Birds of a Feather has a neat selection of scotch

ON NIGHTLIFE

October 04, 2007|By SAM SESSA

So often, scotch bars are stuffy places where crusty old fat cats sip $40 shots and suck on big cigars.

Yuck.

That's what sets Birds of a Feather apart: It's a clean, smoke-free neighborhood scotch bar in Fells Point. And compared to other Baltimore watering holes, you rarely see the level of love and attention owner and sole bartender Alicia Horn puts into the place.

Horn and her late husband, John, opened Birds of a Feather about 25 years ago as a restaurant and bar. They later scaled back from a full menu to light fare. Now, Horn only serves food during happy hour or special events. Running a restaurant was better in theory than practice.

"We really had a good time," Horn said. "But the only person who was making money was my son. He was the chef."

Horn still cooks occasionally. Last Friday, she gave out delicious free homemade personal pizzas with pepperoni, cheese and cherry tomatoes to the handful of patrons drinking there during happy hour. How often do you see bar owners handing out free food made from scratch?

Yuengling is the only beer on tap at Birds of a Feather, and the wine list is kept short as well. Scotch has always been a big priority.

"We started out having as many as we could get -- around nine," Horn said. "Then it became fashionable, so we got a bigger selection."

Now, Birds of a Feather's scotch list hovers around 60 or 70 brands -- depending on what Horn can get her hands on. For the most part, they run from $7.25 to $15 a shot. Except for one $22 shot, Horn refuses to serve the really expensive stuff. She caters mainly to the average scotch drinker, not the high rollers.

"I think they're nice scotches, but why would I carry something that people can't afford to drink?" she said.

Instead, Horn lets her customers order half-shots for half-price so they can sample different varieties. She samples everything she sells and has a broad knowledge of the liquor but is not condescending or pretentious. Instead, Horn will tell you quick and straight whether she likes a scotch and why, and that's what you look for in a bartender in this kind of place.

Birds of a Feather got its name from a sculpture business Horn used to run. She and her husband kept the name for the bar because John didn't want to order new checks, she said. Though the bar was once cigar-friendly, it's been smoke-free for some time. John died about three years ago from brain cancer related to lung cancer.

The walls inside the bar are painted deep teal and covered in sailing memorabilia. The bar is in the front of the building, and the back section feels comfortable, like your parents' living room.

Right now, patrons hang out at the bar, but when colder weather settles in, they'll move to the back room near the fireplace, Horn said. Of the roughly dozen people in the place around dinnertime last Friday, half were middle-aged and the other half were in their late 20s and early 30s.

Horn said she plans to be there for the next few years before she'll consider moving. But I'll be back a few times before then, because Birds of a Feather, much like the scotches served there, is worth savoring.

Birds of a Feather is at 1712 Aliceanna St. Hours are 4 p.m.-midnight Tuesdays-Thursdays and 4 p.m.-1 a.m. Fridays and Saturdays. Call 410-675-8466.

sam.sessa@baltsun.com

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