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Best Bets: Baltimore’s Best Liquor Stores

Sometimes you just want a six pack of Heineken. That’s a problem easily solved. Other times, all you need is a bottle of Beam. You can find that just about anywhere. Occasionally though, you need to go above and beyond. If you’re planning for a large party, stocking your bar from scratch, or starting your wine collection you’ll need a liquor store that goes above and beyond.

The shops mentioned here aren’t so much liquor stores as they are liquor wonderlands. They’re like candy stores for grownups. They’re the places you keep coming back to, because they’ve got more different bottles in there than you could ever possibly drink, try though you might. They are, simply put, the best.

A visual approximation of the Chop buying a bottle at one of our favorite liquor stores.

Beltway Fine Wine. You’ve probably driven by Beltway at a pretty high speed and not thought much of it. It’s easy to miss, being jammed underneath an Ethan Allen furniture store. What you don’t realize from the road though is that it’s got the same square footage as the giant furniture store above it. It’s huge. There may be some strange obscure liquor somewhere in the world that Beltway doesn’t have, but we kind of doubt it. 8727 Loch Raven Blvd, Towson.

The Wine Source. As liquor stores go, the Wine Source is the Chop’s home base. Simply the best inside Baltimore City, as the rest of the stores on this list are all out in the suburbs. If the Wine Source had a walk-in beer cooler and a better parking situation, it would achieve liquor store perfection. 3601 Elm Avenue, Baltimore.

Dawson’s Liquors. We’ve never actually been to Dawson’s, because it’s in Severna Park and we only pass through that way about once every 10 years or so, but we were tipped off to it by our man over at I Hate JJ Redick who’s always on point, so we’re going to take his word for it. We hate to judge a store by its website, but theirs is pretty damn good, and crappy stores don’t usually invest in outstanding websites. 589 B & A Blvd, Severna Park.

Midway Liquors. If you’re traveling that far out Route 40 East, you must make a point of stopping in at Midway. Even if you have to pull a u-turn to do it. We’ve only been in there once, but we walked out with three good bottles of Scotch for $100. Those bottles would have cost $150 most other places, and that’s the beauty of Midway. You could say the same about anything in the store. 12320 Pulaski Highway, Joppa.

Honeygo Wine and Spirits. with their ‘Wall of Beer’ Honeygo is known as a go to spot for fans of microbrews and imports, and is even favored by one of Baltimore’s foremost beer experts. Of course, as any great liquor store does, they excel in their selection of wine and spirits as well. 5004 Honeygo Center Dr, Perry Hall.

Shawan Liquors. Shawan Liquors is in Hunt Valley. Like everything else in Hunt Valley, it’s pretty much by rich people, for rich people. So if you’ve got a taste for a well aged Islay or a Ch√Ęteauneuf-du-Pape, Shawan is the place for you. If you want a 30 pack of High Life, well, they might have that gathering dust in the basement too. 11337 York Road, Hunt Valley.

Ronnie’s Fine wine and Spirits. Last but not least is the pride of Harford County, Ronnie’s in Bel Air. They’ve got a wonderful walk in beer cooler, as well as a ton of microbrews, a good selection of kegs, and a 3-for-$12 wine bin. They’re also known for their occasional blowout sales which draw large crowds looking to stock up. Putting every bottle in the store on sale once in a while is a policy we’d like to see more stores adopt! 1514 Rock Spring Road, Forest Hill.

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Best Bets: Using Books as Home Decor

When we moved into the Chophouse about a year and a half ago, we were basically starting from scratch. We had moved around so much previously that we had accumulated very little furniture, and what we did have was in desperate need of replacement. Since then, we’ve been slowly figuring out how to fill up all this space.

Roommate moved in and brought his furniture, then moved out and took it away again, so we’re in the strange position now of having a completely bare living room, while at the same time being ready to put the finishing touches on most other rooms. In just about all of our rooms, those finishing touches are going to include books.

Books should fit into a living space organically, without dominating the room.

Incorporating books into design is nothing new, and there are any number of ways to go about it. Sites like Book Decor and Books By The Foot will even sell you books in bulk to suit any design aesthetic you like, from goatskin covers to shelves arranged by size or color, or even books wrapped in custom covers. Just don’t try to actually read them though, since they’re selected solely for appearance and may not even be in English.

We see this as a tacky, slothful solution, and prefer a more organic approach. Books should say something about their owner, and need to pull their weight in any design scheme by actually being functional. If it’s not something we’d want to pick up and idly look over on any lazy Sunday afternoon, then it’s just not worth having around.

Aside from the library of novels in our home office, we’re envisioning a few choice vegetarian cookbooks living in the kitchen. It’s nice to have some fresh ideas for dinner close at hand, and trying to double check something on a smartphone while three burners are going and your hands are sticky is never a good idea.

The wine rack in our dining room has shelf space on it as well, perfect for a couple of cocktail compendiums and a book or two on wine. After all, no home is really complete without a copy of Imbibe! or The Modern Drunkard, is it?

We’ve got some stubborn empty space atop the wardrobe, and we’re thinking the bedroom would be the ideal spot to house a collection of the Harvard Classics or a vintage encyclopaedia set, easy enough to acquire on eBay. We’ve also got two nightstands and have been thinking of a floating shelf or two, which would be perfect for stacking a couple first edition hardbacks.

Of course, we’re still pretty far away from putting finishing touches on the living room, but there’s no end to the possibilities. Here’s a few we think we could live with throughout the house:

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Best Bets: Stay Away From E-Readers

We’re not gonna lie… we’ve really been digging this living alone business lately. With roommate gone from the house for evermore, the daylight savings time in full effect, and the weather turning warmer by the day, this is a perfect day for lounging around the house reading all day.

For us, that means good old fashioned paper books and magazines. For someone who travels as much as we do, and is forced to pack several pounds of paperbacks on each trip, you’d think we would have been among the first to adopt a digital e-reader. We’re still holding out though, and will continue to hold out until the publishing industry gets its shit together.

A visual approximation of the Chop's home library.

In an increasingly technological age, vinyl record sales continue to increase even as CD’s prepare to settle into the nation’s landfills once and for all. A major contributing factor in the resurgence of the LP is the inclusion of digital download codes with virtually all new records sold. Just a couple short years ago, whatever prescient indie label thought to include download codes in LP’s was a brilliant leader. Now it’s an industry standard, and the absence of a free download code can make or break record sales.

We don’t see any reason (short of bald-faced greed) why the publishing industry can’t do the same thing. It’s shameful that all downloads are still in proprietary formats, although this is a separate issue entirely. We’d go out and buy a Kindle tomorrow if every download came with a free hard copy. Hell, we’d probably buy a Kindle, a Nook, and whatever else you like. We’ve always liked keeping books, though. So much so that we’ve over-filled our giant Expedit shelf, and are quickly running out of space on the two smaller Expedit versions in our office.

We’re not going to quit collecting real books any time soon. Nor are we going to buy a magazine’s mobile app when we already get it in the mail. But we look forward to that day in the future when every book in the store comes with a little scratch-off section in the back cover to conceal and preserve a download code. We’ll be staying away from e-readers until then, and would suggest everyone else do likewise.

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Best Bets: Holiday Moviegoing Edition

This.

Here.

Tonight.

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Best Bets: Best Christmas Gifts Over $10

Yesterday we gave you our picks for the best gifts under $10. Today we’re going to spend a little more. Or, to be fair, we’re going to ask for a little more.

It would be a mighty merry Christmas at the Chophouse if Santa brought us a few of these items from our list:


A Bottle of Barbancourt

The Barbancourt distillery might truly be the only entity inside of Haiti that actually has its shit together. If you think of rum solely as a Summer drink, try the estate reserve. $22-$42.

Ca. 1900 British Steamer Trunk.

Louis Vuitton may talk a lot about heritage, but this kind of heritage is unfuckwithable… no matter how many fake African bush landing photo-ops you get Bono to do. $175.

Norse Projects Merino Breton Stripe Sweater

Melville never had it so good. You won’t need a White-Jacket, just accent it with one of these… $180.

Ca. 1950’s Ulysse Nardin Wristwatch

The movement’s been as dependable as the sun for 60 years or so. The case and hands are solid gold and still manage not to look gaudy. This is the kind of flash you don’t need to flash. $1500.

The HMS Bounty

The one from the movies. Captain Bligh may not have been on the quarterdeck, but Marlon Brando and Johnny Depp were. If all of you loyal Choppers pitch in, you can totally get us this for Christmas. We’ll even use it to give you a ride to work (provided you work near the Inner Harbor). $4,600,000.

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Best Bets: Compass Box Scotch Whiskies

Words like “craft” and “artisan” are thrown around much too freely these days. Everything we buy now has to have some grand, romantic story attached to it. From furniture to farmers’ markets, from apparel to accessories, stories sell. If you don’t know the name of the guy who made it and you can’t drop by his charming little Gepetto-style workshop on a whim, well, it’s just not worth having, is it? Of course, nowhere is this more true than at your local liquor store.

Let’s face it, wax seals and hand-written barrel numbers are the exact same thing as putting your vodka into a glass skull. It’s selling the bottle, not the spirit. (Although to be fair, there’s a lot of really good whiskies in some of those bottles, whereas all premium vodka is a joke.) In an era when every ultra-premium vodka has a celebrity pitchman, and every distiller in Kentucky is offering single barrel this and small batch that and putting the cute little hand-written batch numbers on the bottle, It can sometimes be hard to tell what’s inside, and whether it warrants its price tag. These days, everyone’s an artisan.

Spice Tree. The best way to warm up this winter.

John Glaser is an artisan. Take that statement for what it’s worth. Compass Box Whisky has a story. We’re not going to bother telling you the story. You can look it up on their site. It’s a lot of technical stuff about wood and blending and aging, which really is interesting if you’re into that sort of thing. What we are going to bother to do is to tell you that this stuff is really, really good.

Of the two lines that Compass Box produces, Signature and Limited Release, we’ve so far had a chance to try three different examples of their whisky. Each one was markedly different, but all were equally excellent. Bottles in the less expensive Signature line are generally available in the $35-$40 range, and compare favorably with bottles costing twice as much. To our palate, a Peat Monster is every bit as good as a Laphroaig, and We’d reach for an Oak Cross over a Glen-Whateveryoulike any day of the week. Seriously.

With Winter now firmly digging in, we’re in all-brown-liquor-all-the-time mode here at the Chophouse. We’re declaring Compass Box to be our house Scotch going forward, and by the time the Winter’s out we expect we’ll have three or four different bottles on hand. We suggest that when you head to the liquor store this weekend you go ahead and buy two or more bottles. They make a great holiday gift, but make sure to keep one for yourself.

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Best Bets: Christmas Shopping at the AVAM Sideshow

Remember the first time you ate at Paper Moon Diner? You were probably in your first year of college, or maybe it was even over the summer in high school. Remember how you had to put your name on a list, and amuse yourself outside for like half an hour while you waited for a table? Remember how all the girls were unabashed about making eyes at the dessert case and how it was a big discussion whether or not to sit in the smoking section?

Most of all, remember the first time you saw all those toys?

Of course you do. You had a good buzz on. Maybe you were even a little high, and you sat down in there and had to put forth a Herculean effort not to roam around the dining room touching everything you could reach, putting figures in dirty poses and telling everyone crap stories from your childhood. You did that. We all did that.

The Sideshow gift shop at the AVAM has toys for kids from 6 to 66.

That, Baltimore, is the very same feeling you will get the first time you step foot into the Sideshow, the gift shop at the American Visionary Art Museum.

Far from your typical museum gift shop, the Sideshow’s curiosities rival the museum itself. Part Dime Museum, part Toys-R-Us, and part Art Mart, this place is literally a one-stop non-mall Christmas shop with gifts for kids from six to sixty-six.

The last time the Chop was down that way, the Sideshow was closed because it was nighttime and the time before that the place was packed because the museum was free, so we didn’t spend as much time browsing and playing around as we might have liked, but we were definitely impressed enough that we’re planning to make a separate trip down there just to see the gift shop, which you can do without paying for admission to the museum.

This time we’re going to block out at least a solid hour for playing and perusing among their shelves, which are densely packed from floor to ceiling with everything from the highbrow (art books, tea sets) to the lowbrow (plastic dog poop, fake vomit) and everything in between. We can’t wait to get a proper look at all those toys, as well as their selection of original artworks and goods curated from around the world. We’re also especially interested in their archive of screen printed posters from indie rock shows around the country, which are art in their own right and suitable for framing.

We’re going to be bringing two lists with us when we go: one of the people we’ll need to shop for for Christmas, and a blank list for all the stuff in there we’re going to want.

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Sideshow at the Visionary is located at 800 Key Highway in Federal Hill. 443-872-4926. Of course, we’re not actually going today, because like everything else in this crummy town they are closed on Mondays. Their hours are Tuesday-Sunday, 10am-6pm.

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