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.
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.
The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company reinvigorates classical theater tales with exquisite emotions and lively language. The troupe's production of Shakespeare’s Cymbeline chronicles the story of a princess who, after being separated from her beloved husband, faces the sting of betrayal, a war-torn king, an evil stepmother, and a Roman invasion. Spectators can sip wine and munch popcorn as the actors sink into the romantic tale, its stage set amid a historical venue built in the 19th century and an intimate seating area. Groupon customers must acquire their tickets at the ticket table no later than 15 minutes before the start of the show.
Though devoutly British in name, Union Jack's British Pub is actually a transatlantic blend of both English and American conventions. Inside the expansive space, stone walls and a fireplace bear a distinctly European feel, though HD plasma TVs and projection screens broadcast games of hockey and American football. The food menu retains a similar dichotomy, offering up options such as Maryland crab cakes, fish and chips, and Caribbean jerk chicken sandwiches. The two nations fully unite at the handsome wooden bar, where guests can sip on one of 16 drafts, ranging from Fuller's London Porter to state-sourced Samuel Adams. Should cultural clashes persist, patrons can retire to the billiards room after their meal to settle disputes over the proper pronunciation of "aluminum."
Husband-wife duo Julio and Lily Soto opened Azul 17 to celebrate not only Mexican cuisine, but to also embrace the culture through music, vibrant design, and a selection of more than 100 tequilas made with 100% blue agave. Their chefs all hail from Mexico and bring family recipes to the kitchen—including one chef's grandmother's recipe for black beans. It's “old world style with updated presentation,” says manager Peter Bonohue. Peter has been in the restaurant business since he could legally work, and to him, Azul 17 has an especially fun atmosphere. “I love tequila now,” he confessed.
While chefs simmer their signature mole sauce and servers add fresh lime juice to margaritas, guests recline atop white leather banquettes or modern chairs. Eyes dance with murals and shimmering blue-tile mosaics splashed against white walls. Those whites are illuminated with a multicolored neon glow as DJs spin club, house, and Mexican tunes starting at 10 p.m. on Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays. On Thursdays at 8 p.m., guests can spice up their tired hokey-pokey routine with salsa lessons.