The new Baltimore Bartenders Guild issues no seals of approval. It simply demands that prospective members give a damn about the ingredients and ingenuity of their cocktails.
Since profiling the guild last month, I've been checking out members who are new to Baltimore, such as Adrian Ross-Boon of Wit & Wisdom. The results so far — including my most recent excursion to check out Tim Riley's work at Ten Ten — are proving that the guild's ethos is promoting effort, individuality and a desire to surprise customers with something they won't find at just any bar.
The bar at the relatively new Harbor East bistro is considered, looks good and has knock-out cocktails. These include what may be the ideal Preakness cocktail, a drink that could finally dethrone the dreaded Black-Eyed Susan.
The beer and wine list are also outstanding, with selections for every palate.
That said, this is not a young person's bar. Ten Ten closes at 10 p.m. on weeknights and 11 p.m. on weekends — that puts it out of step with much of nearby Fells Point.
It was telling that, according to a bartender, when Ten Ten closes, a lot of the staff goes for a nightcap at the nearby Heavy Seas Alehouse, which also has an impressive cocktail list but closes at midnight and has a late-night menu.
The cocktails at Ten Ten, eight in all, are a shade more expensive than at Wit & Wisdom; the Maximilian Affair is $14. The beers, even a Guinness, start at $6.
The hours are a pain because the bar works. When I left, an older guy who was not the party type — he was sporting a pink polo and khakis — asked the bartender, "Where can I go next?"
The bar at Ten Ten faces away from the restaurant, which is all exposed brick, understated black-and-white photographs, and flattering lighting — something else older folks will appreciate. This gives it privacy and a zen quality — you can just sit in the corner knocking back cocktails and no one will bother you.
It is also primed for ultimate comfort. The stools are ample, and the bar, which is lit from underneath, has a leather rim. Someone had the good conscience to turn off both its flat-screens.
Throughout, the industrial look is heightened by a cool metal motif: a tin roof; a discreet, six-piece lamp; an antique aluminum American flag; and a fine chain curtain separating the dining room and the more casual space behind the bar.
The elegant decor is complemented by the elegant drinks menu. The beers, six on draft and 16 in cans and bottles, display variety and a sense of the region. Riley has included two drafts by the Baltimore microbrewer Stillwater Ales: a Belgian stout and a saison, the uniquely flavored and surprising Kopstoodje.
He's also put together a wine list that aims to please. For demanding wine drinkers, there are obscure bottles — a Barboursville, Va., moscato blend and a vouvray from the respected French estate Domaine Huet. But there are brands such as Urban and Geyser Peak that will be more familiar to regular diners. It also has a nice variety of New World and Old World wines. There are lots of American brands, including many from Maryland and Virginia.
When it came time to pick a cocktail, there could be only one choice for me: the Periodista, Spanish for journalist. The drink was bound to be tasty — it combines dark rum, brandy and fresh lime juice. But it was enhanced by a lime peel, which was rubbed on the edge of the glass and then dropped inside, bringing out the cocktail's aroma and zest.
The first thought when I had my second cocktail, the Bagby Back-Nine, is that it would be a great drink for the Preakness. What you want at the Preakness is something that is accessible and refreshing. The Black Eyed-Susan is the definition of a simple drink — some whiskey, some vodka, top it off with a sweet-and-sour mix that is almost always pre-made, never fresh.
With the Back-Nine, Riley had the brilliant idea of infusing vodka in-house with sweet tea, the ideal outdoors thirst-quencher. The rest of it is just lemonade served over a tall glass filled with ice, and the bartender used some orange bitters to bring out the citrusy flavor.
Like Ten Ten, it was inventive without sacrificing a crowd-pleasing flavor.
Back story: Ten Ten opened last fall in Harbor East, next to Bagby Pizza Co., also run by the Bagby Restaurant Group. Tim Riley, a member of the Baltimore Bartender's Guild, has put together a drinks menu that highlights regional wines and craft cocktails.
Signature drink: the Bagby Back-Nine ($11). Cocktails are $9 to $14. Wines by the glass are $7 to $13. Draft beers top off at $8.
Open: 11 a.m.-10 p.m. Mondays-Thursdays; closes at 11 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays; at 9 p.m. Sundays.
Where: 1010 Fleet St., behind Bagby Pizza.
Parking: Metered, street parking is available in Little Italy and Harbor East.
Contact: bagbys1010.com or 410.244.6867Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun