A request from a reader basically kicks my posterior into updating and highlighting some new places at the same time. Specifically, I was asked about any places to drink in Baltimore's Federal Hill.
First, the new place: I was informed by Ken Krucenski, the former owner of Sean Bolan's in Federal Hill, that he and partners basically "repossessed" the former bar at 1236 S. Light St, which had been operating as Clayton's for the past year or so. It has been re-sold, this time reborn as Muggsy's. I visited the other day; if you remember the original Sean Bolan's, you'll be right at home. They've got a nice selection of craft and craft-like beers (the most unusual when I was there: Saranac Pomegranate Wheat) in both bottles and draft, and a decent-looking menu.
Next, the other new upstart in the neighborhood, Metropolitan Coffeehouse and Wine Bar. Well, not really new--you've seen a mention or two on this blog already. The former One World Cafe at 902 S. Charles St. has a limited but good selection of drafts and bottles to complement its coffees, teas, and wines.
An old standby for good beer in the neighborhood is the Ropewalk Tavern at 1209 S. Charles St. This place has long had a dependably large selection of bottles and drafts, but at the same time has the distinction of being possibly the only venue in the nation to demand its removal from the popular Pubcrawler website, allegedly over a long series of (possibly politically motivated) bad reviews and their attempts to have same removed from the website. Others simply don't seem to care for the overall atmosphere in the bar; it seemingly attracts a somewhat gregarious, affluent, and "yuppie" crowd that doesn't seem to sit well with some beer consumers.
Illusions, at 1025 S. Charles St., is an interesting diversion from the usual bar scene--a magic-themed lounge serving a high-classed clientèle, as well as Magic Hat beers. Oddly, no draft beer yet, but probably one of the more interesting experiences you're likely to see in Baltimore's bars. Watch out for a weekend cover charge and dress code (no sneakers or baseball caps).
I would be remiss if I didn't mention what is technically Federal Hill's only "brewpub", the Dog Pub at 20 E. Cross St. They don't brew the beers on premises, but instead own the former Clay Pipe brewing facility out in Westminster, where they brew for both this location and a new site in Columbia, Md. They formerly served re-badged Old Dominion products before the sale of OD to Coastal/Anheuser-Busch and their dropping from the Maryland market, forcing them to "brew or die". Happy hour gives you two beers (10-0z. mugs) for $4; the beers are at least distinctive and a definite step up from macro-swill or NAILs (North American Industrial Lagers), but almost completely overshadowed by the other "players" in town. But the pizzas are terrific. (Nope, no website. Try an Internet search for more reviews.)
If you walk by 36 E. Cross St., pay tribute to the original site of Maryland's first new-generation brewpub, Sisson's. It's now two generations past, operating as Ryleigh's Oyster House, and though the old taps were still there last I looked, the place has nothing left of the original claustrophobic shoehorned-in brewery (which is now in service in West Virginia as Mountaineer Brewing, run by Brian Arnett, the last brewer at the Ryleigh's brewpub). Sisson's, of course, mutated into Clipper City Brewing Co., still run by Hugh Sisson in Arbutus/Halethorpe.