The Judge's Bench
Taps: 17 / Bottles:
Cask: Y / Beer-to-Go: N
Ratings: 24 | Reviews: 17 | Display Reviews Only:
4.13/5 rDev -2.8%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4 | food: 2.5 | $$
Have been to the Judge's Bench on several occassions now, and have to say that it is a welcome addition to the West Baltimore beer scene. Oh wait; that's right; there really isn't a West Baltimore beer scene. Well this is a good start.
In any event, the Judge's Bench is a smallish beer bar located in the upper end of downtown Ellicott City. As you walk in, the bar area is in front of you to the left with a few tables interspersed throughout the bar. I think there are something like 10 or 12 seats at the bar, and the place is very low key, with a couple of flat screen TV's at either end of the bar for entertainment/distraction. There is also a small upstairs room as well here, though I've never gone upstairs to check it out.
The owner of the beer bar is an older gentleman by the name of Mike. Mike is quite friendly and chatty, and is extremely knowledgable about beer. The first time I visted he was wearing a BA extreme beer t-shirt, and he was excited to tell me all about his experiences at this festival. So as you can imagine, service here is friendly, quick, and well informed (usually this is the case; Mike works behind the bar far less frequently than he once did, and some of the other staff working here can be a bit slow at times).
At present JB's has something like 17 tap lines, which is impressive given the size of this place (there is no cellar or basement). Mike indicated that he buys everything in sixtels so he can run as many tap lines as possible in the small area behind the bar. As a result, the beer here is invariably fresh, though some of the more popular beers kick pretty quickly (I think the SN anniversary ale came and went in a day or two). The bottle selection is growing, though Mike indicated it is now up to over 100. What I saw available (considerable Belgian selection and some bottles of Celebration ale, just to mention a few items), looked very impressive.
The quality of the beers avaiilable on tap is top notch, and the last time I was there included the Maharajah, Allagash curieux, flyig dog oaked porter and ST Creme Brule. Taps rotate frequently here, so one can count on seeing something new on tap pretty much any day you come by.
Have only tried the fries and sliders here, both of which were pretty good. Otherwise, this place has pretty basic pub grub. Also, the bar has a happy hour every day until 7:00, which makes the fairly reasonable prices here (no one will mistake this for Victoria's gastropub when it comes to pricing) even more reasonable.
This is a very solid place, one I only wish I had learned about sooner (they've been open for 16 months now in the current incarnation according to the owner). Recommended.
Edit from 11/8/11. I come here from time to time now, and the beer selection is as solid as ever. However, I'm not sure what the problem is in the kitchen, but there really seems to have been a drop off in the quality of the food of late. It's not awful, but increasingly I just go with the wings here (which are still pretty good), as the nachos are really pretty lousy, and increasingly I feel as if I'm eating at a "greasy spoon." Consequently, I've started keeping my visits here pretty brief, as I just don't want to have to fuel up on anything coming out of the kitchen (and as I'm not always in the mood for wings). JB's is still a solid place, but I now come here almost solely for the beer selection, and whenever possible, eat elsewhere.
08-21-2008 13:50:25 | More by John_M
3.95/5 rDev -7.1%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 4 | $$
Amosphere- The atmosphere is hit-or-miss here. On a night with live music it get's unbearably loud. On a night without live music, this place can be fantastic for catching-up with friends over a pint.
Quality- The quality is overall good here. Clean draft lines. Clean plates and utensils (for a diveish bar). The staff clearly try to respect beer and serve in appropriate glassware.
Service- The service is hit-or-miss too. I have had great service some nights... and other nights where is takes over an hour to get a cold burger. It is worth noting that on my night with the hour-long cold burger, the food was complimentary for the delay and poor quality. The staff is knowledgeable about beer too.
Selection- Fantastic selection. Almost purely craft beer with an impressive range of taps and an extensive bottle list. One of the best selections outside of Baltimore for sure.
Food- Food is good. Slightly upscale barfood with good vegetarian options.
06-15-2010 00:03:13 | More by jgasparine
3.95/5 rDev -7.1%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4 | food: 3.5 | $
visited on 8 mar 2010:
Drove up here from Columbia whilest out for a conference. I was impressed. The entire downtown of Ellicott is very nice: lots of old buildings, winding streets, brick sidewalks -- my kind of place. The Judge's Bench was no exception. It's an old building, stone and brick, including the bat and a great old fireplace. Lots of architectural nuances that really made me like the place, almost European. The only things I didn't like were the TVs (four in the not overly large downstairs main bar and another, altar-like layout upstairs) and the drop ceiling, which I'm sure probably concealed some wonderful beams that would have really gone well with the rest of the interior.
But the look can easily be forgiven, especially considering the selection. Lots of great beers: Allagash, and Avery's Czar were on tap, and a rauchbier was sampled as well. A very good selection both on tap and in the bottle. The food was decent, and the service was great. If I lived in the area, I'd all but certainly be a regular.
03-09-2010 03:15:27 | More by ocmpoma
4.3/5 rDev +1.2%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5 | $$$
Finally got to Judge's Bench after hearing good things from folks. It turned out to be quite a comfy place to have a couple of excellent beers. Less than 20 taps, but I have no doubt that there would always be something good on. I had the new Southern Tier IBA, which I wasn't even aware of before that evening. The service was pretty friendly and offered recommendations to patrons. When kegs kicked, they were replaced quickly, and I imagine it would be fun to see what pops up on a busy evening. For a Friday, it wasn't a complete zoo, which I prefer. The live music was fun without a pesky cover charge and not ridiculously loud. Prices were a little high, so I'd love to return during happy hour, but I suppose one could do worse. Regardless, I will be back
03-29-2009 02:31:21 | More by qchic
4.08/5 rDev -4%
vibe: 3.5 | quality: 4 | service: 4 | selection: 4.5 | $
Stopped in on a Friday night. Easy parking, at least early (I was there around 6 p.m.), there's a lot right across the street in the otherwise difficult parking situation that is downtown Ellicott City.
Really tiny downstairs bar area. I didn't notice an upstairs area, but the first floor there's a tiny L shaped bar, maybe 12 seats.
The good thing is there are ~17 taps, mostly locals when I went (McHenry + at least four Heavy Seas taps). I was expecting a little more since, but its not bad either. There's a tiny craft beer fridge with Belgians and other assorted bottles worth taking a look at.
The prices are nice, they vary by beer which is unusual but offers really reasonable prices for much of the tap offerings. Curieux was actually priced at $8.00 where most beers were $4.50 or less but thats sort of intelligent pricing, all things considered.
Not to make judgments, but it was not a craft beer crowd while I was in there. Hopefully they can expand their clientele and make money from those taps, but I think I was the only person there for at least an hour drinking from the taps while everyone else was having Bud Light, Miller Light, Natty Ice etc. bottles.
In essence this place is a hidden gem, I hope more BA's go there and help the business so it doesn't sink and reduce the already limited Howard County craft beer scene.
I didn't try the food/menu, seemed like pub grub, guy next to me had nachos.
Overall, cannot complain about 17 taps, a bit heavy with the locals but also some interesting stuff (they print a sheet with about 30 beers, of which 17 or so are on tap at any time, just ask and they should have your first or second choice available), prices are good, parking easy enough in quaint downtown Ellicott City. Just a bit small/shoulder-to-shoulder for my tastes as far as ambience.
UPDATE: Wanted to update my review a bit. Went back again recently, finally got the gist of this place. They've got a static bottle list of some really good stuff. The tap list was improved, talked to the owner a bit he's a really nice guy and actually lays off the good stuff so customers can enjoy (I told him that's crazy -- good for us beer drinkers but I'd be all over the good stuff if I ran an establishment).
Still haven't checked out the upstairs, looking online it seems they've got some kind of mug club or whatever. I also arrived at a less-crowded time and there were serious beer drinkers there and it was much more relaxed. Small place, but they've got the right idea and I'll be back.
Another Update: I've discovered they have some sort of take-home beverage options. You can purchase bottled beers and they have special rates for combinations of beers, worth looking into.
My service score is staying the same but like most places the more regular you become the service starts to really improve as they know your face. Looks like they're open until 2 am nightly for the night owls like myself, happy hour is $0.50 off most tap beer.
They're somewhat limited in selection due to the keg size limits they're burdened with, but the owner works his tail off to supply good beers and there's a constant flow of interesting offerings to go with a well-organized and thoughtful bottled beer selection.
Really a mixed crowd here, got all kinds of people in a tiny space.
08-22-2008 23:12:02 | More by USCTrojanBrian
The Judge's Bench in Ellicott City, MD
93 out of 100 based on 24 ratings.