Minnow stands out in South Baltimore with whimsical cocktails, technique

The woman at the bar asked if she could take my picture.

The reason wasn’t actually me, but my drink: Love Potion No. 8, a new cocktail on the fall menu at Minnow, the chic-yet-casual, seafood-focused restaurant and bar in South Baltimore. Placed on the bar top, the pale yellow drink dramatically released billows of smoke, the result of the bartender’s adding dry ice, which rapidly cooled down the vodka-based drink.

Its purpose — a conversation-starter — worked. After snapping the photo, the patron asked the bartender for more details.

That’s the goal of the bar program, said Jake Lefenfeld, who opened Minnow on the ground floor of the 2 East Wells apartment building with his brother, Ben, and his wife, Amy. (The Lefenfeld trio also own La Cuchara in the Jones Falls area.) They want to elicit ooh’s and ahh’s with whimsical cocktails that use an array of spirits and techniques.

Opened in May, Minnow appeared settled in on a recent Friday night visit to its 850-square-foot bar. Shooting for a comfortable space somewhere between a neighborhood tavern and a fine-dining experience, Minnow doesn’t take itself too seriously — from its bright lighting to its knick-knack decor accents — which works to its benefit. The high-end bar program felt even more striking against the informal background.

The cocktail list (mostly $8-$11) exemplified the approach. The names were silly (One Tough Kitten, John With Socks) and referenced pop culture touchstones (Old Man & the Sea, Velvet Underground), but there was a built-in sophistication, too. The flavors of the Love Potion No. 8 popped because of the interplay between the St. Germain and a house-made “zen liquor,” a tea-based liqueur made with spearmint and peppermint.

The Old Man & the Sea bucked the recent local trend of sweet, tiki-style rum-based cocktails, instead using a blend Minnow calls “Baltimore bitters” that’s heavy on flavors that evoke Old Bay. It mellowed out the bright notes from the Papa’s Pilar Rum and pineapple shrub.

The star of the night was F* That’s Delicious, a take on the classic French 75, though Minnow adds a couple twists: Ramazzotti amaro, an herbal liqueur less bitter than typical amaros, and Bulleit bourbon instead of gin. Cava sparkling wine adds refreshing bubbles.

F* That’s Delicious is named after rapper Action Bronson’s travel TV show of the same name on Viceland, and feels like a fitting reference point for Minnow. The restaurant seems to aspire to be a place the bon vivant and his cohorts would seek out: cool and unstuffy, but with a thoughtfulness to its products and attitude. It’s a perspective that feels in sync with the direction Baltimore’s bar scene seems to be headed.

I’m not complaining. And overall, there was little reason to do so.

Service began strong, with our first bartender explaining the chemistry of the Love Potion No. 8, and instructing us to give it a little bit of time to stop smoking before sipping. As more customers arrived, the attention to detail wavered a bit, with fewer one-on-one interactions and explanations of the drinks. It wasn’t a big deal, but it also wasn’t the top-end level of service I always receive at La Cuchara, Minnow’s fancier sister restaurant.

Still, I kept finding more reasons to come back for another visit. The Toddies for the Table ($25), a tableside presentation of hot toddies for four, looked like a crowd-pleaser. Whiskey enthusiasts should know Minnow has a five-pour, five-ounce sampler of Whistle Pig whiskeys for $99, including the celebrated Black Prince bottle. I also spotted the sought-after Pappy Van Winkle bourbons, with pours reasonably priced at $24, $29 and $36 for the 10-year, 12-year and 15-year versions, respectively. I appreciate any bar deciding not to mark up the price in the name of greed.

At bars, vibe matters so much, and Minnow has one that’s easy to like. I left convinced it was a bar well on its way to becoming a South Baltimore staple — an alternative for Federal Hill, Locust Point and Riverside nightlife regulars in search of something quirkier and well-executed. I’m already curious to see what they’ll do with the spring menu.


If you go

Backstory: Opened in May, Minnow is the second restaurant from the team behind La Cuchara, the impressive Basque-inspired restaurant in the Jones Falls area. Minnow is the more casual of the two, with a modest bar that produces high-end cocktails. It also has wines by the bottle and glass, and six craft beers on draft.

Parking: Complimentary valet

Handicap accessible: Yes

Signature drink: F* That's Delicious ($11), Minnow's bourbon-based take on a French 75

Where: 2 E. Wells St., South Baltimore

Contact: 443-759-6537, minnowbaltimore.com

Open: 5 p.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 5 p.m.-11 p.m. Friday-Saturday; 5 p.m.-9 p.m. Sunday (11 a.m.-2 p.m. brunch Saturday-Sunday)


wesley.case@baltsun.com

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