Friday, February 17, 2012

Get Your Drink On: Liquor In The Suburbs

Victoria's sampler on the patio
Man does not live on bread alone.  He needs a drink every once in a while.

The liquor story in Howard County seems to have two chapters as far as I can tell.  You have bars -- places where you can eat, but you're scanning the crowd more than the menu if you know what I mean.  Then you have focused joints -- beer bars or wine bars that pour delicious flavor and serve food that measures up.

This is part of HowChow's 2012 guide to Howard County -- "Welcome Home."  Ten posts to prove there are dozens of places worth your time, that you can find great food all across the county.  It's written for someone new to Howard County (maybe a link you send a friend thinking about moving here), but hopefully it's useful to anyone.

Let's party first.  This is where I need advice from local experts.  I did my drinking in smoky joints back when exotic beer meant Sam Adams and we thought women actually liked Zima.  (So much that we didn't know about women.)  So I would love comments that explain the scenes or the differences between the local night-life places -- and that recommend others or recommend good eating among them.

I know they're out there because I drive past packed parking lots, and I see tweeted specials that emphasize fun and price.  Young people are having fun in Howard County, and I know there is good food at some of these places as well.  Here's some places that seem to be hopping:
Flying Dog's Raging Bitch IPA
Now, let's talk about places trying to sell you high-end alcohol.  Obviously, lots of joints serve good wine and beer.  But there are places that curate the stuff.  Craft beer bars, often giving great advice and serving flights so you can sample.  (Anyone for a night out with the boys?)  Wine spots, maybe with one of those specialized systems to sell by the glass.  (Perfect for "Girls Night Out.")

Again, I'd love anyone's advice.  When I travel for business, I like to eat at a restaurant's bar because it's easy and somewhat social.  I could imagine people sitting at the bar at Ranazul or Venegas Prime Filet in Fulton.  But if you're looking for liquor, here are some places to go if you're drinking to go with the food:
Craft beer and "jarbecue" at Kloby's
  • Frisco Tap Room in Columbia for beer.  It's a casual place that built its own space a few years ago.  People talk up the Southwestern food.
  • Victoria Gastro Pub in Columbia for beer, including a flight of sample sizes.  Another place to eat at the bar.  I love the burgers, and the menu runs from imaginative sandwiches through upscale entrees.
  • Kloby's Smokehouse on Johns Hopkins Road for beer and bourbon, including flights as well.  Great barbecue, including ribs, pulled pork and smoked chicken wings.
  • Aida Bistro in Columbia for wine.  They have upscale Italian food, and they have a wine program that includes 30 wines on tap.  It's a hightech system that lets you sample the good stuff.
  • Iron Bridge Wine Company in Columbia for wine.  They created a cozy spot with bottles for sale and a rotating menu of small plates and entrees to go with them.  Great food.
  • Bistro Blanc in Glenelg for wine.  With a similar wine-store-restaurant arrangement as Iron Bridge, they brought high end food to the western county.  It's the fun of a menu that changes with the seasons.
(Update: The comments below rightly argue that T-Bonz and River Hill -- and others -- qualify as "curate" beer bars.  For more [although maybe outdated a bit], check out a 2009 post about Beer in Howard County.)

Personally, my first recommendation is the most casual because Kloby's barbecue makes for a casual meal with the delicious beers.  The wings are top notch.  You get the full wing -- both pieces smoked and then fried in my favorite "dirty and old" version.  You can also try pulled pork and the variation that is world famous -- maybe blog-famous -- "jarbecue."

If you want local beer news, check out the Baltimore Beer Guy blog for craft beer spottings.  If you want to buy your own liquor, there seem to be liquor stores everywhere.  The Perfect Pour in Elkridge is an enormous store, and i.m. Wine in Fulton is my local.

What I Don't Know: Where do you drink?  Beer folks talk up the Judge's Bench in Ellicott City, although I haven't imbibed there.  For beer news, I recommend the Baltimore Beer Guy blog.  Honestly, I don't know anything about the real drinking scene.  I had hoped the HoCo Hangover blog would fill that gap.  Any thoughts on Looneys vs. Green Turtle vs. Diamondback vs. somewhere else?  Any food suggestions at the drinking joints?  Also, I assume someone caters to gay or lesbian drinkers around here.  What's good?


Alicyn DelZoppo said...

You've pretty much covered my favorite beer places....Victoria's, Kloby's and Frisco. Clyde's, while expensive for beers, has Resurrection on draft. Phoenix in Old Ellicott City has a pretty good beer selection as well. I like Pub Dogs two-fers. Bare Bones brews their own beer as well.

Robin said...

Great series of posts so far! I've been craving both sushi and Korean food since the last one, and would be craving Indian too if I hadn't already eaten meals from Royal Taj and Tandoor Grill this week. Yum.

My thoughts on a few of the bars you've mentioned here...

Frisco and Kloby's are my standards if I'm going out specifically with beer in mind. If I want good beer with Sunday morning brunch, Victoria it is. It's also nice to be able to get beer flights at both Kloby's and Victoria, since large selection frequently leads to indecision.

You mentioned that you hadn't been to Judge's Bench, which I'd also put up there with the top tier of beer bars. 17 good taps, with flights available. Last I heard, they were also doing scotch flights, with over 80 kinds of single malt available if I remember correctly.

I'd also recommend upgrading two places from the "hopping" list to the more elite group, despite their typical bar feel. T-Bonz has 40 craft taps, second only to Frisco in the county. They also serve flights (though supposedly considering stopping), and their rib special on Tuesday nights is one of the best food deals I've found. River Hill Sports Grille has a much smaller selection of craft taps, but they make every one count, and I'd be spending a lot of time there if it weren't for so many other good beer bars around.

Union Jacks, though I wouldn't consider it a beer bar, is worth a visit on Wednesday nights for "British Invasion." 25% off British foods, and $3 British pints. Hard to pass up, especially with Fullers being one of my comfort beers.

Finally, I'd like to mention my other two standard spots. Both have smaller selections geared toward "typical" drinkers, but a couple good brews mixed in that will please any beer snob. Second Chance Saloon, also rightfully on the "hopping" list, is great for a casual evening and has never failed to bring me a good pint. Or three. Corner Stable in King's Contrivance also has a few decent offerings, including full pints of DuClaw Serum, which most other local places serve in smaller glasses. The food is decent too, and I've never been disappointed with any of their daily soups, which have almost become my standard meal there.

Not that I like beer very much...

K8teebug said...

The Judge's Bench in Ellicott City is so often overlooked. Really great beer, a fun owner, and nice bartenders. Also, some of the best wings you'll ever eat. My friend said they were better than Anchor Bar in Buffalo!

Sarah said...

Ditto-- covered most of our haunts. Pub Dog, Frisco's, Victoria, Kloby's. We do also like Ellicott City Brewing Company but the place we most often go probably is Sonoma's because then we don't have to fight over who drives. Their beer selection is nothing special but they usually have a Sam Adams seasonal, Dogfish Head seasonal, and/or Leinenkugel seasonal and they also have Fat Tire, so there's always something we'll enjoy. Being able to walk there is the huge plus for us, plus their bar food is pretty good.

K8teebug said...

And Clyde's charges NINE DOLLARS for a Resurrection. That is just plain wrong.

Zevonista said...

You've covered most of my faves, but let's not forget Duclaw in Arundel Mills. Not technically HoCo, but they have great happy hours every night of the week - half-priced pints and half-priced apps. Food isn't as good as Victoria's, but we manage to work it into the rotation.

David said...

2 great places with live music, very good to excellent food and drinks and priced nice:
Twist and Turn Tavern
great burgers and crab cakes. Flying Dog. (Corner of 108 (Clarksville Pike) and 216 (Highland-Scaggsville Road).

Smokin Hot Bar and Grille (greatest BBQ Ribs in HoCo. great sized bar seperate from dining room.)
2465 Roxbury Mill Road (Rt 97 near Western Regional Park), Glenwood

Anonymous said...

First mention of Perfect Pour I've seen on here in a while... they're simply one the best beer stores I've ever been to... amazing selection, and helpful (+knowledgeable) staff.

P90 Noir said...

Victoria is without a doubt my favorite beer place in Columbia. I love variety and the sampler is just too much fun to pass up.

Pub Dog is always fun. And I have to say that Corner Stable is doing a really good job with beer selection. I'll second River Hill Sports Grille. My band played there a few months ago and I was blown away by what they had on tap.

As for places to buy beer. I'm always impressed with Kings Contrivance Liquor Store. They don't have the selection of Perfect Pour, but they often have what I'm looking for.

IM Wine is my favorite these days. Great selection and usually better prices than Perfect Pour.

I'm quickly falling out of love with Perfect Pour. Their selection is amazing and they are helpful, but they are getting pretty close to price gouging on many of their large format beers. I'm sorry but charging $25 for Sierra/Dogfish Life and Limb is criminal. I've found it at other local stores for $10-12. Same goes for the prices they have started charging for the Dogfish 750s.

Baltimore Beer Guy said...

I think everyone has this pretty well covered (gotta love HowChow!).

I haven't been to Corner Stable or 2nd Chance Saloon yet but have heard solid things about them from the beer crowd.

Clyde's has had decent beer on-and-off depending on who was in charge of that program and right now its in good hands with my friend Demitian who knows what he's doing and had plenty of up close experience with that when he was at Victoria Gastro Pub prior.

T-Bonz is interesting in that it can get hopping but is also a legit if slightly under the radar beer bar. The "beer nerds" I know tend to congregate mostly at Frisco and Judges but something is clearly happening at Victoria and Bonz given the volume and commitment of their beer programs and sales.

Totally agree about Bonz's Tuesday rib special, BTW.

River Hill is quietly doing a good job, they briefly had Frisco's current bar manager Alex there and he helped point their beer program in the right direction.

In re: Judges, they have a great Scotch program, they claim to have the third most single malt scotches in all of Maryland to go with the 17 taps, excellent bottle list and now an effort to sell solid wine. Owner Mike actually moved the wine bottles to the front of the bar and has a nitrogen gas system linked to the bottles to keep them fresher, longer.

Victoria last year won the Restaurant Association of Maryland award for best overall bar program, eclipsing the famed Charleston. Rightly so, in my opinion, nobody does a better combo of high end wine, a true cocktail program and a very solid beer program. Many bars can do well at one, VGP's invested itself and its people to succeed at all three.

Craft tap count doesn't always mean everything, but Howard County is in a nice place right now with the second most (Frisco - 50) and third most (T-Bonz - 40) craft beer taps in the state.

Kloby's with its 32 and VGP and its 24 aren't far behind.

Kloby's is doing a great job as well, owner Steve is a smart dude and has been creative with his space and his program, copying things at times like the video board taplist similar to Frisco's but also putting his own twist on things particularly with the food offerings. Its pretty cool to go to certain places now and get real gourmet with great beer (VGP, Klobys).

Ellicott Mills is a little forgotten. They're rigidly committed to their particular vision of beer and execute it to its fullest, although the craft crowd isn't always receptive to it. But, they remain the only real brewery in the county (for now)and should be at least afforded some respect for that.

For the record, Bare Bones does not brew beer (anymore).

Rob said...

Baltimore Beer Guy did a great job. I will add my recommendation for Judge's Bench. BBG hit all the high points on the drinks. As far as food, while they don't have an extensive menu, what they do, they do well. And I agree they have the best Wings this side of Kislings.

megantron said...

Thanks for the recs. I recently moved back home to HoCo from Baltimore and I'm still not sure how adults drink in the suburbs when it means having to use a car to get around. Designated drivers? Stop the college binge-drinking routine?

Alicyn DelZoppo said...

Baltimore Beer Guy - While I know Bare Bones doesn't brew onsite anymore (they haven't for years), don't they still have their own brews? Such as Old Frederick IPA?

brandon said...

It's my local store so I'm biased, but as far as liquor stores go I think the staff at Lynwood Wine and Spirits (in Elkridge next to the Giant off Marshalee and in the same center as Pazani and El Hildago) are as helpful and friendly as in any store I've found in Maryland. Selection is not as spectacular as Perfect Pour but they've got a good selection of beer and wine that exceeds my knowledge.

Alicyn DelZoppo said...

Pine Orchard Liquors on Route 40, near Pachanga, has a surprisingly impressive craft beer selection in their store.

Anonymous said...

Rams Head in Savage Mill is often overlooked. They have a decent beer selection and live music. They used to have free wings during happy hour on Fridays...they may still do that but I haven't been for HH in a while. They also have a great deck for summertime seating.

Baltimore Beer Guy said...

Re: Bare Bones,

Sort of? They're on the menu but they are not producing them. You can kind of fill in the blanks as to how that works ;)

Porter said...

Judge's Bench. Great selection, fair prices, feels like a bar. I wouldn't call it a dive, but Toto,I've a feeling we're not in Columbia anymore.

bosoxbrent said...

Sorry I haven't jumped in til now. The Belgian Beer Fest at Max's in Baltimore consumed all my blog reading time this past weekend.

There's a couple of places that I think are missing here.

First I'd like to point out Blob's Park in Jessup as a legit German beer hall. Where Jessup is divided into part HoCo, part Arundel, I'm not sure if Blob's falls on this side of the line or not. The food there is decent, but the beer list is pretty damn impressive when it comes to a full German lineup (mostly bottles). As an added bonus, they always have some "oompah" band playing to liven up the crowd. My only minor dig is that the crowd is usually on the older side. So if you want some great German beers and music, and want to walk away feeling young, this is your place.

The other place I'd like to plug is Troy Farms Liquors on Meadowridge Road in Elkridge (just south of 100). I can't speak to the wine or liquor selection, but if you want to pick up a 6-pack of Dale's Pale Ale, or some other quality craft beer and don't want to feel like your wallet has been stolen (yeah I'm talking to you Perfect Pour!) then this is your place. The selection is not huge, but it's decent and they have the best prices around. The employees there are also super nice and I've heard they will seriously consider stocking beer recommendations you make.

This is a great post and the comments show we have some seriously knowledgeable folks here in HoCo who know where to get their drink on. Maybe I'll see some of you around at T-Bonz sometime.


brandon said...

CNN recently ran a story in the travel section about 101 best sports bars in the nation, broken down by state. The two for Maryland were River Hill and Looney's (the address is the Maple Lawn address, but with Baltimore as the city, yet another claim on Tribeco).

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