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July 1, 2009

What's the best neighborhood bar in Federal Hill?

the idle hourWe've done Canton. We've done Hampden. We've done Fells Point (and what a doozy that was).

Now, let's tackle Federal Hill.

What is the best neighborhood bar in Federal Hill? And why?

The "why" is crucial.

Oh, and by the way, I've come up with a name for this little series: the Midnight Sun Commenters' Choice Awards. I might even make awards for the winning bars, and give them out at the next Shindig.

To jog everyone's memories, this is what I mean by neighborhood bar ...

First, the place has to have a crew of regulars -- but it can't be exclusive or cliquish. Newcomers must feel welcome. It can't be a wild and crazy party zone. MEX in Power Plant Live is not a neighborhood bar.

Coziness is also a factor. Neighborhood bars have to be warm and inviting -- not cold.

A really good neighborhood bar doesn't necessarily have to have good beers on tap, or a big wine or martini list. Heck, I've been in good neighborhood bars that don't have any beers on tap.

I'm defining Federal Hill as everything south of the Science Center to the Hanover Street bridge, west to the stadiums and east to Lawrence Street.

Now, outside of the crazy party zones in the Cross Street Corridor, there are quite a few great neighborhood bars in Federal Hill. Mum's, the Tavern on Key, Captain Larry's, etc.

But my vote goes for the Idle Hour (201 E. Fort Ave.). I love the vibe there. The art work on the walls is always good, the DJs are top-notch and the drinks are quite nice indeed. So is the service, for that matter.

What's your pick, and why?

(Sun archive photo)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 3:10 PM | | Comments (104)
Categories: Bars & Clubs, Commenters' Choice Awards


Hand's down, Captain Larry's. Cute bartender (Wolfgang, you know I'm talking about you), great food, very casual, amazing deals (esp if you're on the friends & family plan ... ) - and hey, it's on my block. Can't get any better than that.

Sam Sessa, you read my mind. I was thinking the Commenter's Choice Awards would make a good excuse to have another shindig soon.

Rafters. It's my go to because I live across the street and because they sponsor my softball team. Otherwise: cozy feel, beers on tap, beers to go, space in the back to hang out, TVs everywhere, and really friendly owners.

Ropewalk is the best Federal Hill bar. They have a great bottle and draft selection and enough specials to mix it up during the week. I still haven't had better wings in Federal Hill. The clientele ranges from regular locals (and that gigantic white dog) to tourists, but the place and the staff always have always been very friends. It can go from being low-key during the week, to 4 floors of mayhem during a Saturday night and still have a good vibe. If you're into smoking you can always head up to the fourth floor too.

Rafters! I love a place that not only endorses but encourages excessive drinking.


-Good food/drink specials
-Large beer selection
-Chill weeknight crowd
-Just far enough from Cross st. to avoid the weekend D.B.'s
-Lots of room to move around

And the "crazy party zone" is on the weekends. Cross st. is very approachable on the weeknights. 1$ beers can be found almost every night along with great food specials.

My vote is for Porter's. I'm not a regular there by any means, but I have always received good service, good food, and good drinks. There are a group of regulars there and have always been very welcoming and kind.

It's cliquish (or clique-y if you want to be cute), not clicky -- unless you mean there can't be a bunch of people in the bar making clicking noises.

Grammar Nazi alert!

Hee hee. I fixed it, micahel.

I vote for No Idea.

I love Idle Hour, too, but I have to say it's too hip, in my opinion, to qualify. I mean, the artwork, great wine selection, the decor - it's just so cool.

No Idea has a crew of regulars, lots of people know each other but you feel comfortable in there not knowing people.

Runner up: No Way Jose.

If there were another bar with the word "No" in the name in Federal Hill, I'd have to throw that in, also.

I vote for RUB. There's always some regulars in there, and the staff is very friendly. They also have great drink specials, a variety of drinks, and awesome food!


Oh yeah i forgot to put why...

Just go in there and order a number one and you'll know why.

My vote is for Muggsy's, as it's always welcoming, fairly cozy, always with good beers on tap, and has an intangible that I find quite important. Due to the strong regulars and variety of groups that frequent the bar, there is a chance on most any night of the week that this usually chill, beer-sipping bar could quickly transform into an appropriately energetic party scene--the type those from other neighborhoods would travel for. Now this could sound like a bad thing, but due to its somewhat unpredictability, this surge always feels very organic the way the energy and crowd grows as opposed to some bars that just turn down lights and crank up music based on the time/day.

I'll second Idle Hour vote, Sam, as it definitely has the perfect setting and appeal of a 'neighborhood bar.' However, some might argue that it doesn't feel like the neighborhood in which it resides.

So there's no distinction between Federal Hill, South Baltimore and Locust Point? Just checking it's a sensitive topic in the area to some.
My vote is for Metropolitan, great beer selection mixed crowd and you'll never hear any songs typically heard in the market perimeter bars.

Many of those bars are NOT in Federal Hill. Fort Ave. and Locust Pt. should be a separate listing. This is just like the realtors and their listings! MOTHERS has stood the test of time. Purple Patio and good food too.

Little Havana!!! Shuffle board, mixed drinks served in pint glasses, outside patio, crabby thursdays, reefers, laid back atmosphere...what more could you ask for?

Calling all $hill$

Number 1 is Captain Larry's
Number 2 is Ropewalk and
Number 3 is Metropolitan

I'm officially putting my vote up for sale.

Bar owners, for the low price of 2 pints of beer (of my choosing), I will vote for your establishment.

pub dog. it's not just the melon beer (which i have yet to try), but the other mug deals are just too good for me to ever pass up. plus the pizza is great.

Don't sell yourself short, JD. Start high -- say, five shots of whiskey.

Captain Larry's, definitely. Friendly staff, great deals, delicious food, and a fun atmosphere. What more could you want?

I so have to give it to my friends Brendan and Randal aka *Brendal* at Idle Hour. I love the atmosphere, the art, the wine, and more importantly the MUSIC. They have singlehandedly exposed me to more music in the last few years then any other forum I know. I may not go there very often but when I do, it is quality time well spent. One day I will actually return all of the C.D.'s they have lent me over the years.
your biggest fan!
queen colleen

i would vote for metropolitan, but it doesnt really strike me as a "neighborhood bar" more like a coffee shop that serves cocktails

i would vote for don't know if it wasnt for that one biatch of a bartender

i would vote for ropewalk if it werent for the douchebag influx on friday and saturday nights

i would vote for mad river ... HA who am i kidding?

i'll go with (thirsty) pub dog

I can't believe there was only one vote for Mother's. Definitely the best! Awesome bartenders, great food and they serve resurrection.

I'll vote for the Pub Dog too (it's hard not to say Thirsty Dog).

I used to go there when I lived in the neighborhood. But this past Saturday I brought some friends from DC to the Oriole game. I wanted to show them a unique Baltimore bar, so I took them to the Pub Dog for the mug specials. Erin, the bartender, immediately treated us like regulars by joking with us and chatting with us. we had free shots within 5 minutes. And when we went back after the game the service, beers and crowd were awesome. My friends still cant stop talking about it and they want to take trips to Baltimore just to go to the pub dog now.

I'm totally biased. Captain Larry's personifies literally everything that a good neighborhood joint should: family owned, lots of regulars, lots of charm, good food, cheap booze, AND A BRAND NEW GLASS BOOT TO DRINK FROM!!

I give Metropolitan honors for being a really neighborhood cafe that serves booze, and Muggsy's is definitely doing what the owners set out to do when they started out (as in, be a really great neighborhood bar). Still, the Captain gets my vote.

I love Idle Hour to death and a half but it's more of a lounge than a neighborhood bar type place. Anyone who suggests that Mother's is a neighborhood bar really ought to turn in their area 9, 19, or 30 residential permit. Any place with a capacity of over 500 and multiple DJs on weekends doesn't fit the bill, sorry folks.

yo Heather the reason there is only one vote for Mothers and yours makes 2 is that so far your the only 2 knuckle heads who failed to comprehend the entire post.

I'm pretty sure Mothers falls in the Cross street Corridor that was excluded from the "voting".(read it again slowly) I know, I know, reading is difficult but read it twice next time if your going to comment.

Little Havanas is my vote


I vote Muggsy's. I love the neighborhood and this is a real neighborhood bar. Nuff said. And the wings are just awesome!

Bad Decisions.


Pub Dog.

Good microbrews and awesome pizza that you'd never call "bar food." The prices aren't bad, either.

Lots of options

Know Idea Tavern?

I'd have to vote for Muggsy's!

Muggsys is the best bar. Like a previous post mentioned, a great selection of beers on tap that are constantly rotated out for something new and exciting.

They also have a mug club, a decent pub style food menu and great tunes. You always feel welcomed in muggsys.

Excellent Brew

There's a great neighborhood bar tucked away amongst the houses near E. side of Riverside Park that easily gets my vote. It's called Boomers. It's cozy, it has a tv or two for big games. It's even got some good video games setup. The bartender is friendly & the crowd is welcoming. Most of those that go live near (b/c nearly no one else ever knows/sees it.) I like Idle Hour too - one of the best cocktail places i've seen but it doesn't give me that neighborhood feel i seek for this contest. Note: my friend and i decided to find "The neighborhood bar" in Riverside&FedHill area after he moved from Fells and neeeded a Spirits like place. Dont Idea?(that Light St. one) is 2nd then Muggsys, then Metropolitan.

I have to vote for Thirsty Dog as well. The service is great and the atmosphere is always laid back even on a busy weekend night.

Ropewalk, def.

Muggsy's! Great bartenders (who remember what you like to drink), interesting crowd, occassional boozy amuse bouche for the crowd, best beer program in Federal Hill (metropolitan is also excellent), HD TV's that are on eye level....worth mentioning again, best beer and bartenders.

Sessa, you really need to differentiate/specify where you're talking about, all of South Baltimore or Federal Hill.

Federal Hill proper: Thirsty Dog.

Riverside: Idle Hour

Locust Point: Hull Street Blues

Either Don't Know or Little Havana's. I go to Don't Know more so I'll chose that place. Great because its big, with a big bar, lots of seating, lots of bar games and good specials.

Gotta go with Sam on this...Idle Hour.

Metropolitan - It's open early and late. It serves everything and everyone if friendly. Great beer selection, great food, and outdoor seating.

Porters: jukebox is never too monopolized, rez on tap, never too crowded, good enough food, nice TVs to catch an O's game.


How in the world can jukebox not be a central category of this debate? Christ, I guess it is 2009.

Who is the one incapable of reading? According to this definition from above, Cross St. bars are fair game:

I'm defining Federal Hill as everything south of the Science Center to the Hanover Street bridge, west to the stadiums and east to Lawrence Street.

My vote goes to Rafters.

I think that "south of the Science Center to the Hanover Street bridge, west to the stadiums and east to Lawrence Street" includes the Cross Street corridor, but Sam was suggesting to consider other places outside of that corridor since that's the first area people think of when they think of Fed Hill.

I dunno, I could be wrong; what does a girl from the 21224 know about Fed Hill? Not much.

I'm going to abstain on this one, but I do know that I want to check out the Idle Hour and possibly Captain Larry's now.


No Idea:

Great drink specials, friendly servers and an owner who understands what being a good neighbor is all about.

Mums. A shot of Evil and the best Jukebox around. Enough said

How are more people not voting for Captain Larry's?! It crushes the rest of these bars as far as neighborhood bars go and their fish tacos are awesome!

Ive loved Ropewalk for a long time, but recently the crowd there seems to be getting saturated with people that I really dont want to be around. Becuase of this, my vote goes to Muggsys. I love the Mugg Club, and the bartenders there are always friendly and welcoming. The place just has a great vibe that cant be explained.

Muggsy's is the best!

if you're talking about Federal Hill cross st area, it's Pub Dog hands down

-unique brews and pizzas
-crowd ranges from college kids to adults and even family
-established set of regulars who are city dwellers and those who don't even live in Baltimore
-only 1 tv (actually never had on until this year) forces social interaction

South Baltimore has always had its fill of good old corner bars. A bar should not be concidered a nieghborhood bar until its been around long enough to have the local cops eating breakfast there. At any giving time a group of young drunks can come in during special hour, not happy hour and get trashed for ten bucks. This does not make a bar nieghborhood bar. Yes everyone has a right to vote but until you log years I have in this nieghbor drinking in just about every bar in town your votes mean nothing. Hang out at diferent places alittle more start acting as if you can drink longer then the special hour and heaven sakes leave your neighbors property alone before you end up in a city statistic. P.S. Sorry for spelling my dictionary was left under my bar stool.

I've heard good things about Captain Larrys but since I've never been, I can't vote for it.

I've wanted to like Idle Hour but I haven't had the greatest experiences there. Maybe I'll have to give it one more shot.

Therefore, my vote has to go to Mums. Cheap drinks, live music/ great jukebox and you've gotta like a bar where the bartender gives you a free beer just for taking a picture of him and his friend.

Idle Hour for best neighborhood bar. The locals are great, and the conversations are even better.

Favorite Bar is Don't Know. It maybe borderline "mainstream", but the food there is fantastic and I love the bar layout.

Mum's. As others have said, cheap beer, great vibe, shots of Evil, and for years the best jukebox in town.

1) Metropolitan
2) Mums - more mature crowd, locals and not all the young kids from the county.

So Mel's vote is for Hogan's Alley?

Also I'm gonna throw out Thornton's as a super great neighborhood bar in Locust Point. If you like neighborhood bars you should definitely check it out.

And while we're on the topic of arguing semantics, if the bar has a 2nd (or more) location that isn't in the city (Pub Dog, Magerk's, etc), is it still a neighborhood bar? Hmm?

I say...

1#- Don't Know Tavern
2#- No Idea
3#- No Way's

#1 Rafters because the bartenders are great and they always make you feel welcome. 2nd is No Idea. I'm not a fan of Idle Hour. Just too dark and lame, IMO.

Bill's Lighthouse Inn - good food, cold beer, nobody bothers you if you don't want to be bothered and if you wanna b.s. with the regulars you can, the place without a doubt gets my vote

Idle Hour is absolutely my favorite bar in the entire city of Baltimore, but I would not vote for it as the best neighborhood bar because it totally does not fit your definition. It *is* definitely exclusive, in a good way.

My vote goes to Captain Larry's, although, as it's been pointed out, it's not actually in Federal Hill.

Mad River: sick pop tunes, hot chicks, collars popped = what comprises the neighborhood. Cant beat thursday-saturday nites...

Mum's. Period. Hands down. No question. One Man, Brian Whitcomb. End of Discussion.

I gotta go with Muggsy's too. Ropewalk is a very close second (and I'm a hard core Democrat).

Captain Larry's and Rafters aren't even close to being in Federal Hill, although I like the former a lot.

Without a doubt Metropolitan!!! They have an unbelievable beer list, the staff and owner are really intelligent, interesting and fun people and the food is out of this world. We love this bar!!!

Magerks...end of discussion.

Little H

REGI'S - Kevin, Colleen and Dave know how to de-stress my day like no other...great neighborhood bar where "everybody knows your name"

Crazy Lil's far and away. They have the self-pronounced $5 special 24/7 -- -$3 car bomb and $2 natural light chaser. Can't go wrong there.

I vote for Rafters. Larry's is okay, I've never had that great of an experience there. I like Don't Know but "don't know" if I really consider it a neighborhood bar...

Porters is probably my favorite neighborhood bar, though I understand why some folks don't like it. Also a fan of Captain Larry's (though not in Fed Hill), Idle Hour, and Pub Dog (not a true neighborhood bar, IMO).

For the record, I refuse to go to Rafters because it's a Steelers bar. I really don't know how people could consider it one of the best neighborhood bars in Baltimore when they openly support Pittsburgh, but maybe that's just me.

I see that local geography is a difficult task for a few of the folks posting for their favorite Federal Hill neighborhood bar, but if boundaries are limitless, then I'll go with J. Patrick's.

Bad Decisions!

Capt Larry's

If its in consideration which it should be... Captian Larry's is the best Neighborhood bar in the Federal Hill area. period.

1. Outstanding food and specials (crab cakes recently recognized by Baltimore Magazine)
2. Family night every Tuesday, supports more than just the neighborhood of crazy drinkers (Rafters)
3. Contributes to the Riverside Actin Group or whatever they're called now (free alcohol at town meetings!)
4. Caters to the neighborhood of south east Federal Hill, Riverside and "South Baltimore" not tourists (Ropewalk), ravens fans (Mother's), Red Sox fans (Porter's) or Neo-Yuppies (Little havana). These are all top notch establishments... but Larry's beats 'em all.
5. Climb the pole, Latvian shots, 1/2 price fish sammies on tuesday, cool seating by the open window, dollar O's Bohs... Hands down, Captain Larry's, best neighborhood bar in the Fed Hill area.

Definitely Capt. Larry's!!!

Fedhill - Thirsty Dog
SoBo - Idle Hour
Fort Ave not quite Locust Pt - Rafters
Locust Pt - Hull St.

You really do have to split this up to 2/3 categories

If you need a tally, overall Southern Bmore - Tdog
Other - Idle Hour

If you want a great neighborhood bar - I like Southside Saloon - Cheap cold beer, cardboard pizza and plenty of TV,s - great comination!

Mothers? Ropewalk? C'mon now, who are those people?! Metropolitan? I guess that's ok if you're a guy. A woman will die of thirst trying to get a drink in there, even if she tips well. I see you have some geographically challenged readers. Hull St is ok, but beyond Lawrence St. Idle Hour is nice but too pricey to be a regular hang out.

I've lived in the 'hood since '85 (& tended bar in it for 10 of those years) and must declare a tie - Captain Larry's & Mums have great regulars, friendly staff, although CL does have one exception to that, I just try to avoid being there when she's on duty. Mum's has great music - juke & live, plus an intriguing cast of characters at the bar & behind it. CL has a good kitchen, and keeps the music at conversation level. They also host a neighborhood hootenanny every other Sunday.

The Rowan Tree is my personal favorite. every weekend when I go there it is just like a John Waters' movie, Crazy straight people, a few gay regulars and the assorted South Baltimore eccentrics
thrown together with a fun time doming Karaoke. I don't particularly care fro the new-ish Karaoke host, Robbie. Too full of himself. Bring back Steve Jackson. He is mumch better at making everyone feel welcome

Nobody even mentioned Nevin's. So what if it's dirty, expensive, and unfriendly; it has a f/t Axl Rose impersonator.

Idle Hour. One always feels welcome.

How did this turn into a complaint/suggestion line for the Rowan Tree?

Rafters - not in federal hill
Idle Hour- not in federal hill

My vote goes to Nevins

Porters = overpriced yuppie gathering for 26+ who want to feel young again.

Cap Larry's and Muggsy's.

But the bar for the best mystery liquor must go to Mum's (Evil).

Hey Sam, we at Mums feel the love.Thanks to all.For the love of EVEL (spelling for Knievel)I have to mention the girls.The two coolest bartenders in Fed. Hill,Amy and Molly,these are two rockstars!All hail Sinclair!

I haven't lived in Federal Hill (or the east coast) in 7 years, but i remember Thirsty Dog being one great neighborhood bar. I loved going to Mum's as well but for an outsider it could be a little intimidating.

Is there anything worse the a cheesy night out at MOTHER's? Oh yeah, the bar across the street from it.

Mum's (in fed hill proper) is the best. No kooks. But hey, don't go there.

I'm not sure if I'm allowed to do this, but I'm switching my vote to Mum's.

Live music, great juke, smiling bartenders, Evil, video golf, great owner and all around good guy Chris, unpretentious local crowd and it is actually in Federal Hill, not half way to Fort McHenry. Also heard Eddie Vedder hangs out there in between playing sets at 8 x 10.

I have to echo a lot of Evan's sentiments on this post.

Capt. Larry's is hands down the best neighborhood bar. The ownership is family, and they do a pretty good job of making you feel like part of that family. The prices are incredibly reasonable, and it is off the well-worn path of Cross, Charles, and Light Street.

Muggsy's has set out to do what they wanted to do. I enjoy going there as well, but I think they need a bit more seasoning to achieve the neighborhood bar status.

Idle Hour has never been high on my list. For some reason, I have always gotten the hipster vibe there. Granted, it is not the "holier than thou" hipster vibe one gets in say, Hampden, from Rocket to Venus. Still, I cannot fault the place. They do pour a good cocktail, though.

Metropolitan has the distinction for being a bar with a great selection of beers that not a lot of people think about when it comes to good beer. The food there is also pretty darn tasty.

If your vision of a bar is with some obnoxious DJ and a bunch of dude-brahs drinking Natty Light, please look elsewhere. The Cross Street corridor has become just plain annoying from Thursday through Sunday night.

Finally, there may be some argument for a definition of the boundaries of this poll. I do think there is a distinct difference between the usual places designated as Federal Hill and a lot of other decent places that do not fit the bill. To me, it is amazing how bad a reputation the area gets for such a tiny conglomeration of bars.

TL;DR: Capt. Larry's is the best neighborhood bar.

I like Captain Larry's as well. I think the food is excellent, well priced and the portions are generous. I also think the fact that they don't take credit cards is old school.. love it !

Gotta love old school Sobo. So blue collar; true Baltimore right there... it could never.. and will never.. be anything else but it's roots.


Nice looking bar
Lots of space
Friendly bartenders
Great beer selection


Nice looking bar
Lots of space
Friendly bartenders
Great beer selection

If Fort Avenue is included in Federal Hill for the purposes of this discussion, then Captain Larry's is definitely my favorite. It's hard to go there and not see someone you know. Plus, a bar that doesn't accept credit cards tends to keep out the weekend county kids. When they open all the windows in the summer, its one of my favorite places to be.

Second place: Metropolitan. It may be more of a cafe, but it is truly a neighborhood spot, and you find the same locals there at least 5 days a week. And they have amazing Sunday brunch drinks.


Friendly bartenders
Lots of space
Great beer selection

Idle Hour!! The bar for adults in Fed hill. So if you're not 23 andtrying to get laid, then this is the bar for you.

Porter's is the total package for a neighborhood bar....great food, great bar, you can actually hear yourself think, and it isn't frequented by college students!

This is an easy answer! No doubt in my mind!

I'm not gonna name it, because I want it to stay as cool as it is. But, I will give out some clues...

1) It's not on Cross Street. 2) It's not filled with meat heads and yuppies. 3) They do have a pool table. 4) They don't serve food. 5) They do have a good jukebox. 6) They don't have beer on tap (except for one which usually isn't hooked up.)

I'm telling you, this is the "Number One" bar in Federal Hill!

In related news, did anyone see the surprisingly anti-meathead move Mad River made on Friday?

Abject Disaster -- what was it?

No Way Jose

Everyone knows the bartenders. Jen, the owner, is always in the bar saying hello to regulars or helping serve drinks when it gets crowded. The juke box is always going and people are always there for a good time. No yuppies coming in and trying to start fights with everyone.. just a chill local bar.

Abject Disaster -- what was it?

Mad River either hosted a private party or had their first gay night, a slightly different demographic than their standard Friday night revelers.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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