It's a rare feeling to love a bar as soon as you walk through the door.
With its quiet charm, Beatnik, a new Station North bar, delivered it almost immediately on a recent Saturday night.
Beatnik's precisely executed details, both small and significant, left a lasting impression. For a bar that opened in mid-July, it seemed confident, like its owners were fully committed to creating a cool, unpretentious hangout for Station North art types.
But you don't need to be a regular at Club K or the Crown, both music venues close to Beatnik, to appreciate what's going on here. Like newcomer W.C. Harlan, Beatnik works because its ambitions are understated and attainable. Their aim isn't to be the most popular or chic, but to execute their visions thoroughly. Both have succeeded.
As I walked into the modest space that last housed the Korean restaurant San Soo Kab San, a familiar cascade of shimmering guitars played on a jukebox. As the voice of Beach House's Victoria Legrand filled the air, I took one of the five seats at the tiny square bar.
After I ordered a draft of Stillwater Artisanal Ales' Cellar Door (discounted to $4) from Steve Carson, the 25-year-old co-owner poured himself a small cup of Long Trail Belgian White, also on tap. The simple gesture of sharing a drink together changed our demeanors from patron and owner to new acquaintances curious about each other's histories. We talked about the neighborhoods we'd lived in, how the painted walls looked so textured (his girlfriend, a Maryland Institute College of Art graduate, is a painter who lives in the Copycat Building) and his previous job as owner of Bohemian Coffee House. The ease of the conversation reaffirmed the sense that Beatnik was warm and instantly comfortable.
Creating the right ambience is the hard part, but smartly stocking the bar matters just as much. Beatnik has five taps, and refuses to waste any space on generic domestics. Aside from Cellar Door and Long Trail, Beatnik had Union Craft Brewing's Duckpin Pale Ale, Flying Fish Belgian Abbey Dubbel and Yeti Imperial Stout on draft during my visit. The number of taps isn't a fault here; instead, it further defines Beatnik as a thoughtful bar by offering esoteric and local beer choices without a whiff of self-importance.
Beatnik also has a traditional cocktail list that includes an Old Fashioned, dry martini, Cosmopolitan, Side Car, New Orleans Fizz and Blueberry Lemonade. On a hot August night, the Lemonade ($5) made the most sense. It was the right choice, as Beatnik's take on the common cocktail was one of the most refreshing drinks I've tasted this year. It consisted of Luksusowa potato vodka, fresh squeezed lemon juice, store-brand lemonade from a can, muddled blueberries and a homemade syrup mix of boiled organic blueberries and water. The fresh fruit mix enlivened the drink with a natural sweetness that store-bought mixes often get wrong. The cocktail's final touch exemplified the care Beatnik takes in its product: The blueberry remnants left from making the mix were baked on a cooking tray, broken into pieces and served as a garnish. It was like a Fruit Roll-Up without the high-fructose corn syrup and artificial food coloring.
As I enjoyed the cocktail, Carson opened up the cash register and pulled out a dollar for the jukebox. While the plan is to have the entire catalog from Baltimore label Friends Records on it eventually — another on-the-nose hat-tip to the city — the jukebox was the only aspect of Beatnik that seemed to be a work in progress. It didn't matter: Carson selected the latest single from Kendrick Lamar, and as the Compton rapper asked no one in particular not to kill his vibe, I nodded in agreement.
Back story: Formerly a Korean restaurant, Beatnik is a laid back lounge with a small but smart beer and cocktail list. There's a limited menu that offers Scotch Egg, pork belly tacos and more.
Parking: Free and metered on the street
Signature drink: The Blueberry Lemonade ($5) is light and refreshing, thanks to its house-made blueberry mix.
Where: 2101 Maryland Ave., Station North
Contact: 215-870-2839, facebook.com/bmorebeatnik
Open: 6 p.m.-2 a.m. dailyCopyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun