If you’ve been around 48th street lately, you’ve probably noticed the two new businesses underway just beneath the Gateway Grand. Brian and Lisa Bolter, co-owners of Dry 85 and Red Red Wine Bar in Annapolis, are finally bringing their renowned drink-and-provision selections to the Shore after five years of eyeing the spaces they’re now occupying. With Dry 85 opening the Friday after Thanksgiving and Red Red Wine Bar slated to open the first week of December, Ocean City’s all-season dining scene is about to be majorly shaken up with these two “not-pubs-but-not-white-linen-table-cloth” eateries.
Dry 85 was still heavily under construction when I visited on Tuesday, but the aesthetic of the place still shined through: a modern take on an industrial Prohibition-era speakeasy, though not “cliche with the mustaches and the overalls,” as Bolter put it. It’s simply a nod to history.
“Dry 85 was named for the 85 days after Prohibition was repealed, when Washington, D.C. was still dry,” Bolter said. “It took them 85 days to repeal the Sheppard Act in D.C., so that’s where the name came from.”
On the menu is what Bolter describes as gourmet comfort food, where diners can expect inspired burgers, truffle fries, ossobuco, blueberry ribs, steak and salads (for first-timers, he recommends the Dry 85 burger with a craft cocktail). There’s also a bar–the pièce de résistance of the speakeasy, of course–with a focus on craft beer, craft cocktails and a highly-curated selection of whiskey that earned them a place on Whiskey Advocate’s list of Top 40 Whiskey Bars in America over the summer.
“We don’t try to have the most whiskey of anybody on the planet, but we do try to have a highly-curated, well-crafted beverage selection,” Bolter said. “If somebody reads about a really rare, interesting whiskey, we try to have it.”
The establishment’s “local first, then regional” philosophy applies especially to their craft beer selection. The three beers permanently on tap are RAR’s Nanticoke Nectar IPA, Devil’s Backbone’s Vienna Lager and DC Brau’s German pilsner, Brau Pils. The other nine of Dry 85’s 12 draft beers are constantly rotated so that visitors will always have something new and interesting to try.
Although their original location is in Annapolis, Bolter considers he and his wife to be OC locals. They’ve had a house here for over a decade and, as he put it, they’ve watched the town grow not only as a year-round destination, but a destination where people can come for elevated dining and drink experiences, too.
“The concepts that we’ve had with Dry 85 and Red Red Wine Bar fill a niche in Ocean City,” he said. “We’re not pubs, but we’re not white linen tablecloth, either—we’re right in between.”
As for the craft cocktails behind the bar, the fall/winter menu will be available upon the restaurant’s opening to add to their mix of popular, year-round classics like old fashioneds and manhattans. Wine will be available behind the bar, too, but you might just want to head next door to Red Red Wine Bar for that.
Red Red Wine Bar
Red Red Wine Bar is right next door to Dry 85, although the only indoor walkway between the two establishments is through their joint kitchen. Like its neighbor, Red Red Wine Bar offers food, but their menu is focused more on seafood and hand-tossed pizzas. They also have a full bar, but its main focus is on, of course, wine. Lots and lots of wine.
When Red Red Wine first opened in Annapolis six years ago, Bolter says the idea was to provide a non-intimidating space for diners to come and appreciate wine. While people might tend to think of wine bars as places where “there’s somebody who’s always snobby” and “who knows more than you about wine,” as he put it, wine connoisseurs of every level are welcome at Red Red Wine Bar.
“I just hated everything about that [stereotype],” he said. “But we love wine, we drink wine at tailgate parties, we drink wine year-round.”
They’re serious about wine behind the bar, with 35 wines by the glass, four house selections on tap and 120 bottles plus bottles available for sale, but the environment they provide to drink it in is more laidback (and there’s velvet-upholstered booth seating! If that’s not cool, then nothing is).
“I wanted a place that’s very cozy and comfortable,” Bolter said. “The music we play is indie-rock and reggae and it’s just a very relaxed atmosphere so when people walk in, they’re not intimidated by wine and they’re able to go down that path of learning about wine and hopefully getting bitten by the wine bug.”
When I asked if even a cheap, box wine drinker like myself could feel at home in such a bar, Bolter immediately assuaged my worries: “We have something for every level of wine appreciation,” he said.
Both Dry 85 and Red Red Wine Bar will be open year-round. Because, said Bolter, “We’ve lived down here for over a decade and we really value the locals…We wanted them to have more options during the off-season.”
“Our restaurant concepts are sort of the yin to the yang…If you’re in more of a rock n’ roll mood you might like Dry 85 a little more on a Friday, Saturday night. If you’re in more of a casual mood, you might like the Wine Bar on a Friday or Saturday night.”