With connections to "The Wire," Edgar Allan Poe, and rowdy sports crowds, Baltimore often gets the unfair reputation of being all grit, goth, and game-day bravado. It may not have the excess of options and sunrise-late hours found in Washington D.C. and New York City, but this vibrant, multi-cultural city seamlessly blends historical charm with modern nightlife.
Not just a daytime hotspot for crab cakes, spooky stories, and paddle boats around the Inner Harbor, Baltimore’s thriving arts community and influx of young professionals make it the perfect city for bar hopping and live music. While it’s not a hub for dancing—though its handful of notable clubs are long-standing institutions that cater to every crowd—its pubs, cocktail bars, and cultural events offer refreshingly casual and unpretentious nightlife options whether you’re after a low-key night with an early bedtime or want to let loose until birds sing. Just make sure you either commit to a neighborhood or have a designated driver/Uber budget; public transport options are spotty and close by midnight.
Having played an important part in the nation’s beer history, Baltimore is home to an ever-growing cluster of microbreweries and laid-back sports bars. However, one of its biggest nightlife selling points is its drinking scene diversity. If you’re not feeling the tailgating vibe, there are plenty of dimly lit cocktail bars and creative mixologists in former row homes.
To maximize options and minimize journey time between places, head to Federal Hill, Fells Point, or Mount Vernon and see where the harbor wind takes you. For a planned crawl, here are a few spots not to miss:
- WC Harlan: Get some of the most experimental cocktails in Baltimore in this 1920s speakeasy. If you like the style but prefer something more airy and bright, try Clavel, the owner’s nearby mezcaleria.
- of Love and Regret: With extensive collections of draught beer, new world wines, and booze-heavy cocktails, this bar will satisfy the cravings of the indecisive.
- Ropewalk Tavern: Soak in Baltimore’s pre-prohibition shipbuilding history in this landmark building while your stomach soaks up carb joy in fried appetizers and craft beer. Fridays boast $1 drink deals.
- Bookmaker’s Cocktail Club: From drag queen Sunday brunch to sophisticated bar snacks like brown-sugar-glazed bacon and house-made pickles, this whiskey lover’s paradise values indulgence in all forms.
- The Elk Room: One of Esquire’s best bars in America, this speakeasy features a cocktail menu with an accompanying soundtrack and a warning about consuming liquid nitrogen. Even your most blasé friend will leave impressed.
- Rye: Another bar on the Esquire list, this one is best enjoyed by giving its bartenders free rein to create personalized drinks.
- Anabel Lee Tavern: In a city steeped with literary history, this tavern is a one-stop-shop for all themed drinks (and puns) Poe.
Bars may steal the show in Baltimore, but what the city lacks in recognizable club brands and large venues, it makes up for with a welcoming, down to earth vibe. The majority of clubs don’t charge a cover and shun dress codes, so it’s easy to be spontaneous and decide five drinks in to go “out out.” Rock and indie clubs The Rockwell and Ottobar are particularly good transition spots with doors opening and happy hours starting early, but Mosaic at Power Plant Live offers a more traditional EDM-laced scene. For dancing queens or those clinging to the weekend, Factory 17 (formerly and frequently still known as Club 1722) caters to the after-hours crowd, playing house and Top 40 hits from 1:45 a.m. to 5 a.m. on Saturday and Sunday. Street parking is limited, and it’s not a great area for walking, so plan transport in advance.
More prevalent and more popular than nightclubs are hybrid venues that swing between bar, club, and event space. Take GAME: a sports bar, arcade, and party spot all in one 10,000-square-foot space. Pretty much any night of any week, you can find live music and an enthusiastic crowd somewhere, especially if you’re willing to entertain unconventional setups. 8x10 actively encourages emerging bands to record their live sets, 1919 is an intimate dive bar with a love of funk, and Cat’s Eye Pub serves up great harbor views and every musical genre. In the summer, outdoor gigs frequently pop up around the harbor, but for a reliable mainstay and a good sound system, visit Ram’s Head Live.
Despite being known for several food items (like the life-changing Berger Cookies), Baltimore is more about late-night pizza delivery than post-club sit-downs. If a 4 a.m. slice isn’t your thing, you have some options:
- Blue Agave: Satisfy your munchies while continuing the party with margaritas at this Mexican restaurant that’s open until 2 a.m.
- Topside: Closing its kitchen at 11 p.m., it’s not exactly after-hours dining, but Topside’s rooftop and views of Mount Vernon warrant a mention.
- Vaccaro’s Italian Pastry Shop: Another 11 p.m. closer, this cookie and cannoli heaven is a sweet treat to end your night or a sugar rush to fuel the second wind.
- Broadway Diner: This diner is open 24 hours and has everything you want in American comfort food, but it’s a drive away from the main going out neighborhoods.
Events and Festivals
Specialized events are where Baltimore shines. Summer festivals are particularly well-attended, and food, beverage, culture, history, and arts feature prominently on the expanding annual program. Here are some highlights:
- Martin Luther King Jr Parade (January): 2020 marked the 20th anniversary of this celebration featuring local dance troupes, bands, artists, and community-focused organizations.
- Irish Trad Fest (April): Aiming to preserve Baltimore’s Irish music scene roots, this weekend festival includes workshops and performances around Irish dance and song.
- Wine Festival (June): Wine and dine in a waterfront park in the summer. Need we say more?
- Artscape (July): America’s largest free arts festival attracts more than 350,000 attendees and features more than 150 artists, designers, and craftspeople plus outdoor concerts, exhibits, dance and comedy performances, literary workshops, and culinary showcases.
- Light and Literature Unite Festival (November): 2019 was the first year Baltimore’s annual book festival and light art installations joined forces for a nine-day series of talks, signings, and workshops.
Tips for Going Out in Baltimore
- The Charm City Circulator, the Metro, and the Light Rail are affordable ways to get around, but they taper off early (midnight at the latest). Buses are notoriously unreliable.
- If you’re staying within central, well-populated neighborhoods like Federal Hill, Fells Point, Inner Harbor, or Mount Vernon, walking is a viable mode of transport. Otherwise, it’s safest to rely on Uber or Lyft. Baltimore is a compact city with nightlife clustered in a few spots, so transport costs are minimal.
- Last call is 2 a.m. citywide, with the exception of a few licensed after-hours places, and some bars start the shuffle around 1:30 a.m. When they say last call, they mean it—you will get herded out at 2 a.m. on the dot.