Three Baltimore bars are among the nation’s best this year, according to a new list from Esquire.
The magazine raised a toast to Church in Old Goucher as well as to Ash Bar and Bloom’s, a pair of bars inside the Hotel Ulysses, as part of its annual exploration of the country’s top spots to grab a stiff drink.
While the bar scene has embraced classic cocktails in recent years, Esquire’s editors sought out “the weird and wonderful” for their 2023 list. “...In all my years of bar crawls, I don’t think I’ve ever seen as much spirited originality — as many bars that make you say, ‘So strange, yet so awesome,’” Kevin Sintumuang, the magazine’s lifestyle and culture director, wrote of this year’s batch.
Baltimore has certainly never been short on the weird and the wonderful. Sintumuang lauded Ash Bar and Bloom’s as “two of the most charming bars to ever flank a hotel lobby,” calling them “intimate and casually glamorous, with just the right amount of weird.”
The bars, which opened at the same time as the boutique hotel in Mount Vernon last fall, are proof of “how cool Baltimore has become,” he added. (Sintumuang recommends ordering the Midori sour to sip in “disco ball of a bar” Bloom’s.)
At Church, the magazine praised the bar’s “genial staff and intimate spaces.”
“The drinks skew culinary and delightfully weird: The espresso martini has Szechuan amaro, and the Pilgrimage is a charming combination of Scotch, rum, and chai tea,” Sintumuang wrote. “If real church served the cocktails at Church, we think attendance would be way up.”
The Old Goucher bar, which opened in September, is on a hiatus for now following the departure of founder Chelsea Gregoire, who dreamed up the fellowship-focused concept for Church nearly a decade ago.
Gregoire, who was also named Esquire’s Beverage Director of the Year in 2019, wrote last week on Facebook that the bar “deserves an opportunity to see its evolution with owners that aren’t burnt out and ill, and can bring fresh ideas and perspective.”
“We came in with a mindset that every bit of the minutiae needed to be rethought and reworked, and that would, in turn, create a better workplace for those in hospitality,” Gregoire wrote in the post.
“And in some ways, it achieved this, but I was not prepared for the ways it would push me and cause me pain. The interesting thing about being held to a higher standard is that if you take it seriously for yourself, there is also less grace for yourself when you don’t meet it.”
Church is preparing to reopen soon for “chapter 2,” according to its social media pages.
Gregoire shared that the bar will have new owner-operators upon its return.
“Church will live on, and it will be even better than I could have made it on my own,” they wrote.