Light from 16 big-screen TVs flickers from the walls at Big Play Sports Grill, meaning diners can catch their favorite team from almost any seat in the house. The grill's menu embraces the sports theme by offering hearty portions with playful, sports-related names. Guests can step up to the plate for some slow-roasted triple double smoked ribs, hole-in-one tilapia, or a hat trick half-roasted chicken flavored with a robust blend of 12 spices as opposed to ice shavings carved by minor-league hockey players. Lighter, more snackable options run the gamut from Mississippi catfish po'boy sandwiches and grass-fed burgers to boneless wings and crab cake sliders.
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."
If comfort food is supposed to evoke a sense of ease and familiarity, the Impossible Double Hank burger breaks rather severely with tradition. With its intimidating name and heaps of lettuce, tomatoes, onions, bacon, and cheddar, the burger forces the brave patrons of Hank’s Tavern & Eats to confront their most delicious fears. Though less overwhelming than the double-portioned hamburgers, the tavern’s shrimp po’ boys, baby back ribs, and fish burritos are made with similarly fresh ingredients and prove just as tasty. While digging into these and other hearty eats, patrons can follow local sports on 20 TV screens and guesstimate their height by lying facedown on the 50-foot bar.
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.
At the The Royal Mile Pub, servers and regulars alike greet guests with a hearty "Cead mile failte!" It's Gaelic for "a hundred thousand welcomes," and the sentiment permeates every brew, stew, and show. Juxtaposing the local with the far-flung, Royal Mile cultivates a communal mood while maintaining a Scottish identity. To wit, the menu spotlights haggis, Orkney Scotch eggs, and traditional British-style breakfasts.
Spotlighting Scotland is a trend that also permeates the eatery's decor. Colorful tartans hang from the rafters, some of which match the kilts of live performers. The pub even takes its name from the region: Between Scotland's Edinburgh Castle and Palace of Holyroodhouse, there's a 1-mile series of streets traditionally traveled by Scottish royalty. The Royal Mile Pub is named for this thoroughfare, and its staff has welcomed its guests as it would kings and queens since it opened in 1981.