Located in the charming Federal Hill section of downtown Baltimore, Ropewalk Tavern is the intersection where your favorite college hangout meets the cigar scene. On a deliciously cool Saturday evening in November, it felt a bit like a grown-up fraternity social where conversation turned to aging sorority girls and new-found disposable income. In short, this is not your daddy's cigar bar, unless your daddy likes women half his age and body shots of Jägermeister.
Brothers Marc, 28, and Bill McFaul, 33, never intended to own a cigar bar. Marc, in fact, was looking at a career in law enforcement when his brother convinced him to become a partner in the then-dilapidated pre-Prohibition site. They quickly shucked the nude portraits and velvet wall coverings and placed a humidor (which fluctuates between 25 and 30 brands) and a refrigerator (filled with 182 different beers) in the informal but handsome space. Finished with a natural brick interior, the room houses two solid oak bars stocked with as many as 52 single malt Scotches.
The effect? Never have an authentic cigar-store Indian and a "Golden Tee '99" video golf game seemed so in harmony.
"We had started with a cigar night," said Marc. "I found myself selling so many cigars that we figured, Why not make cigar night every night."
Your first sign of Ropewalk's cigar friendliness is one of nine hand-carved cigar store Indians — all imported from Thailand — who greets you upon entry (all the Indian figures are for sale, according to management; it might be fun to ask, "Hey, how much is that Indian in the window, the one with the tomahawk in hand?"). Your second are premium cigar boxes used as part of the décor. Your third sign is an assortment of hand-rolled cigars ranging from $4 Don Tomáses to $16 Arturo Fuente Reservas; Montecristo Kilimanjaros and Cohiba Crystals go for $10, just to name a few. A $5 cigar-and-pint deal is offered on certain brands.
Fire up an Ashton 8-9-8 ($10), order a dark, rich Spaten Optimator ($3) or, on the lighter side, a locally brewed and virile-sounding Oliver's Iron Man Pale Ale ($3). Use the beer to wash down a big bowl of steamed jumbo shrimp seasoned in Old Bay seasoning — a Maryland gastronomic tradition (the bowl is big enough for two hungry honchos). Resist the temptation, however, to try the Wyatt's Wild agave beer, which looks as if it's in an Arizona iced tea bottle — it will have you thinking that you sucked down some suntan lotion with those fresh shrimp. (Tequiza might be a better bet if you're in the market for crossover suds.)
Your hands will get plenty greasy from the generous bowl of the shrimp, the tavern's only delicacy, so chalk up well before you pick up a pool cue. You might feel crowded on a weekend night trying to move around one of the two coin-operated pool tables — one of which looks like a dried cesspool of spilled drinks. But after the eight ball has succumbed to gravity's pull, you'll find yourself shaking hands with locals who'll tell you the best places in the city to party. Whether or not you smoke them on the pool table.
1209 S. Charles Street
Mondays, 4 p.m. to 2 a.m.
Tuesday through Sunday, noon to 2 a.m.