For weeks, my inbox, Twitter timeline and ears have burned.
Readers and colleagues can't stop talking about WC Harlan, a new bar in Remington. The praise has been gushing and unanimous. To them, WC Harlan is a wonder.
But there was something else: The bar's owners — Matt Pierce of the local band Big in Japan and writer Lane Harlan — are not interested in publicity and would prefer we not list its address.
During a time when bars hire public relations teams to generate buzz via social media and other outlets, WC Harlan would rather find success through solid execution and word-of-mouth marketing. The bar even lacks a sign outside, giving it the look and feel of an old speakeasy.
All of these factors — the chorus of praise, the shunning of attention — raised my interest. On one hand, it's easy to appreciate owners committing to a concept. But there's something potentially pretentious about all this secrecy. Why worry about your address being printed when a simple Google search gives it away?
Immediately after I walked into the former Kitty Kat Bar on a recent Thursday night, it was apparent why WC Harlan has quickly become the talk of Baltimore's nightlife scene. Its execution and attention to detail are sharp and impossible to ignore.
We picked a good time to come: a weeknight around 8 p.m. There were a dozen other patrons, ranging from graduate students to financial professionals discussing stock options. The mix worked because everyone automatically knew to act accordingly in WC Harlan's calm and subtly intoxicating atmosphere. The dim lighting, modest size, soft up-tempo jazz soundtrack and overall immaculate design reinforced the mood.
WC Harlan's beauty would be hollow without a suitable beer and cocktail list. The bar smartly keeps things simple, offering a cocktail du jour, wine (red, white and sparkling) and a light and dark beer on draft. There are also 10 beers served in bottles and cans, including National Bohemian ($2.50) and Verboten Pale Ale ($5.50).
On this day, the cocktail du jour ($8), recommended by our knowledgeable bartender, was a combination of mulled wine, bitters and lemon juice. The sweetness from the fruit and various spices made the cocktail approachable and addictive. Even better was the Kalimotxo ($8), which was red wine, Coca-Cola and ice. It was another winning — and simple — combination, like an adult Cherry Coke.
Serving only two beers on draft is normally a bad sign. But at WC Harlan, the straightforward presentation of light (a saison on this night) and dark (black lager) beers fits the bar's vintage personality. We enhanced our light beers with a peche cordial (which is basically a pour of peach liqueur for $1.50). The result was a slightly sweet concoction that, thankfully, still tasted like a farmhouse ale.
It is no exaggeration to say WC Harlan is one of the freshest and most striking bars to hit Baltimore in years. But experiencing it firsthand underlined why its owners cherish its relatively low-key success. WC Harlan isn't a bar that thrives on foot traffic. It's the rare bar that should be visited when most patrons aren't there, and that type of visit is already becoming difficult to time. Weekend nights have become increasingly busy. It's not hard to imagine weekday nights are next.
Now comes the ambivalence. A glowing review risks ruining the special spirit permeating throughout WC Harlan. To not inform readers about the city's newest must-see bar would be a mistake, too. So here's the best advice: Go to WC Harlan early in the night, preferably on a weekday, and prepare to be shocked that a bar so excellent is hiding in plain view in Remington.
Back story: Inspired by the spirit of the speakeasies of the Prohibition era, WC Harlan has become a quick hit in Remington, despite the owners — musician Matt Pierce and writer Lane Harlan — not seeking, or even wanting, publicity.
Parking: Free on the street.
Signature drink: The rotating cocktail du jour was impressive on a recent trip, but the Kalimotxo (both $8) was our favorite. Who knew red wine and Coke could be such a winning combination?
Where: 400 W. 23rd St., Remington
Open: 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Monday-Saturday, closed Sunday