Brass Elephant · Neon Moon · Globe Brewing Co. · The Brewer's Art · The Wharf Rat · John Steven, Ltd. · Kisling's · J.C.'s Bar and Grill · Nick's Inner Harbour Seafood Co. · Birds of a Feather · Bertha's
The Brass Elephant (924 N. Charles St.,  547-8480) has the atmosphere all of those retro/modern martini bars are hoping to cultivate. The gorgeous second-floor bar is home to a happy hour reminiscent of the cocktail hours enjoyed by civilized folk in black-and-white movies. This is not a piña colada bar; you'll want to sip a Macallan's or good vintage pinot noir, and the two-for-one prices allow you to indulge a little. There's free food in the corner, and a menu that offers a dozen or so reasonably priced selections from the Elephant's renowned kitchen.
Looking for hip and trendy without black turtlenecks and hype? The Neon Moon (2522 Fait Ave.,  327-6366) is a cool little rowhouse hideaway off Canton's beaten path with nouvelle cuisine and a bar with a martini list running into the hundreds. The menu is full of surprising dishes (loads of fresh herbs, grilled veggies, and fish), the décor is contemporary, and the crowd is mostly neighborhood folks.
When the Globe Brewing Co. (1321 Key Highway,  347-7964 ) debuted last year, it revived a storied name in Baltimore brewing (an earlier Globe Brewery operated in town for generations) and quickly became a happening party spot for the under-25-and-on-the-make set. While its warehouse-cum-brewery has the charm and atmospherics of an aircraft hanger, the brews are sophisticated and first-rate (particularly the well-balanced Mobtown Brown). The seafood offerings--both the raw and the cooked--are pleasant as well. The twentysomething throngs have thinned since the Globe took a hiatus in August (due, we understand, to a lack of air conditioning), but plans to add steamed crabs to the seafood mix (and install AC) this spring may bring the throngs back.
Talk about your happy hours: From 4 to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday the Brewer's Art (1106 N. Charles St.,  547-6925) opens the taps wide, to the tune of half-price house brews. Settle down in the cool basement bar or the elegant upstairs lounge and double up on the "dubble"-style Resurrection Ale, or the tasty Ozzy white, or another of the Brewer's excellent liquid products. Soak it up with a plate of garlic fries, or a tapas platter, or something a little more ambitious from the very ambitious kitchen.
The Britcentric Wharf Rat (206 W. Pratt St.,  244-8900 and 801 S. Ann St.,  276-9034) triples your pleasure with a three-mugs-for-three-bills happy hour. With more fresh-made flavors than any other local brewpub, the Rat is a beer-swillers paradise. (The Blackfriars stout gives Guinness a run for its money.) One caveat: The Pratt Street branch (site of the brewery) sits in the shadow of the Baltimore Convention Center, which means the pub menu is priced for the per-diem crowd.
To our way of thinking "gentrification"--stripping out the grit, grime, and character of a place--is usually a four-letter word. John Steven, Ltd. (1800 Thames St.,  327-5561), however, has both kept it real (its funky, friendly bar) and gussied it up (its snazzy dining area and patio). Personally, we go for the weathered bar's straight-shooting sushi and plump mussels. Let the tourist trade tackle the upscale options.
Kisling's (2100 Fleet St.,  327-5477), at the gateway to Canton (corner of Fleet and Boston streets), offers several incentives for a postwork (or later) stop: top-notch seafood from the steamer; fine burgers and outstanding fries (with malt vinegar provided on the table, thank you very much); good stuff on tap; and the most single-mindedly conceptual men's-room graffiti we've seen in this burg. Good food, good drink, good read.
A few blocks to the east, J.C.'s Bar and Grill (3020 Elliott St.,  342-1344) is worth the occasional happy-hour visit for a plate of one our of favorite appetizers, Chicken Crunch--chicken tenders coated with everyone's favorite straight-from-the-box cereal, Cap'n Crunch (no Crunchberries, sad to say). Ahoy.
Time was the happy-hour crowds that rubbed elbows at Nick's Inner Harbour Seafood Co. (Cross Street Market,  685-2020) were a pleasant mix of Formstone old-timers and exposed-brick newcomers. These days the balance has tipped decidedly towards the latter. (Lines of cigar-toting yupsters occasionally have to line up for the privilege of drinking beer from a plastic cup on Nick's fishy-smelling cement floor.) But if you catch it on a good day--when the cell-phone-and-sport-utility hordes have decamped elsewhere--Nick's can still be a comfy, casual place to knock back brews and oysters. Try it on a weekday afternoon.
If your taste in happy-hour activity runs more toward sipping than quaffing, flock to Fells Point's Birds of a Feather (1712 Aliceanna St.,  675-8466), which claims to have the country's largest selection of single-malt scotches--more than 120 of them, from Aberlour 10-year to Whyte & Whyte Highland Park 18-year. After enjoying your peaty beverage in the small but friendly front bar, you might consider repairing to Birds' restaurant for similarly rarefied gourmet fare including emu (you read right), flying fish, and plain old salmon fillet and surf 'n' turf.
Bertha's (734 S. Broadway,  327-5795) doesn't have a happy hour per se--no stipulated period of discount drinks or free munchies. But so what? If you drop by after work you're sure to find a lively, spirited bunch in attendance. And you'll definitely find much to be happy about: tasty bar fare (the classic steamed mussels, shepherd's pie, seafood cakes, fish chowder); a wide selection of beers; a full dining room; and live music on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings.
812 Park Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21201