Rye 807 S. Broadway, (443) 438-3296, ryebaltimore.com. We recently directed a D.C. nightlife guru to this bar and he felt right at home, which is to say Rye is a bit on the fancier side. This is not a knock against it. In a city bereft of a good cocktail bars, Rye offers creative drinks that range from the simple-the Black Unicorn, a mix of Irish whiskey, coffee liqueur, and vanilla vodka-to the elaborate-the Moneypenny, lavender- and cinnamon-infused Scotch with ginger syrup and lemon. While prices may be a bit steep, Rye uses homemade syrups and fresh-squeezed juices in their cocktails, so you know you're getting quality.
Birds of a Feather 1712 Aliceanna St., (410) 675-8466, abs.net/~scotchjh. Southern Living recently added this Fells Point spot to its list of best whiskey bars, and we're not the least bit surprised. Birds of a Feather's cozy space and nautically themed decor give it the homey feel of any great Baltimore corner bar. This particular Baltimore corner bar just so happens to have a top-notch whiskey selection. The bulk of the list is dedicated to single malt Scotches (close to 100), but you can also find blends and whiskeys of the Irish and American variety. Owner Alicia Horn is often working behind the bar, and she usually has great suggestions for a whiskey to suit your palate.
Bartenders 2218 Boston St., (410) 534-2337, bartendersbaltimore.com. Aptly named, Bartenders is the sort of relaxed watering hole you could while away the hours at chatting with the bartender. We caught co-owner Dave Spence on a recent night. He gauged our preferences, described a couple bourbon and rye options, and bantered after knowing us for only the amount of time it took to pour our WhistlePig rye into a tumbler glass. While Bartenders carries some off-the-beaten-path bourbon brands like Black Maple Hill, Blanton's, and Triple Smoked, as well as standbys like Woodford Reserve and Buffalo Trace, they claim to sell more shots of Irish Mist whiskey liqueur than perhaps anywhere else in the United States.
The Life of Reilly 2031 E. Fairmount Ave., (410) 327-6425, thelifeofreilly.com. The highest shelf behind the copper-topped bar at the Life of Reilly (or Reilly's, as regulars call it) is lined with every Irish whiskey they could get their hands on-about 38 by our count. The homey Butcher's Hill joint orders Redbreast 12-year by the case and Powers by the half-case, and at times they go through whiskeys faster than they get them in. If you go a couple times, the bartenders (at least one of them, Niall, a true Irishman) are liable to remember your name and your poison. Connemara, Michael Collins, Bushmills, and Tyrconnell number among Reilly's offerings, conveniently enumerated on a list with tasting notes; try a flight of three for $12.
The Prime Rib 1101 N. Calvert St., #102, (410) 539-1804, theprimerib.com. Few things go better with whiskey than steak, but even if you're not eating, the Prime Rib is a prime place to enjoy a couple glasses. Mark Linzey, a longtime bartender at Baltimore's premier steakhouse, says the 19 varieties of single malt Scotch were even more popular before the smoking ban. "Back when you could have cigars, guys would sit around a lot longer enjoying a smoke and some Scotch." Scotch might be their specialty, but the Prime Rib is no slouch when it comes to bourbon and rye, boasting varieties like WhistlePig (Vermont) and High West Rendezvous (Utah). We especially like the rye-whiskey manhattan cocktail ($13.50) with Cactoctin Creek Organic Rye Whiskey and the old fashioned with WhistlePig. Both hit just the right note, and with the live piano music, classy but old-fashioned atmosphere, and friendly regulars at the bar, it is an ideal way to drink away a winter eve.
The 13th Floor 1 E. Chase St., (410) 347-0880, 13thfloor belvedere.com. The Belvedere's 13th Floor may be the best place to sit at the bar, whiling away a cold evening with a warming whiskey as you look out over the city. It is certainly the best view-sitting at the bar, you overlook the city to the north, while the tables afford a great southern view. A nice selection of whiskey-going up to the $45 glass of Johnny "Blue" and Redbreast, a nice 12-year-old Irish whiskey-gives us an internal glow to match the city's shimmering lights below. Add the specialty cocktails like the Fitzgerald and the Ward 8-13th Floor's version of the manhattan and whiskey sour, respectively-and you could be forgiven for wishing the Belvedere was still a hotel at closing time. First sign of snow, we'll see you there.
B&O American Brasserie 2 N. Charles St., (443) 692-6172, bandorestaurant.com. The B&O Brasserie is technically attached to the Hotel Monaco in the old B&O headquarters, but it's not really a hotel bar. Sure, you'll occasionally see a group of convention or wedding assholes eying you as if you're going to steal their purses-they saw The Wire!-but you can generally find a seat at the bar from which to order some of the city's finest cocktails. Brendan Dorr, dubbed "bar chef," is a virtuoso with the bottle and makes a super-mean sazerac. The manhattan made with Bulleit rye and Carpano Antica vermouth, which, according to Dorr, "makes any other vermouth look like Beaujolais nouveau," is also a standout.
Hersh's Pizza and Drinks 1843-45 Light St., (443) 438-4948, hershspizza.com. We can imagine few things that would so thoroughly flush the winter chill from one's bones than the hot boozy cider ($11) at Hersh's, which consists of Maker's Mark bourbon, apple cider, cinnamon, and cloves. If you prefer to warm up without a hot drink, there's the naughty reverend ($10), including black-tea-infused whiskey (infused in-house), Angostura bitters, and housemade lemon cordial. Of course, there's also a wide array of whiskeys, but the warmest feature might be the friendly staff, especially Jamaal Green, the master bartender, formerly of Charleston, who is as deft with a shaker as he is with a joke.