to Facebook event pages, they’ve even created a handy guide containing the addresses of under-the-radar venues (when said venues do indeed want their addresses published). It’s a simple, effective idea executed very well and, better yet, dedicated to doing it on time and with accuracy. Ideal for out-of-town friends rolling through Baltimore, looking for a more rarefied version of the city’s arts scene.
BEST NEW VENUE
2101 Maryland Ave., (410) 630-4353, facebook.com/ClubKBaltimore
Club K is a mishmash, and that’s just why we like it. They throw shows for all different genres; sometimes they throw all different genres into one show. And the experience of seeing a gig there—well, it’s really like nothing else around, what with the neon paintings on the wall, beams of light dotting the faces of attendees and bands alike, muted Korean karaoke videos, and fog-machine smoke. The venue quickly became a hit last winter in the midst of declining warehouse shows, and the bookers who run the space have turned Club K into a hub for touring Japanese bands, bringing a rare and diverse mix of groups to Charm City. The room may be tiny, but Club K’s impact is anything but.
1910 N. Charles St., (410) 625-4848, facebook.com/TheCrownBaltimore
On hot, humid nights this summer, we didn’t have to think twice about whether or not we wanted to join other sweaty swooners at this new Station North bar and venue. What rules about the Crown’s karaoke is not necessarily the song selection, but the overall experience. You could grab the mic for a song of your choosing right at the bar, with a boozy snoball or a beef bulgogi sandwich in hand, and then go stand in front of one of the huge fans for a break from the spotlight. We’re bummed that the snoballs are no longer in season, but we’re sure the hilariously themed daily signature cocktails will keep us satisfied through the cooler months. Another plus: If you want to get wrecked and vocally embarrass yourself in front of just your friends instead of the whole bar, you can dip into one of the private karaoke rooms for a reasonable hourly fee. The combo of Korean karaoke style, complete with delicious food, nonstop shows, screenings, and more made this spot a fast favorite.
BEST COMEDY CLUB
Magooby's Joke House
9603 Deereco Road, Timonium, (410) 252-2727, magoobys.com
Yeah, it’s in Timonium, but so is the State Fair, OK? Does that stop you from going to the State Fair? Plus, there’s a really good Dollar Tree store out there; no, they’re not all the same. Magooby’s is a perfect environment for the comedy spectator. It’s housed in a stepped auditorium, so nobody’s in front of you in a way that will block your view, and even when you’re in the absolute back of the space, you still have a great sightline and can hear perfectly, assuming nobody’s being a dick and heckling. The seating and exit processes are orderly and efficient, drinks are for the most part brought promptly by your server (we drink a lot, so it might not be fair to say they didn’t come fast enough), and the food is OK, but if you’re in a comedy club for the food, you should probably be up on the stage getting paid to hear people laugh at you. Magooby’s consistently offers professional comedy at least three nights a week, frequently brings in special events from touring acts, and routinely draws big-name comics for multi-night shows, as well as providing a space for neophyte local comics to bomb. One comedian we can’t name but who was on a show with the initials Saturday Night Live, personally told us he asked around for a good club with an appreciative audience that gets it, and he was told by more than one comedian that Magooby’s is one of the best clubs not only in Baltimore but in the whole U.S. of A.
BEST ALL-NIGHT DANCE PARTY
5517 Harford Road, (410) 426-1930, hamiltontavern.com
Every second Saturday of the month, the Paradox nightclub is home for dance music legend Ultra Naté with DJ Lisa Moody and other icons in the house-music community. Deep Sugar’s lineup changes monthly, drawing DJs, producers, and recording artists of the international and local variety, all of whom have rocked the roof off. You’ll share the dancefloor with cool kids, couples on date night, b-boy/b-girl crews, and bouncing ravers. For those who are still self-conscious, the smoky main room of the Paradox is dimly lit for you to dance awkwardly in. The crowd is peaceful, the venue is spacious, and the dress code is never strict—just come ready to sweat and dance until the wee hours of the morning.