Call it little-brother syndrome, but at times, many of us go to great lengths to avoid giving Washington credit — of any kind. But one area in which D.C. has Baltimore beat, undeniably, is its abundance of rooftop bars.
When the weather warms here, we have minor options like Woody's Cantina and Splash Pool Bar & Grille, but the offerings pale in comparison to what D.C. neighborhoods like Adams Morgan and Georgetown have. In Baltimore, the void is real, and fans of outdoor socializing and imbibing know it.
Late last September, the Lord Baltimore Hotel looked to take advantage of the blind spot when it opened LB Skybar, an uncovered rooftop bar on its 19th floor. It only operated for 20 days or so, according to Brad Daniels, director of food and beverage for the hotel, due to a late start in the warm-weather season. Daniels looked at it as a time to work the kinks out.
Less than a year later, the LB Skybar — open Wednesday-Saturday evenings — appeared in full operational swing on a recent Friday. The elevator ride built the anticipation, and after walking out onto the open-air bar, my expectations were exceeded.
The Skybar proved why there's such a hunger here for rooftop bars: Based on location alone, it's an experience most soon won't forget.
It's not often you can enthusiastically recommend a hotel bar, but this 1,800-square-foot lounge in the sky — with its comfortable seats and couches — should be the latest addition to your bucket-list for Baltimore bars. Simply enjoying a drink at the Skybar feels fantastic on a warm evening.
On this night, approximately 30 others were there, casually enjoying conversation as sharable plates of sushi arrived. (Daniels said the space can fit 125.) The setting was made for relaxation and conversation, even as sugary pop songs by Demi Lovato and 5 Seconds of Summer played over the speakers.
The Skybar, though, is still a hotel bar, which means its selection has limits. The bar is more like a station, set up in the corner by the entrance and lined with liquor bottles. Eight brands of beers, 10 types of wine and five cocktails (along with red and white sangria) are offered.
And just like a hotel bar, prices aren't cheap either. A Heineken cost $7, while all of the cocktails were $12. Frankly, given the cool factor of the location, I expected worse.
The cocktails were on point, too, with heavy enough pours and simple twists on familiar flavors. A variation on a Tom Collins, the Sky Collins combines Hendrick's gin and lemon juice, and adds muddled cucumber and honey. Splashes of cranberry and club soda make the refreshing drink even easier to sip.
We liked the Honey Mint Julep, because it's hard to complain about Bulleit rye whiskey, house-made honey-mint syrup and a splash of water. The Blueberry Lemon Drop, however, fell flat. The cocktail is only Stoli blueberry vodka, lemon juice and simple syrup — a recipe that could have used a pop of flavor from another ingredient.
The night's highlight was the Jalapeno Paloma, a tequila-based drink made with Patron Silver, triple sec, grapefruit juice, bitters and the star ingredient — jalepeno muddled in simple syrup.
When a friend told the bartender to ramp up the heat — but not too much! — on her second Paloma, he delivered the right amount of spicy kick she wanted by mixing in a few more seeds from the pepper. It showed a nice touch.
Though the drinks were fine, they mostly felt like pricey accessories at the Skybar. They're something to hold while you gawk over the ledge.
Most important, Daniels said the hotel learned from last year's brief debut, and realized questionable aspects he originally planned wouldn't work. That means the "smart casual" dress code — a concept with no real meaning — isn't an actual rule, though staff will ask a male patron in, say, a sleeveless undershirt to leave, Daniels said. T-shirts, shorts and baseball hats are fine.
The other proposed rule that raised eyebrows was a $25 minimum — in theory, patrons would buy two drink tickets before entering. But Daniels nixed the idea this year, understanding a rigid requirement would likely keep the curious away. The bar is better without it.
Based on my conversation with Daniels after my visit, he seemed to still be tinkering with the operation (the cocktail menu will change once more to include more citrus flavors; live music is launching on Wednesday nights this month), but he's encouraged by the early response. He should be, because no matter what you think of the drinks or the layout, his hotel has provided the city with a bar it has long wanted.
Sure, the setting does the heavy lifting, but who cares? With the wait finally over, it's time to take in the view.