With a diverse mix of events, a roster of live music, a pool league, and a full kitchen—plus a new sushi bar—it's hard not to find something to like about Fish Head Cantina. The back patio houses a two-stage venue accommodates up to 1,000 music lovers, as well as a full tiki bar and koi pond. Inside, patrons can sidle up to a table to peruse the enormous menu, which ranges from wings to tacos to more than 20 maki rolls on a sushi menu.
Jovial crowds of sports fans line the wooden bars and maroon booths at both Loafers Sports Bar and Grill locations to unwind with cool brews and a tasty spread of seafood and pub eats. Flat-screen TVs broadcast football games for die-hard sports enthusiasts and Antiques Roadshow reruns for appraisal fanatics as they enjoy burgers and plates of wings, nachos, and potato skins. Chef Joe Rocco packs jumbo lumps of meat into his crab cakes and steams pots of crabs year-round to complement pints and the Big Loaf beer, a 1-liter pour of draft ale. A variety of nightly events draw in revelers with specials, karaoke, and live DJs, as opposed to old computers programmed to play "Glory Days" in binary.
Built by a group of friends interested in camaraderie, cold drinks, and good food, Diamondback Tavern aims to put a contemporary spin on a traditional Maryland tavern, and its pub menu has earned accolades from the Baltimore Sun and Howard Magazine. Wrangling local meats, seafood, produce, and bread, the staff builds fresh sandwiches filled with garlic-braised pulled pork and caramelized bananas, crab-cake platters loaded with two 5-ounce jumbo lump crab cakes, and veggie risotto topped with grilled portobello.
Behind the bar, chilled local and domestic brews and sangria blended from a family recipe cleanse palates and put out fires after fire-eating competitions gone wrong. Diners enter under a traditional hanging tavern sign emblazoned with a brown diamondback-turtle shell before nestling into a spacious sports bar or dining room. Diamondback Tavern also hosts open-mic nights and screening events around NFL games to keep ears and eyes entertained as mouths gnaw on the minimalist, modern decor.
Pure Wine Café invites wine aficionados and casual winers alike to their welcoming space, where burnt-sienna tabletops nuzzle against modern aluminum chairs. A quiet escape from the outside world, the café focuses on providing healthy and inspired bistro cuisine to accompany the various flavor profiles of its carefully selected wines, including 2.5 oz. samples, 5 oz. glasses, and bottles (ranging $20 and up for bottles). Friendly and knowledgeable sommeliers are more than happy to educate curious customers in the ways of different wines and guide them toward their perfect liquid match. Drink in, or bring home a bottle from Pure Wine's generous stock of affordable whites, reds, and bubblies. You can also use your Groupon toward the more expensive Reserve Cellar Selections ($96¬–$135), which are an elegant choice for marking any rare occasion or Stratego victory.
Throughout the afternoon and evening, the streets of Ellicott City echo with the footsteps and laughter of revelers making their ways between the city’s pubs and breweries. Bar crawlers visit four local pubs; The Diamondback Tavern, Ellicott Mills Brewing Company, Judge's Bench Pub, and La Palapa Grill & Cantina. Revelers sip domestic beers, spirits, and wines as they tactfully ignore bar-trivia rivals inside the Diamondback Tavern's rustic interior, between the wooden trim and hanging amber-colored lamps of Ellicott Mills Brewing Company and the Judge's Bench Pub, or between the exposed brick walls and colored glass mosaics at La Palapa. To help stomachs soak up excess alcohol, some bar proprietors lay out snacks for touring groups. Participants on both earlier and later crawls walk away with a souvenir T-shirt, as well as a new layer of bar-crawling memories to replace lingering remembrances of high-school-trigonometry lessons.
As Tommy, one of Howl at the Moon’s piano players, explains on the club’s website, “Every night…we try and throw a party, regardless of whether it’s a Tuesday night or a Saturday night.” The bar’s trademark dueling pianos serve as the epicenter of these nightly celebrations; patrons submit their favorite songs on slips of paper for the pianists and backing musicians to recreate. If the website’s playlist is any indication, the bands can handle popular songs from all genres and eras, from Bon Jovi’s “Livin’ on a Prayer” to Kanye West’s “All of the Lights.” The performances are spirited: colorful lights splash upon a stage where servers, guests, and chairs that have somehow developed mobility all dance along to the music.
Fueling the celebration is the bar’s indulgent selection of drinks. Servers stand over patrons to plunge jello injectors into their mouths, and revelers grab colorful straws to help drain 86-ounce booze buckets filled with sangria or other fruity libations. Pomegranate liqueur and honey-infused whiskey sweeten specialty cocktails, and local beers add depth to coolers stocked with Stella Artois and Dos Equis.