The most memorable bars possess a certain strand of conviction in their DNA.
This doesn’t mean they’re rigid — good bars must adapt on the fly — but at their core, they know what they have to offer, and they confidently stand by it.
A recent Friday night trip to Diskobar, a small Mount Vernon establishment located in the basement of the Nepalese restaurant Kumari, served as a potent reminder of that. Its success didn’t require all that much: A few hours of good music, personable strangers and some interesting drinks left my friends and me walking away happier than we arrived. Diskobar had done its job.
We largely had Emily Bach, Diskobar’s operator and our bartender that night, to thank. After bartending at WC Harlan for a couple years, Bach took over the bar this past fall from Patrick Paulus, the Baltimorean who opened Diskobar a year ago. (A DJ, Paulus said he decided to concentrate on producing music.)
Given Diskobar’s limited space — there are 22 seats, including seven by the bar — intimacy is essentially baked into the concept. In such a small area, it would have felt awkward to simply stare at our phones — so instead we chatted, ping-ponging from topics like ’90s sitcoms and college memories to music and obscure liquors. A friend we made that night, Dana, joined in as she ate pork chops and sipped a pink cocktail.
Some of my favorite experiences in Baltimore unfurl just like this — organically, over drinks, laughs and finding common ground with people who have different stories and backgrounds. Buoyed by Bach’s touch, Diskobar’s welcoming atmosphere left us in no rush to leave.
The music, a significant component here, kept the momentum, too.
From Diskobar’s inception, its constantly changing soundtrack has been a focal point, as evidenced by the glowing blue sign behind the bar that reads, “If it wasn’t for the music.” The rest of the line (“I don’t know what I’d do,” from Indeep’s resplendent 1982 single, “Last Night a D.J. Saved My Life”) reflects the bar’s appreciation for sound, and the many emotions we tie to it.
This was Paulus’ vision, and Bach has seen it through, reconfiguring the physical layout on the fly to accommodate DJs and jazz bands. She’ll play ’70s Japanese ambient records for people decompressing after work, and switch to deep house and funk at peak weekend hours. At one point, she put the needle on a vinyl of Prince’s “Dirty Mind” — a choice that never, ever fails.
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The key, Bach said, is learning your audience’s preferences and moods — and not just for music. She said she applies the same approach behind the bar, where on this visit she concocted new cocktails on the spot, based on learning our flavor preferences.
She made us the cocktail of the day ($8), a Hell-Cat Maggie Irish Whiskey-based drink that hit spicy and sweet notes because of cayenne syrup and Maraska Wishniak Cherry liqueur, a Croatian product I’d never seen before. Then came a citrus-heavy drink ($7) made with El Jimador tequila, dry vermouth and a sassafras tea concentrate. They were adventurous, well priced and packed nice punches of flavor and booze.
Beer-wise, Diskobar serves bottles and cans of brands like Heineken ($5) and Stillwater Artisanal Ales (Levadura, a gose, cost $7).
There was no drink menu, and none of the cocktails had official names. It all felt casual, off-the-cuff and right at home.
The drinks went down well, but ultimately served a complementary role, which felt fitting. Paulus never saw Diskobar’s primary purpose as a place to get drunk, and neither does Bach. Instead, it hosts chess nights and stand-up comedy, and operates as a modest and sure-footed alternative to the usual watering hole or crowded sports bar.