Can you help me find the perfect cool, laid back, but unpretentious bar(s) in Baltimore and/or DC?
March 10, 2007 1:28 PM   Subscribe

I'd like some tips on nice, down to earth, mixed-group, unpretentious, laid back bars in Baltimore and/or Washington, DC. If you happen to know Brooklyn (NY, not MD), Moe's in Fort Greene would be the perfect example. I'm thinking music that's heavy on the not-so-obvious 70s and 80s R&B, rare grooves, funk, with a dash of reggae and jazz; a crowd that tends to be ethnically diverse; the drinks aren't at Financial District prices; and (perhaps most importantly) where ex-suburban gentrifiers would feel kind of out of place at. I realize I could very well be asking for the impossible.

I live in Baltimore but have yet to find anything like the aforementioned fantasy place here, though I admit I've only lived here a year, and am out of town nearly half of every week. All I'm familiar with, neighborhood-wise, are Canton (where I live), which is a huge "hell, no"; Mt. Vernon (which is bearable but not generally enough to keep me from driving to DC instead); Fell's Point (again, missing the point); and Federal Hill (nearly as bad as Canton).

DC gets close at some U Street spots, and I can generally make an enjoyable evening out of it, but it's still not quite perfectly *IT.* A couple of places in Adams Morgan are doable, and that's generally my second choice DC neighborhood for hanging out. Dupont Circle is the point at which dumbass frat boys begin to make an appearance, and it seems to just go downhill from there once you move on to the Gallery Place area and, God forbid, Georgetown.

It seems conceivable, in theory, that some of the inner-ring PG County suburbs may have potential, but despite growing up in Laurel in the '80s, I really know nothing about the PG of today.

Let's not even get into my feelings about Virginia, but suffice it to say I nickname the place "The Wrong Side of the Potomac."

Wow, could I be more of a demanding, nit-picky prick? (smile) But if any MeFiers have suggestions, I'd be more than happy to listen!
posted by CommonSense to Travel & Transportation around Baltimore, MD (20 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Bertha's in Fells Point was cool a when I lived there a few years ago. Not to crowded usually, with cds from the staff, so it wasn't so mainstream.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 1:47 PM on March 10, 2007

Frankly, I've never hung out in Brooklyn or in DC, but here in Baltimore, I've read and heard about the following places that perhaps falls into your 'unpretentious place to drink' criteria:

Mount Royal Tavern

Dizzie Izzies on 30th and Remington on the southwestern edge of the Hopkins Homewood campus
posted by scalespace at 1:51 PM on March 10, 2007 [1 favorite]

Baltimore has no shortage of unpretentious places to drink. Try Dizzie Izzie's, The Ottobar (the actual bar, not during a show), and the downstairs bar at Brewer's Art. My mouth is watering just thinking about Brewer's Art.

D.C. is tougher. The place that jumps to mind is Raven in Mt. Pleasant. Temperance Hall (Petworth) is also a solid choice. During the week, Wonderland (Columbia Heights) is good, but it's almost unbearable during the weekend.
posted by jed at 2:04 PM on March 10, 2007

Oh yeah Brewer's Art!!! Highly recommended. My wife is still friends with the brewmaster and it's a laid back place.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 2:07 PM on March 10, 2007

I agree that Canton is a "hell no".

Along with jed's recommendations (seriously every time I go back to Baltimore I walk from Penn Station to Brewer's Art for a couple of beers) what about the Wharf Rat in Fell's Point, Mum's (not to be confused with Mother's) on S. Hanover St in South Baltimore, Fletchers on the edge of Fell's Point, the Mt. Royal Tavern in Mt. Royal, Dougherty's by the BSO, the Owl bar in the basement of the Belvedere... I'll think of more later.

Is Club Charles a little pretentious for this question?
posted by gaspode at 2:18 PM on March 10, 2007

posted by Heminator at 2:20 PM on March 10, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks for the answers so far. Thoughts:

Baltimore: I've been to Brewer's Art (upstairs and down), Club Charles (you were joking about it being pretentious, right?), and the 13th Floor at the Belvedere on a reggae/dancehall night. I've also been to Pazo and Red Maple. The former two are OK in a pinch and a "I really don't feel like driving to another city just to hang out" night, but . . . not really it. I'm looking for more . . . let's say . . . soul. Everyone is jumping on the "unpretentious" part of my description, but glossing over the "ethnically diverse" part and the sample description of the music (and it's just an example to give an idea). The DC paragraph (below) might shed some more light. As for Red Maple and Pazo, I don't mind upscale desgin and a BIT of "trendiness," but those places leave me feeling like they're part of the assets portfolio of some national bar and restaurant conglomerate, some well-researched "hip, urban brand concept" -- even though I know they are in fact locally owned and operated. (I think.)

DC: I basically always end up on U Street if I want to know I've got a good shot at liking a few places. Adams Morgan kind of works, too, but slightly less so. I'm beginning to think maybe I'm staring my answer in the face -- namely, maybe just sticking with what I've got. I like Tabaq, Cafe Nema, and Bohemian Cavern, and there's a couple of places on the U Street stretch I've walked by, been intrigued by, but have yet to go into.

It occurs to me that another really succinct way to ask my question is: "Where would ?uestlove of The Roots hang out if he were in town?" I'm beginning to fear the answer is "38 miles to the southwest, on U Street in DC." OK, I can live with that.

Again, I'm definitely grateful for all the help. Sorry if I'm coming off as demanding, impossible to please, and bratty. We "ethnics" usually are. ;-)
posted by CommonSense at 2:37 PM on March 10, 2007

Yes to Bertha's (suggested above). Their mussels, which once rocked, haven't been good for a long while (unless it's quietly gotten good again). But the scene is what you want. Good beers, too.
posted by jimmyjimjim at 2:59 PM on March 10, 2007

Quarry House in Silver Spring is great.

In D.C. I like Toledo Lounge and Soussi in Adam's Morgan...

?uestlove may go to Bar Nun.
posted by stratastar at 3:35 PM on March 10, 2007

I don't know if Bertha's == a place Questlove would chill; it's more Hank 3/rockabilly than The Roots. It is a cool enough joint, though the mussels are certainly not as good as they were a few years ago. Their good beers come from The Baltimore Brewing Company, whose Wharf Rat location two blocks east of Bertha's has all their beers on tap and is a pretty chill little place, as well.

I think the OP is asking for places that are hip, urban, and cool, without trying too hard or being meat-market dance-club fratboy joints. I've lived in Balto. for a few years and can't really think of any place like that. There are plenty of unpretentious places, but they're mostly corner-bar dives or reasonably comfortable places in the "bar" parts of town (Canton, Fells Point, or Federal Hill) that get packed and somewhat annoying during peak hours. The basement of the Brewer's Art is probably as close as you're going to find... Baltimore doesn't really have much of a "downtown" scene, as far as I can find and everywhere else is either too working-class or too college-ey.
posted by maniactown at 4:16 PM on March 10, 2007

I'm beginning to fear the answer is "38 miles to the southwest, on U Street in DC." OK, I can live with that.

No self-respecting Baltimoron would ever say that.
posted by dhammond at 4:33 PM on March 10, 2007

It occurs to me that another really succinct way to ask my question is: "Where would ?uestlove of The Roots hang out if he were in town?"

Eden's Lounge.

It's around the corner from Red Maple.

I have been there only on a weeknight, and on weeknights it might get a bit more pretentious and loungy. It was definitely a mixed, chill crowd on a weeknight.

My friend's brother owns a new lounge sort of near Hopkins hospital, but it's in the not even close to gentrified area near Hopkins.
posted by Airhen at 5:22 PM on March 10, 2007

on weeknights it might get a bit more pretentious
that should say weekends!
posted by Airhen at 5:23 PM on March 10, 2007

Bukum West African Cafe
18th Street, Adams Morgan, Washington, DC

when i go to DC my brother takes me there, it's tons of fun, lots of reggae and dreads, and a real inviting atmosphere
posted by Salvatorparadise at 5:24 PM on March 10, 2007

my bad, it's actually Bukom
posted by Salvatorparadise at 5:27 PM on March 10, 2007

you may want to check out Peters Inn on Anne St. very cool place just to hang out in. also AWESOME food.
posted by ShawnString at 7:59 PM on March 10, 2007

Check out the bars on H ST NE. I am partial to the Argonaut, as well as the pork chop sandwiches at the Majestic. This article should be all you need to get started. On the plus side, it's easy to get to from Union Station if that's how you get down from Baltimore.
posted by jules1651 at 8:13 PM on March 10, 2007

Love the Argonaut, ever since the DC meetup. The MrsMoonPie and I spent New Year's Eve there, and had a great time. I also suggest Atomic Billiards in Cleveland Park, and the (soon-to-close) Dr. Dremo's in Arlington.
posted by MrMoonPie at 8:58 PM on March 10, 2007

I highly recommend J. Patrick's in Locust Point. The live music isn't over-powering and is most often just awesome.
posted by frecklefaerie at 9:22 PM on March 10, 2007

In DC - have you been to Saint-Ex's downstairs bar (called "Gate 54")? I'm sure I'll get some groans from the audience, but they have some pretty cool DJs on weekdays that you might like (everything from jazz to hip hop to punk). It is definitely a Sunday - Wednesday place, though, it gets far too crowded and kinda icky-fratboy on the weekends.
posted by echo0720 at 7:42 PM on March 11, 2007

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