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Food & Drink

Bits & Bites: Cocktails in a former funeral home, Baltimore tavern marks a decade after fire and Sagamore whiskey for a penny

The theme for today’s column is death and rebirth.

In Station North, a former funeral parlor will find new life as a bar, restaurant and studio space for artists. And in Mt. Washington, a landmark tavern is celebrating a decade since it rose from the ashes of a devastating fire.

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In other food and booze news, the Sagamore Spirit distillery in Port Covington is giving whiskey drinkers a look at the spirit-aging process with a new, hyperlocal special release, priced at just one penny.

Memento Mori

“Memento Mori” is the Latin phrase for “remember that you must die” — and also the name of a new art show and cocktail pop-up in the former Ronald Taylor II Funeral Home on North Avenue.

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If the concept feels a bit morbid, that’s exactly the point. The exhibition, curated by artist Catherine Borg and backed by the Central Baltimore Partnership, is a “meditation on mortality and memory that is dedicated to lives lost in Baltimore and the loved ones left behind as we enter the holiday season,” according to a description of the show, which is scheduled to run on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays Nov. 18 through Dec. 17.

The former Ronald Taylor II Funeral Home on North Avenue will soon find new life as the host of a cocktail pop-up and art exhibition exploring death.

The building at 108 W. North Ave. was home to funeral parlors for more than a century. Funeral company Stewart & Mowen opened a “funeral chapel” there in 1914, and the family-run business stayed in the space through 1985. Ronald Taylor II Funeral Homes took over the property in 2006 and continued to offer funeral services until this spring.

Unlike the mourners who gathered when the building was a funeral home, visitors to “Memento Mori” will consider death from a distance rather than from the throes of grief. Artwork includes “Remembering the Stains on the Sidewalk,” a series from artist Amy Berbert Vu that remembers the 318 victims of homicide in 2016 with photographs taken one year later at the same site and time as their death, works from Lynn Silverman and Stephen Hendee that explore the world of unclaimed cremated remains, and pictures from the “IHENRYPROJECT,” an archive of photos depicting the life of Black Baltimoreans spanning the 1940s through the 1980s.

Accompanying the show will be a speak-easy pop-up from mixologist Ciara Newton and Michael Cohn of No Land Beyond, a Station North board game bar. The pop-up foreshadows a future life for the funeral parlor, which will eventually host a restaurant and bar on the building’s first floor and basement levels. Developer John Renner is behind the project, which will also bring studio and office space for artists on the upper floors.

Phoenix from the flames

A Halloween-night fire in 2011 brought down the long-standing Mt. Washington Tavern, but the North Baltimore bar didn’t waste any time getting back to business. A year and a week after the devastating blaze, the tavern reopened in a rebuilt space on Nov. 4, 2012 — and owner Rob Frisch hasn’t looked back.

“The new tavern is just fantastic, though it’s certainly not the way we wanted to get there,” he said of the 10-year-old renovation that added a smoother layout, an elevator and ADA-compliant dining areas.

The Mt. Washington Tavern reopened in November 2012 after a fire destroyed much of its old building.

This weekend, Frisch will take a moment to reflect on the decade since Mt. Washington Tavern’s resurrection. The bar and restaurant has scheduled a block party marking the milestone on Saturday, Nov. 12, featuring a crush bar, cocktails from Cane Collective, live music and eats like cheesesteaks, Italian sausages and grilled and raw oysters.

The party will run from noon to 5 p.m. Though a decade has already flown by, “we’re just glad to be back,” said Frisch. “Time flies when you’re having fun, or so they say.”

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Local spirit

In Sagamore Spirit’s early days, Brian Treacy heard the same question countless times: When would Sagamore start selling locally distilled whiskey?

Because whiskey takes years to age before it achieves its peak flavor, Sagamore’s spirits were produced in Indiana for a time. The whiskey company, started by Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, opened a Baltimore distillery in Port Covington in 2017.

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“There’s a reason we wait an average of 5 to 7 years to release whiskey,” Treacy, a Sagamore Spirit co-founder and president of distillery operations, said. “That’s when it really is at its prime.”

Sagamore Spirit distillery is located at 301 E. Cromwell St. in Port Covington.

To help make the wait a little easier on whiskey fans, the distillery devised a way to include them in the aging process. Beginning in 2019, Sagamore has released limited-edition tastes of a whiskey-in-progress: The program’s first whiskey release was aged 2 ½ years; the next year, the distillery shared bottles of the same whiskey, which had by then aged 3 ½ years. A final release last year shared how the whiskey in question tasted at 4 ½ years old.

This Saturday, the distillery will start the process over — this time with its most locally sourced Sagamore whiskey to date.

Sagamore’s new “Maryland Grown” series features Maryland-distilled straight rye whiskey made entirely with locally grown grains and aged in barrels crafted from oak trees grown in the state.

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Treacy said Sagamore partnered with Carroll Mill Farm and Rural Rhythm Farm in Howard County, as well as Hickory Hollow Farm in Salisbury to harvest the rye. The distillery also grows rye at its own Sagamore Farm in Reisterstown. The spirit is distilled in Sagamore’s 40-foot still, nicknamed Penny, before aging in barrels.

The first bottles in the Maryland Grown series will be available Saturday morning at 7:30 a.m., though whiskey lovers typically start lining up outside the distillery hours earlier. Sagamore produced just 597 sets of the whiskey, which is boxed in a three-pack of 200 ml bottles that will sell for one cent, in honor of Penny the still. Those hoping to score the limited-edition box will first need to sign up for the distillery’s free “Whiskey Thieves” club.

With this release, “we’re involved from the day they harvest it to the day we distill it, to the day we bottle it,” Treacy said. “I feel like this might be as local as it gets.”


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