Opening a new hotel bar in Harbor East poses a challenge. Aesthetically, the neighborhood requires chicness, but there is also a desire to appeal to all comers, especially given the proximity to downtown. Straddling the line between comfort and sophistication demands a delicate touch.
It all leads to the question: How does a hotel bar attract a local crowd?
Apropoe's, the ambitious bar and restaurant inside the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel, has attempted to find an answer. After Grill 700, the hotel's previous eatery, closed in December, the area was completely gutted for renovations. More than three months later, according to the hotel's director of sales and marketing, Julie Codus, the rebranded Apropoe's opened on March 18.
On a recent Sunday evening, I entered the Marriott and noticed a small rectangular sign that read Apropoe's on my right, but there was no obvious entry point. Passing a large lounge on my left, I asked an employee which direction I should head. To my surprise, she said the open lounge, and the sprawling area around it, was in fact Apropoe's. At first glance, I could not tell if it was a coffee bar (a prominent Starbucks logo by the hallway sent an unclear signal) or a massive waiting area (there was a fireplace nearby with couches and large reading chairs).
The layout of Apropoe's is free-flowing by design. The Grill 700 dining area felt disjointed, Codus said, so the goal was to create a space that transitioned seamlessly from bar to dining room to great room. The hope, it seems, is for Apropoe's to be a catchall to guests — a place where comfortable lounging, dining and drinking can all take place in a single area. This vision was executed, but the result feels undefined and slightly confusing.
Because it is in a high-rise hotel, Apropoe's must work even harder to give locals a reason to come. Ideally, Codus said, the bar will emerge as a place to grab a beer and watch a game, since Apropoe's boasts more than 30 TVs. After Harbor East's best sports bar, Townhouse Kitchen and Bar, closed earlier this year, a void was left. But Apropoe's does not seem poised to fill it, because very little about it says "sports bar." The TVs integrated into the bar are too tiny to enjoy any action, and contemporary jazz lightly fills the air instead of play-by-play commentary. The big-screen TVs are in the lounge, an area that seemed too lethargic and e-reader-friendly to create the appropriate sports bar atmosphere.
While the effectiveness of the layout is debatable, the beer selection at Apropoe's should be welcomed anywhere in Baltimore. The draft list (all $6, except for $5 Miller Lite) offers a dozen options, and there is an emphasis on local brews (Flying Dog, Heavy Seas, The Raven and DuClaw are represented).
Nine cocktails are made with fresh juices and delivered with high price tags ($11-$14). The Silver Spoon ($13) was a subtle mixture of Patron Silver tequila, cucumber basil simple syrup and club soda. The Raven ($13) — Hendrick's gin, Aperol, balsamic vinegar (which added surprising sweetness similar to grape juice) and ginger beer — was bolder and better balanced. Both were fine, just like the attentive bartender serving them, but a hint of disappointment lingered because of the cost. Cocktails this expensive should blow a customer's hair back, and these did not.
Apropoe's is the Marriott's first restaurant renovation since it opened in 2001. It cost the hotel $5 million, according to Codus, and it looks every bit the part. The design has a modern and clean effect in a way that recalls Crate and Barrel and Banana Republic. If I were a guest staying at the Marriott and did not wish to leave the premises, Apropoe's would work as a sleek-but-approachable bar-lounge hybrid. But if I were willing to take a short walk to explore Harbor East and its surrounding neighborhoods, it is hard to imagine Apropoe's not becoming overshadowed by more clearly defined options. Such a thing simply might not exist, but the search for the rare hotel bar poised to attract locals continues.
Back story: Formerly Grill 700, Apropoe's — named after Edgar Allan Poe — opened in mid-March after months of total renovation inside the Baltimore Marriott Waterfront Hotel. The result is a bar-lounge hybrid with a lot of open space and a Baltimore-centric bar program.
Parking: On-site and valet parking available for a fee. There are parking garages in the area, too.
Signature drink: The gin-based Raven ($13), with its touch of balsamic vinegar, should waken any palate.
Where: 700 Aliceanna St., Harbor East
Contact: 410-895-1879, marriott.com
Open: 11-1 a.m. Sunday-Thursday; 11-2 a.m. Friday and Saturday