There’s something about walking down a set of steps to enter a bar that make us feel like we’re in on a secret. And it only gets better if the place is out in the open and right under everyone’s noses. That’s the beauty of Matthew’s Stellar Cellar Bar. Everyone in Highlandtown knows about Matthew’s Pizza, the landmark pizza parlor across Eastern Avenue from the Creative Alliance, but even some neighbors don’t know about the bar in the basement. The bar is only open Friday and Saturday nights and has just six stools. By its small nature, the place seems cozy without being packed. On all our visits, regulars and first-timers mingle like family at a reunion where everyone ended up in the club basement. No one enters without a happy greeting from Enza Anderson, the bartender, with the owner Chris Maler hanging nearby.
With just a little prompting, Anderson pours us a shot of Fireball Cinnamon Whisky, which she calls “the house appetizer.” They serve a lot of it. “I go through a case a week,” says Maler, “And I’m only open two days.” The prices match the bar’s small size—domestic bottles are $3 and imports are $4. But that doesn’t mean the selection is limited: The bar still stocks 25 beers, including our favorite, Birra Moretti, an Italian specialty. Perhaps most astounding is Maler’s insistence upon only serving premium liquor at inflation-defying prices. We’ve enjoyed Maker’s Mark, Jameson, Bombay Sapphire, and Oban—with nothing costing more than $8.
Customers waiting in the bar for a table upstairs often elect to order a pizza and a bottle of wine and spend the evening downstairs instead. That’s what we did. Matthew’s kitchen closes at 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday nights. But when asked what time Matthew’s Stellar Cellar Bar closes, Maler replies, “The bar stays open until people are through having fun.” That says it all.