By Katie Chang
April 1, 2021
For most people, the city of Baltimore typically brings two things to mind: the picturesque Inner Harbor and steamed blue crabs dusted with Old Bay. While both will always deserve our attention, there’s now another good reason to visit Maryland’s largest city – truly noteworthy restaurants and bars.
Because for years, dining options in Charm City were mostly limited to fast food, big-name chains, and other mediocre spots targeting tourists. But things started shifting in 2013, when Alex Smith, a Baltimore native and CEO of Atlas Restaurant Group, took a chance by opening Ouzo Bay, a sophisticated Greek eatery in Harbor East. The goal? To showcase a more elegant side to Greek food (think market-fresh fish, grass-fed lamb, and a worldly wine list) in a Mediterranean-inspired space that was built by, staffed by, and expressly created for the local community.
Not surprisingly, Ouzo Bay didn’t just do well upon opening – it thrived. “We were the top restaurant in Baltimore right away,” says Smith. “We then realized we could create a restaurant and beverage scene here that rivals New York, Miami, and Chicago, while serving our locals.”
He set his sights on the Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore next. Though the gleaming waterfront hotel opened in 2011 and quickly cemented its status as the city’s most luxurious accommodations with 265 rooms and suites, a serene spa, and infinity pool with unbeatable views, the food and beverage offerings never found their footing despite being backed by celebrity chef Michael Mina.
As with Ouzo Bay, Smith saw another opportunity to continue elevating Baltimore’s culinary landscape. In 2014, he transformed one of the vacant spaces into Azumi, a Japanese restaurant specializing in traditional and modern fare, and in 2015, revamped another as seafood tavern Loch Bar. Again, it didn’t take long for locals to rally around the establishments. “We were successful right away, doing six to seven times the business in the same spaces,” says Smith. “But we built a reputation with locals first, so any business from hotel guests would merely be supplemental.”