Federal Hill already has Metropolitan, the Abbey Burger Bistro and Bluegrass — bars that are known for their ample beer lists. Even the Don't Know Tavern has 30 draft lines.
Until last summer, there had also been Muggsy's, Danny Young's cozy beer outpost on Light Street. But because of the competition and a limiting six-day liquor license, Muggsy's closed.
To replace it, there's now Brewer's Cask, which if you couldn't tell from its name, has the slogan, "Love Thy Beer" to let you know exactly what kind of bar it is. Leave it to a beer bar to beget another beer bar.
If you hadn't been to Muggsy's, this new bar looks deceptively small from the outside. Drive too fast on Light and you just might miss it. The forgettable green exterior has been replaced with jauntier shades of red and dark brown, so that it if weren't for two imitation casks on the facade, it could almost pass for a quaint fire station.
Brewer's Cask is two floors, one used mainly as the bar proper and the second as a dining room. A row of stools and high-top tables face the long bar. It is softly lit, with accent lights across the room and small candles at each table, all punctuated by the glare from several flat-screen TVs. At the very end of the bar, a working fireplace sputters. The lighting, fireplace and tasteful colors set a mood — the bar looks comfortable, like a clean-cut tavern. It is more casual than The Hill but not as sloppy as Don't Know.
When I visited during happy hour Thursday night — beers are a buck off before 7 p.m. — the bar counted on a solid turnout. Conversations — about "The Walking Dead," about the Ravens, from what I could hear — were undercut by the squawking coming from the TVs, which were broadcasting one of the GOP debates.
It is a shame that the general noise of cable news must also follow us into bars. Thankfully, someone who worked at Brewer's Cask had the good sense to turn up the jukebox to drown out John King. It was the first time I was ever grateful to hear Foster the People come on.
My bartender was a perky blonde who was highly attentive throughout the night, and I got the sense that the rest of the staff was just as gracious.
With a name like Brewer's Cask, you'd expect the bar to have a decent beer menu, and it doesn't disappoint. There are 20 beers on draft — including Shiner Bock ($5) and Dale's Pale Ale ($5; the priciest draft beer is $5.50) — and 50 by the bottle, including Goose Island IPA and Rogue American Amber (bottles top at $12).
That menu manages to be about as comprehensive as Metropolitan's; it's decent, and name-checks some well-regarded breweries, like Chicago's Goose Island and San Diego's Green Flash. But it's not going to impress the most hardened beer snobs. The city's top-10 beer bars can rest easy. It should be noted regional beer is well represented here.
Brewer's dining menu is much less ambitious — lots of fried finger foods, sandwiches (I had a BLT that was big enough for leftovers, for $7.99) and seafood. But bless them for including tater tots ($5.99), which I was really craving when I went.
While I waited for my order, I checked out the second floor, which was mostly empty. With its newly varnished dark wood floors and exposed brick walls, it looked hardly used. There was a second bar upstairs and about seven tables looking out over Light Street, small windows framing a Domino's Pizza across the street. It was also brighter than the first floor and therefore less inviting.
From my table downstairs, it was clear the owners had made a real effort here. There are two kinds of Federal Hill bars: urbane and unfussy (Idle Hour, The Hill), and unpolished and loud (MaGerk's, Don't Know). Brewer's falls somewhere in the middle. The bar it reminds me most of is Abbey Burger Bistro.
While it's not going to remake the Baltimore beer scene, Brewer's Cask is comfortable and welcome once in a while. Like a nice basket of tater tots.
Backstory: Brewer's Cask is run by Jason Stevens, who took over the space after previous co-owner Danny Young decided not to renew Muggsy's Mug House's contract in June. Young said the bar was struggling financially in the face of neighborhood competition. Stevens is leasing from Ken Krucenski, who ran Sean Bolan's out of the building until 2005.
Parking: Street, metered parking available.
Signature drink: The bar carries 20 beers on draft — about 50 by the bottle — and 13 wines by the glass. All drafts are under $5.50; bottles average that price, but some of the Belgians are $9 and $12. The dining menu is between $6.99 (hand-carved turkey served bar-side) and $31.99 (bourbon filet surf 'n' turf).
Where: 1236 Light St., Baltimore
Contact: 410-273-9377; brewerscask.com
Open: 11 a.m.-1 a.m. Monday-Saturday; kitchen closes at midnight. The bar is open for lunch.