Homesick Marylanders too lazy to actually drive to Maryland have a new hangout in DC. Free State Atlantic Bar opens tonight in Chinatown with orange crushes, Chesapeake-inspired decor, and Berger Cookies.
The bar, located below ramen shop Bantam King, comes from Lost & Found owners Brian and Hilarey Leonard. Brian grew up in Aberdeen, Maryland and went to University of Maryland, “so he loves everything Maryland,” Hilarey says.
Free State was Maryland’s state’s nickname when it opposed Prohibition. “At the time, they said they wanted to be a free state,” Hilarey explains.
A Chesapeake Bay mural greets bar-goers at the entrance. The rest of the space has a nautical look with washed woods, maps of the region, and old ship lanterns and oars. The bar has three big booths each with their own themes, including lighthouses, beaches, and ships.
All the spirits and 14 draft beers come from the Mid-Atlantic states between Pennsylvania and North Carolina (plus DC). There’s also a large-format bottle list with some rare and hard-to-find beers.
And no, you can not get Natty Boh. The beer is no longer made in Maryland.
The five cocktails include riffs on classics from the area, including an orange crush and frozen rye. The house shot is a homemade Lithuanian honey liqueur called Viryta made with rye whiskey, honey, orange and lemon peel, and a bunch of spices. The shot is popular in Baltimore, where there’s a big Lithuanian community, and is something Brian grew up drinking.
Wines are less local, except for a cabernet sauvignon from Solomons Island Winery. Hilarey just got her level-one sommelier certificate and has staff from wine-centric restaurants like Ripple and Vinoteca, so she’s trying to build a wine-friendly customer base as well. “I just want to expose people to things they don’t normally drink,” she says.
Happy hour—weekdays from 4 to 7 pm—includes $2-off spirits, plus discounted beers and wines. While there’s no kitchen, there are Maryland “beach snacks” like Dolle’s salt water taffy, Fisher’s Popcorn, and Utz chips. Trail mix and apple chips come from a local non-profit Together We Bake, which gives job training to women who need a second chance. Customers can also bring in their own food—and Bantam King is now offering takeout.
Free State Atlantic Bar, 501B G St., NW; 202-601-7216. Open Sunday through Thursday from 4 pm to 2 am and Friday and Saturday from 4 pm to 3 am.