Expectations were predictably high, and how could they not?
Opened in late May after months of anticipation, Of Love and Regret could be Brewers Hill's highest-profile collaboration ever. The duo behind it come with reputations: Stillwater Artisanal Ales' founder Brian Strumke and Jack's Bistro's co-owner/chef Ted Stelzenmuller have teamed up, hoping to create a blissful marriage of Strumke's craft beers and Stelzenmuller's affordable, seasonal food.
After two recent visits to the consistently packed establishment, it's safe to say their goal has been accomplished nearly out of the gate.
Formerly Natty Boh Lounge at Canton Station, Of Love and Regret is a special addition to Baltimore's bar scene, the type of place to proudly show off to out-of-town friends. It's a bar that could help transform Brewers Hill into a destination, not just Canton's hanger-on cousin. And yes, it's one of the best new bars of the year.
Such lofty praise might sound like hyperbole, but from the drinks menu alone, it's justified. Of Love and Regret is a wonderful new home for beer lovers.
Don't ask for a Bud Light or even a Stella Artois, because they don't serve them. Instead, your choices come from the 22 unmarked taps along the bar's wall (the 23rd is Stillwater's own iced coffee, in case the beers hit you all at once).
In addition to beer, Of Love and Regret also offers more than a half-dozen "craft concoctions." I tried the Premium Sake Mojito ($9), a mix of Momokawa Pearl Sake, mint and lime, topped off with Stillwater Premium beer. A beer cocktail can be intimidating, but this was delicious and bright, thanks to the healthy amount of mint.
For those unfamiliar with Stillwater, here's a precis: Strumke is a critically acclaimed nomadic brewer, renting space and equipment rather than owning his own spot. (Of Love and Regret, his first brick-and-mortar shop, is the closest thing to a Stillwater headquarters, even though the beer isn't brewed on the premises.)
Stillwater has developed a cult following for its clever brews (the $7 Premium, for example, is a savory reinvention of Natty Boh) and smart collaborations. The peppery Debutante ($8) is the result of a Baltimore beer lover's fantasy merger of Stillwater and Brewers Art. Draft Magazine rightfully named it one of the Top 25 beers of last year.
Stelzenmuller is a perfect fit for Strumke's vision — a celebrated yet not widely known chef with a reputation for taking culinary chances. Amateur foodies looking for fun can find items such as crispy pig ears ($10) and a Morrocan-influenced Berber Burger ($9) on the menu. (Present your Of Love and Regret receipt at Stelzenmuller's other restaurant, Jack's Bistro, to receive a complimentary chocolate mac and cheese, too.)
Stillwater beers are inexplicably missing from many Baltimore bars, which is a shame, but that also makes Of Love and Regret a blessing. Albeit pricey for the area (drinks range from $7-$9), the drafts make Of Love and Regret worth visiting multiple times, just to try a new brew.
Once you've crossed the Stillwaters off your list, there are nine other interesting beers to order, including Evil Twin's Freudian Slip ($9) and Wild Cherry Porter, a dark wine-meets-stout from Westminster's Pub Dog.
Of Love and Regret's other draw is its welcoming close quarters. It's a relaxed place, but it's also loud, with laughter and upbeat jazz humming in the background.
The narrow, dimly lit space is tasteful, intimate and inviting. Two flat-screen TVs blend into the exposed brick wall, and each time I've been, they've remained off, even as Kevin Durant and LeBron James battled for NBA supremacy. There are countless sports bars capable of scratching that itch — Of Love and Regret aspires to remind customers that a great night can come with excellent beer and conversation.
Brewers Hill might not be the first neighborhood Baltimoreans consider when planning their nights out, and Of Love and Regret won't single-handedly change that. But this beer haven is doing too many things right (with more to come, including an upstairs provisions shop that will sell gourmet products) not to thrive, no matter the location.
Of Love and Regret
Back story: Two Baltimore masterminds with different fortes — Stillwater Artisanal Ale's Brian Strumke and Jack's Bistro's chef Ted Stelzenmuller — have teamed up for what could be Brewers Hill's most exciting bar. For beer lovers with discerning tastes, this is a low-key alternative to Max's Taphouse, and the food is excellent, too.
Parking: On-street parking, which will be difficult to find the later you go.
Signature drink: This is a beer place, with a heavy emphasis on the local Stillwater brews. Beer cocktails are also popular.
Where: 1028 S. Conkling St.
Contact: 410-327-0760 or go to ofloveandregret.com.
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Open: 11 a.m.-2 a.m., Monday-Friday. 5 p.m.-2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday.