Baltimore is a bar-lover's town. From low-key corner dives to swanky cocktail lounges, there's a spot for every occasion and everyone has a favorite haunt.
We asked some of the best in Baltimore's bar business where — and what — they like to drink when they're off-duty. Their beverage preferences vary, from local beers to complex cocktails, but they agree that to be a favorite, the bar has to have great atmosphere. It doesn't have to be fancy or pretty – but it needs good people behind the bar, a solid selection of beverages and the kind of welcoming vibe that makes every patron feel like a regular.
Next time you think about bellying up to the bar, take direction from the professionals. They know where to go – and what to order.
Dave Williams, bartender at Mutiny Pirate Bar and Island Grille
Drink of choice: Margarita en Fuego
Where he finds it: Barcocina in Fells Point
Why: At Mutiny Pirate Bar, Dave Williams' working hours are often soaked in rum, but when he's off the clock, Williams looks for another spirit: tequila. "Barcocina has a fantastic selection of good tequila, and they know how to use it to make a great cocktail," he says. "I enjoy everything on their cocktail menu, but my favorite is the Margarita en Fuego."
His go-to drink is a spicy take on the traditional beachy beverage, made with jalapeno-infused Tanteo tequila and fresh lime juice. Williams praises the drink's fresh citrus and spicy kick, and says he likes that it is not not overcomplicated.
"You don't have to reinvent the wheel to impress me," he says. "A classic drink made well is going to be better than some new-school concoction that focuses more on gimmick than balance. Barcocina flirts with some wild ingredients but with a level of restraint that showcases their tequila and keeps their cocktails accessible."
Doug Atwell, bartender at Rye
Drink of choice: Red wine
Where he finds it: Henninger's Tavern in Fells Point
Why: At Rye, Doug Atwell is well known for his thoughtful and carefully constructed cocktails. But when he has a night off, he puts down the shaker and slips over to Henninger's Tavern for a nice glass of red wine — preferably a Petit Syrah or Malbec.
"It's close to my house, has an incredible atmosphere and is a great place to relax on a rare night off," he says. On weeknights during baseball season, Atwell often finds himself wandering down to Henninger's around the seventh inning. "I'll have a glass of wine and watch the last innings of the game and talk to my neighbors and just kind of relax. I can take a deep breath before I go into my weekend, which will be crazy."
Atwell says he frequently finds himself recommending Henninger's to friends and family. "When people come into town, they're always looking for a very 'Baltimore' kind of place," he says, noting that with its friendly atmosphere — plus great food — Henninger's provides a classic introduction to Charm City.
Samantha Hofherr, beverage director for Slainte, Kooper's Tavern and Woody's Rum Bar
Drink of choice: Dr. Pepper shooter
Where she finds it: Bartenders in Canton
As the beverage director for Slainte Irish Pub and Restaurant, Woody's Rum Bar and all three Kooper's Tavern locations, Samantha Hofherr stays busy. When she does have some down time, she likes to let off steam at Bartenders, on Boston Street in Canton.
Hofherr likes Bartenders for the ambience and (of course) the bartenders. Hofherr likes it so much that she and her husband headed straight there after getting married at the courthouse last February. "They opened early and wrote 'Congratulations!' on the chalkboards," she says.
At Bartenders, Hofherr sometimes drinks beer or whisky but she also partakes in a special house drink, the Dr. Pepper — a shot of amaretto poured into a Miller High Life "pony" (a 7-ounce bottle) after a sip has been taken. The drink — so named because the combination tastes like a Dr. Pepper soda — was the brainchild of the Bartenders staff, though it has "old school" roots, according to owner Dave Spence.
"There's an old-school shot called the Flaming Dr. Pepper," he says. "Put some amaretto in a shot glass, top it with Bacardi, light it on fire and drop it in a beer."
One night about five years ago, at the end of the evening, a couple of guys were sitting at Bartenders drinking Miller High Life ponies and started experimenting with amaretto. Next thing they knew, they had a hit on their hands — one that became a signature drink for the bar and a favorite for Hofherr.
Erin Laurie-Walshe, bar manager at Clementine
Drink of choice: Daily Concoction
Where she finds it: The Other Corner Charcuterie Bar in Hampden
Clementine's ethos is all about high quality ingredients and farm-to-table food and drinks, with an emphasis on creative experimentation. So it's no surprise that when bar manager Erin Laurie-Walshe is away from work, she enjoys seeing what other bartenders create.
She frequently finds herself at The Other Corner, the petite charcuterie and cocktail bar attached to the Corner Restaurant in Hampden. The Other Corner's drink list is fascinating and ambitious and includes a "daily concoction" that incorporates unusual liqueurs.
"I love when restaurants embrace the idea of cocktails being an experiment and not being afraid to try new things," says Laurie-Walshe. "It's a great way to have someone else experiment for you or to try something you couldn't come up with yourself."
Stephen London, bartender at Cunningham's
Drink of choice: Monument City Brewing 51 Rye
Where he finds it: Swallow at the Hollow in Baltimore
For Stephen London, it's the bartenders who make the bar. When he's not creating fabulous cocktails at Cunningham's in Towson, he's often a few miles south, at Swallow at the Hollow.
Long before Cunningham's opened, London worked at the now-shuttered Crush in Belvedere Square. While there, he got to know a small crew of bartenders and managers who are now at the Swallow.
"The Swallow has always had a special place in my heart," he says. "I moved away for six years and when I came back, it was like no time had passed at all. I just slip back into that crowd and feel welcome. It's a nice neighborhood bar with a good atmosphere."
When there, London orders simply and locally. Monument City Brewing's 51 Rye, an IPA brewed with 51 percent rye, is a favorite. "It has a little spice to it and the hops give it strong character," he says. "It's just a solid beer."
Sam Waller, bartender at White Oak Tavern
Drink of choice: Sour beer
Where he finds it: Phoenix Emporium in Ellicott City
At White Oak Tavern, both the crew behind the bar and in the kitchen are the best kind of beer geeks. For bartender Sam Waller, working around beer isn't enough – he looks for interesting brews in his off hours, too. That's why he loves The Phoenix Emporium on Main Street in Historic Ellicott City.
"They have a rotating beer list and about a hundred bottled beers," he says. That list includes a couple sour beers, an emerging trend that Waller especially likes.
"They have Monk's Café, a Belgian Flanders red ale, and a beer called Petrus that was voted one of the best sour beers in the world," he says. "It's an emerging trend. Breweries are experimenting with it but you can't always get your hands on it. It's a sought after style."
Waller also loves the Phoenix's historic building and the new top floor dance floor that's been opened on weekends. "It's cool," he laughs. "And I just got an apartment a block away."