‘Tis the season for spiked eggnog and mulled wine — and, for some Baltimore-area bars and restaurants, enough holiday decor to make Santa proud.
Twinkle lights, wreaths and tinsel are ubiquitous this time of year, but some businesses are going all out with seasonal pop-ups designed to appeal to those of us who are seeking a little extra holiday cheer.
At Lib’s Grill in Perry Hall, Nick Liberatore and his staff spent more than 24 hours putting up decorations for Cocktails & Candy Canes, a pop-up featuring festive drinks, special holiday events and floor-to-ceiling Christmas decorations.
“It’s definitely our busiest time of year,” Liberatore says. And while the holiday season is traditionally packed with parties and events, he and others feel a special urge to boost the merriment after two Christmases tainted by COVID-19. Though public health officials expect to see another bump in infections this winter, more and more people are starting to feel comfortable venturing out for a seasonal drink.
“I definitely feel like people are more in the holiday spirit than normal,” says Collin Schnitker, the bar director at Sugarvale in Mt. Vernon. “More people are coming in for the drinks and for the decor.”
From special menus to well-decked halls, here are some of Baltimore’s merriest spots to grab a cocktail this season.
Brendan Dorr and Eric Fooy started hosting Dutch Courage’s holiday pop-up, “Gingle Bells,” in 2020. That first year, the Old Goucher gin bar only made it through 10 days of festivities before Baltimore temporarily shut down on-premise drinking and dining due to a COVID surge.
This season, the festive pop-up is back for a third time with more than a dozen special cocktails created by Dutch Courage bartenders, including “Gin-gle All the Way” (rhubarb gin, rosé, Don Ciccio & Figlio Ambrosia aperitivo and a bay leaf-and-black pepper tincture) and “In the Pines” (Barr Hill Tom Cat gin, rosemary-infused limoncello, fennel seed and more).
The special menu’s not just limited to gin: guests can also try drinks like “Paddy’s Christmas Coffee,” a mix of bourbon and Ceremony coffee topped with creme de menthe whipped cream and crushed candy canes, and “Joyeux Noel,” a cold mulled wine with Fernet Branca, sage tincture and a clove-sage foam.
The bar switches out its regular glassware for special vintage cups with holiday themes, from gold- and silver-rimmed coupes glasses to “12 Days of Christmas” highballs. Dorr and Fooy scour local antiques shops — and sometimes the internet, too — to stock up on the barware.
Inside, the bar is decorated with bows, baubles, snowflakes and more. The pop-up also helps Dutch Courage to extend the use of its patio area, which is decked out in more than 6,000 LED lights.
“I love the holidays,” says Dorr. “You don’t have to be of any religious faith to enjoy the lights, the decorations, the food, the drinks, the camaraderie with friends and family.”
Through Dec. 31 at 2229 N. Charles St.
Miracle Pop-Up Bar (Power Plant Live and Live Casino & Hotel)
The popular Miracle pop-up got its start in 2014 in New York City and has since gone worldwide.
This year, the Baltimore area has two locations of the Christmas-themed pop-up, known for over-the-top decorations, kitschy glassware and festive cocktails.
In the city, pull up a bar stool —dressed up in a red Santa Hat — at the Leinie Lodge & Beer Garden in Power Plant Live to order drinks like the “Christmapolitan” and “Grandma Got Run Over By a T-Rex.” The space is a highly Instagrammable explosion of holiday decor, with neon “Merry Christmas” lights, candy-cane-striped tablecloths and a life-sized Santa mannequin in one corner.
In Anne Arundel County, you can find another Miracle pop-up in Live Casino & Hotel’s Club 21. Both locations have a roster of holiday-themed activities to get into the spirit of the season, from gingerbread making classes to “carol-oke” nights.
Through Dec. 30 at Miracle at Leinie Lodge & Beer Garden, 4 Market Place, Baltimore.
Through Jan. 1 at Miracle at Live Casino & Hotel, 7002 Arundel Mills Circle, Hanover.
Cocktails & Candy Canes
Before launching his own holiday programming, Nick Liberatore hosted Miracle pop-ups at Lib’s Grill, his casual neighborhood spot with locations in Perry Hall, Maple Lawn and Bel Air.
“We learned a lot from that program,” Liberatore says of Miracle. But two years ago, in search of more flexibility, he decided to debut Cocktails & Candy Canes, a pop-up specific to the local restaurant chain.
Customers can sip on “Mistletoe-Tinis,” “Poinsetta Palomas” and “Buddy the Elf Old Fashioneds,” poured over a snowball of shaved ice. Packaged Christmas meals and events like Christmas Carol-oke, cookie and cocktail pairings and a Santa Brunch add to the cheer.
Then there’s the 24 hours’ worth of decorations. Liberatore says he wants his restaurants to go big or go home.
“If you just decide to hang a couple wreaths up and name a martini and Christmas martini, you’re really missing out,” he says.
The season’s spirit of giving finds a place at the Cocktails & Candy Canes pop-up, too, which hosts fundraisers for Toys For Tots as well as local schools.
Through Jan. 23. Locations in Perry Hall, Bel Air and Maple Lawn.
Sugarvale’s cozy, low-lit basement space already feels like just the spot for a wintertime cocktail, but the Mt. Vernon bar takes the holiday spirit up a notch with citrus and evergreen garlands, hanging snowflakes and white string lights.
As for the drinks, staff collaborate on crafting a holiday menu, which features drinks like the “Four Loko,” a spin on the coquito, a creamy Puerto Rican eggnog, and “Morrimo,” an earthy-sweet matcha and sake cocktail served warm.
The “Loddi Toddi,” bar director Collin Schnitker’s invention, is also a favorite. The hot drink combines bourbon, ginger, English breakfast tea and oleo saccharum, a lemon-infused sugar syrup (Schnitker says he peels roughly 50 lemons a night to make each new batch).
Sugarvale is feeling the holiday spirit this year, Schnitker says, with “every seat filled during the weekend.”
“We’re back to normal, and the holidays are definitely helping that,” he says.
Through Jan. 1 at 4 W. Madison St., Baltimore.
Ampersea’s seasonal pop-up is more winter wonderland than holiday haven.
The Fells Point bar and restaurant is best known for its warm-weather waterfront dining, so last year, staff decided to find a way to entice diners with a new winter theme, says general manager Kyle Smedberg.
“In this day and age in restaurants, how are you going to stay relevant?” he says. “You can’t just put up a restaurant anywhere and expect people to come.”
The Winter Wonderland pop-up was the result. Ampersea staff spent three days setting up decorations that bathe the dining space in winter blues and whites. The restaurant pairs the decor with a soundtrack of classic seasonal tunes: think Frank Sinatra with an occasional dose of Mariah Carey.
Pull up to the bar for a buttered rum cocktail, and stick around for dinner from a menu heavy on warm comfort food, like smoked lamb shanks and lobster mac and cheese.
A bonus: since this pop-up isn’t explicitly Christmas-themed, it sticks around a little longer. Smedberg says they’ll likely leave up the decor until the end of January.
“Everyone’s busy for the holidays,” he says. “Sometimes you don’t catch it all.”
Through late January at 1417 Thames St., Baltimore.