Since opening in mid-December, Locust Point newcomer 1157 Bar & Kitchen has attracted three types of customers, according to chef-owner Jason Ambrose.
All make sense: intrigued neighborhood lifers who give Locust Point its blue-collar reputation, Under Armour employees who walk from campus to fill the modest space for Friday happy hours, and the affluent residents who moved into nearby luxury condominiums in recent years.
A recent Saturday night visit confirmed the wide-ranging and savvy clientele knows what they are doing. Everything about 1157 —its understated, modern design, its informed-yet-casual servers, its clever menu — works in harmony without ever feeling pretentious. This is a bar you hope catches on because it appears to do everything right.
Fans of Salt in Upper Fells Point will not be surprised. Former Sun critic Elizabeth Large named Salt the year's best new restaurant when it opened in 2006, and it has only further cemented its standing over time as a food destination in an overlooked area.
Ambrose hopes to achieve the same respect at 1157, but through a different approach. This is a bar first (the name's arrangement was deliberate, he said), which means operating with approachability in mind first. With 30 seats, 1157 would make an appropriately intimate setting for a date — especially given the sleek row of two-person dining booths by the bar — but on Saturday, it was just as comfortable hosting small groups of friends as it was attending to solo patrons watching basketball on the lone TV above the bar.
The most appealing quality of 1157 is its refreshingly streamlined menu. Too often, bars overextend themselves by offering too many “signature cocktails,” when they should have cut the selection in half and kept the truly memorable drinks.
At 1157, there are four recognizable cocktails, and on my visit, all were well executed, with enough flavor to keep one happily sipping and enough alcoholic kick to forget the swirling winds outside. More good things: All of the cocktails cost less than $10 and contain three-to-five ingredients.
The smokiness of the El Peloton de la Muerte mezcal in the Border Patrol ($9) paired successfully with the sweet notes from its maple syrup and Cointreau triple sec. The Bloody Mule ($9), properly served in a copper mug, had surprising depth thanks to the floral Fruitlab ginger liqueur and the clear potato Luksusowa vodka. The Mule's use of blood-orange syrup provided just enough of a twist on a familiar cocktail.
The king of the foursome was the Black Manhattan ($9), whose inclusion of brandied cherries and the Italian digestif Averna Amaro resulted in a deep black cherry flavor. When it crept toward being too sweet, the rightful and true star — Medley Bros. bourbon from Owensboro, Ky. — grounded the cocktail with its bold, woodsy flavor.
The menu never tries to do too much, and that includes its beer and wine offerings. (Even the food, with its small plates and two entrees, lacked excess.) All eight draft options were craft, including Baltimore's Stillwater Brontide porter ($6), Monkton's Millstone Farmgate Cider ($7) and imports like Duchesse de Bourgogne Sour ($8) from Belgium and the classic German pilsner Bitburger ($5). Seven types of white wine and five types of red ($8-$10 per glass) will likely not blow sommeliers away, but like its beer, 1157 smartly offers a variety of brands located across the world.
Besides the proximity of Under Armour's campus, 1157’s location fails to do it many favors in terms of potential foot traffic. My advice to those familiar with 1157's charms is to keep talking. Maybe even shout it, because 1157 deserves the attention, even as it quietly toils away from the city's nightlife hubs.