The Judge's Bench

The Judge's BenchThe Judge's Bench
The Judge's BenchThe Judge's Bench
Bar, Eatery

8385 Main St
Ellicott City, Maryland, 21043-4605
United States

(410) 465-3497 | map

View: Place Reviews | Events
Reviews: 18 | Ratings: 30 | Log in to view all ratings and sort
Photo of Antoine
3.5/5  rDev -15.9%

Nice location in downtown historic Ellicott City.

First walked in and the place didn't smell too great. Decided to stay and give it a try anyway. I went during IPA week (didn't know that was a thing but oh well.) Tried some nice beers.

Friendly staff. Dark ambiance. Typical bar fair.

 288 characters

Photo of HarryPotHead
3.7/5  rDev -11.1%
vibe: 4 | quality: 3.5 | service: 3.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 2.5

Stopped in on a Sunday afternoon with the wife to check the place out... I had heard about their great beer selection and had to see for myself. They open at 1 on Sunday's and we got there around 1:30 so there was only one other person in the place at the time so we basically had the place to ourselves...I have to think that this place would get more traffic if it was located two or three blocks down the hill closer to the heart of Elicott City's beautiful historic district. Unfortunately it is on the fringe of the town which could be a blessing or a curse depending on the circumstances...

None the less the beer selection was fantastic!! Literally something for everyone and lots of it too!! Offerings on tap were handwritten on a chalk board along with ABV % and I was told that the offerings are always changing. I was like a kid in a candy store! I was unfamilliar with most of what was on tap so I ordered a 4 glass sampler. All were top notch without a bad apple in the bunch. I then asked to see the bottled list and was blown away with the selection...although my first request was "not available" my next two were on hand.

While we chilled at the bar we ordered some chicken nachos while we watched the Cowboys get beat up by the Browns. The menu offerings were not as impressive as the beer selection...typical stuff, but I like pub food (who doesn't?) so it was no biggie. Unfortunately the nachos sucked! Cold cheese goop...the kind pumped from the metal container 7-11 style, stale chips, and dry chicken crumbles with a few olives and even less jalapeños. For the price I was expecting way more in quality and size. Taco bells nachos would have been more satisfying! The bar tender asked how they were and I politely said I had better...I wasn't going to sugar coat it. Hell, if he can't take constructive criticism then that's his fault and I work hard for my money be it.

Long story short. I liked the place. The atmosphere was cool and the beers were top shelf. I'd like to head back on a Friday night, when the place was more lively to see how the vibe is with a few more people in the place. Definitely worth checking out if your are heading to Ellicott City.

 2,198 characters

Photo of SeattleStan
1.7/5  rDev -59.1%
vibe: 3 | quality: 1 | service: 1 | selection: 3 | food: 1

Bad food...Bad Service... Bad Management. What more do you want. On Friday night, at approximately 7:30 pm, I took my wife and two friends to the Judges Bench for drinks and food. After arriving, we found a table quite easily. The Bench was not crowded at the time. My guest and I went to the bar to order drinks and get menus. We returned to the bar between 7:45 and 7:50 to place our food order. At 9:00 I went to the bar to ask about our food and was told there was only one person working and loads of orders were in and we would get our food in the order it was requested. I was also told it was taking longer because I wanted my burgers well done.
I commented that I have never ordered a well done burger in my life so there was a misunderstanding. The waitress was not happy to hear that, commented so and I replied “so who is it, me our you” that made the mistake. She then offered to redo the burgers but that they would have to be thawed out first. But rather than wait any longer, we took our order that arrived “after the music had started”.
The burgers were way too well done, burnt on the bottom but we threw on some sauce and chowed down. Not long after, I went to the bar to sign my credit card tab and decided that a service tip wasn’t warranted. I've never, ever had to wait longer than an hour for my food...tip for what? Before leaving, the manager confronted me, in front of my guest. And asked what the problem was, and stated that “we make our living here on tips”. I asked him to step out the front door, which he did, and I explained what I have previously noted in this review.
He bullied up and told me to either tip him here and now or never come back. NO tip and could care less about going back.

 1,745 characters

Photo of
4.38/5  rDev +5.3%
vibe: 5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4 | food: 4

My favorite bar outside of the city (DC/Baltimore) in the metro area. 17 rotating taps (all American craft with occasional German or Belgian) and maybe 50 bottles. Tap prices are reasonably priced, mostly 16oz pours, with acceptable glassware. Bottle prices are great, usually about 1 or 2 dollars above typical retail price and are a dollar off during happy hour. The people and staff and very friendly esp. the owner and it rarely gets really crowded. There is even a free lot right across the street.

 503 characters

Photo of smokeypeat
4.35/5  rDev +4.6%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 3.5

Here's a great gem in the greater Baltimore area that people in the city might be unaware of. Located in the "historic" section of Ellicott City this bar looks diveish on the outside, but once you see the tap-list you will be happy you came in. Has 18 great taps without one dud in the bunch. The owner does a great job of having an equal mix between lighter and heavier beers. On a recent visit I was able to start off with Duvel Green, have a Double Bag while eating, and finish with St. Bernardus 12 for my nightcap. Also seemed to have a nice bottle selection, but I found the tap options to be plenty so I didn't look too closely. Food is standard in my opinion. Burgers, wings, cheesesteaks, etc. Did notice a few vegetarian options if you are so inclined. I really liked the atmosphere, no obnoxious college jock vibe, mix of regulars and newbies. The bar guy was great, and even as the crowd picked up he kept everyone's glass filled with no noticeable waits. Definitely a place worthy of repeat business.

 1,013 characters

Photo of jgasparine
3.95/5  rDev -5%
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.

 958 characters

Photo of ocmpoma
3.95/5  rDev -5%
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.

 1,034 characters

Photo of MaltistLupulist
4.3/5  rDev +3.4%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4

An unassuming building at the west end of Ellicott City's historic district belies what is perhaps the preeminent taphouse in Howard County. Neon BMC signs in the windows add to the misrepresentation, but each of the seventeen rotating draft beers on offer is a quality microbrew, and the bottled selection is equally impressive, despite a smattering of Coors Light and the like among its ranks.

The vibe here is as unassuming and unpretentious as the architecture; it's really just a nondescript bar that, aside from its stellar craft selection, is indistinguishable from any number of taverns in the Baltimore area: cozy/casual ambiance, TVs broadcasting the game, a mix of blue- and white-collar patrons ranging in age from their early twenties to post-retirement. If it weren't for its relatively large size and nineteenth-century mill town location, the Bench could easily be mistaken for a corner bar in some tight-knit South or Southeast Baltimore neighborhood--a very come-as-you-are, mellow, "What canna getcha, hon?" kind of place (to native Baltimoreans, this may not even be worth pointing out--George W. Bush refers to his West Texas strut as "walking", after all--but from a suburban DC perspective, it's a very foreign, or should I say,, phenomenon). In fact, this relaxed feel is probably the single greatest factor in explaining the pub's broad appeal--bona fide beer geeks seem to be but a small minority among its clientele.

The taps are pretty varied as far as style and region/country; I've encountered plenty of Belgians here (Tripel Karmeliet seems to be a de facto fixture) as well as elusive barleywines (Uinta XV among others) and highly anticipated seasonal (Life and Limb) and regional (Hop Pocket Ale) releases. There's definitely some local representation among the taps but, unlike a lot of spots in the area, it doesn't seem that they're slavishly compelled to have a Loose Cannon or a Resurrection Ale on all the time (I don't think I've ever even seen the latter here), which, to my mind, is refreshing. Rotation, dynamism, keeping it fresh is the name of the game here. I've not once been handed an American IPA in a Guinness glass here, nor are they shy about using snifters and tulips when called for.

Beer knowledge on the part of the staff can vary from adequate to competent to guru-esque, and they're quick to make recommendations or offer tastes; in general the service is at once attentive, friendly, professional, and laid-back. Prepare to do a little extra conversing, and a lot of extra listening, if you run into the proprietor--he's one loquacious dude.

The JB seems like it has yet to be discovered as a beer destination or even, more basically, as a popular social venue; foot traffic on Main Street thins out considerably this far west. I've only ever visited mid-week evenings or weekend afternoons, but it never seems too busy; for someone who endured the maelstrom of the opening weeks/baptism by fire of DC's ChurchKey, this should seem like blessed relief, but there are times when I think its location amidst quaint shops on what is essentially an antique row is an incongruous one. For craft beer enthusiasts who don't mind the excursion, the Bench makes for a nice respite from the crowds at Max', Mahaffey's, & al. If you're already in Howard County, there's no reason you shouldn't be supporting this local bastion of craft beer, even if it means imbibing a haunted hefeweizen or a ghoulish gueuze (Ellicott City is notoriously haunted, if you haven't heard; the JB is no exception.). 8 [

...if you believe in that sort of thing = )

 3,614 characters

Photo of Jrut224
4.55/5  rDev +9.4%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 5 | service: 4 | selection: 5 | food: 3.5

This is definitely my favorite place to grab a brew in the area. I cannot praise this place enough.... Kegs are rotated on 17 taps, and the selection is superior to most/ if not all in the area. Every time I return I get excited over trying something knew. The bartenders are also very willing to help you select a beer, even when they are busy. I must have tried 4 or 5 samples before I chose my first beer. The selection of bottles is also something to drool over. One of my favorite things about this bar is private room upstairs, which is equipped with a big screen TV, a few leather chairs to sit, and a foosball table. The atmosphere, along with an incredible selection of beer, brings me back every chance I get.

And if you get a chance to talk to the owner, I highly suggest it. Definitely a cool dude, who's very knowledgeable and passionate about his beer business.

 876 characters

Photo of slk22
4.44/5  rDev +6.7%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 4.5

Visited the Judge's Bench on a Sunday night for preseason football and a few beers. It is a relatively small, but cozy bar with two large flat panel TVs. Could get quite crowded on a more popular evening. More importantly, there are 16 craft beers on tap. There was ample diversity in styles and brewers including Weyerbacher Insanity, Southern Tier Creme Brulee Stout, Drakes Hopocalypse, Clipper City Heavy Seas Big DIPA, and North Coast Brother Thelonious to name a few. Mike, the owner, had an excellent knowledge of his offerings and gladly provided samples of each beer to aid in our choices. Beers were then served in the proper glassware and seemed quite fresh. I was told that they purchase their beer in small quantities than some other bars (half kegs), which increases their turnover and may help maintain quality. Pints were in the area of 5 dollars and there was a dollar off all drafts, so pricing was quite reasonable. There is also a nice selection of bottles available including some of the highest rated beers that can be found in Maryland, such as Rochfort 10. Food is served, but not after 10 PM on Sunday so I was not able to evaluate the menu. Overall, a very enjoyable experience at a reasonable cost.

 1,225 characters

Photo of ScarletLady
4.71/5  rDev +13.2%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 5 | selection: 5

:) This is one of my favorite places. The taps rotate frequently and there is always something that I LOVE (Heavy Seas, Southern Tier) or something that I've been wanting to try. I advise to try a Sun or Mon night with reduced prices and not a huge crowd so you can take your time and explore what all the taps have to offer. There's also a nice bottle selection but I get so happily distracted by what's on tap i've never paid that close attention to the cooler.

Bartenders know their beers and are willing to pour you a taste if you are afraid of committment. The owner is usually around and is also a homebrewer so he knows what he's putting on tap.

Haven't tried much of the food due to lack of veggie love on the menu, but everything looks good.

 754 characters

Photo of rokosz
4.43/5  rDev +6.5%
vibe: 4 | quality: 4.5 | service: 5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 3

A mistaken exit of 95, a bisection of downtown Balti. and finally I find myself at JB. Its 3:30P -- I missed lunch -- and then find out JB opens at 4PM. D'oh! No prob. Mike the owner was opening and welcomed me anyway. I spent the next couple of hours+ sampling the 16 (I counted them 3 times) taps. Hmmm..What to drink when I still got 200 miles to go? I prioritized, got the last glass of a kicked keg (Weyerbacher SlamDunkel) and was introduced to the SouthernT Unearthly IPA (I'm more of a Malthead). Whoa! Anybody that can turn my "head" like that deserves high accolades.
Final note? Married? SigO doesn't groove on suds? Tell them you'll be at the bar -- let them go shopping -- Ellicott City is a very attractive, easily walkable historic area. Use the JB as a base of ops...

 784 characters

Photo of qchic
4.3/5  rDev +3.4%
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

 762 characters

Photo of aladnamedwill
4.68/5  rDev +12.5%
vibe: 4 | quality: 5 | service: 4.5 | selection: 5 | food: 4

Moved to Ellicott City last year and was lucky enough to find this place early on. It is now my "go to" bar.

The beer is always exceptional and the taps are constantly on rotation. This place introduced me to Nugget Nectar, Oaked Yeti, World Wide Stout, Maharaja, and countless other amazing beers. I go there almost weekly and never have a clue what I will find on tap.

Mike, the owner, can talk your ear off about anything, but has a passion for good beer. He homebrewed for years and sometimes brings in his own for us to try. He is also incredibly generous with sampling any beers. One time we were talking about strong beers and he mentioned world wide stout and i said i knew it was strong, but had never tried it. He immediately left and came back 2 minutes later for a bottle for us to try.

When I first went there they had maybe 10 taps, half were standard crap, but Mike has almost erased the light beers from the bar, besides a few bottles here and there.

The food is pretty tasty, especially the Reuben.

If you're anywhere near Baltimore, make a detour to the Judge's Bench.

 1,094 characters

Photo of Bethel1
4.63/5  rDev +11.3%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 5 | service: 5 | selection: 4.5 | food: 3

I've been to the Judges bench several times now. They get some very good beers on tap here such as North coast old stock, Allagash Interlude or many others on there twenty or so rotating taps. There staff is very knowledgeable and it's very comfortable inside. The food is average bar food but still quite tasty. It's a very old beautiful building with alot of character. As previously mentioned the upstairs here as really cool. Very cozy chairs, Great Beer and a large tv all to yourself most nights. Can life get any better? I submit that it cannot!

 552 characters

Photo of goRideYourBike
4.64/5  rDev +11.5%
vibe: 4.5 | quality: 4.5 | service: 5 | selection: 4.5

This is a gem. The Judge's Bench is cozy, approachable, unassuming. Mike, the owner, is generous and passionate about beer and local history. The bar and some tables are downstairs. On nights they have music it is loud due to the small space. Upstairs you will find a few more tables, over sized arm chairs and a large screen TV. Sit back with your beer on the side table, remote in hand and tell me you don't feel like you're at home. A couple of dart boards provide battery free entertainment. While I have not eaten here, Mike proudly describes his pizza.
A solid selection of tap craft beer minus the crowds. Gather your own jury of beer's and decide for yourself, but my verdict is let this bar live a long prosperous life.
I discovered the Bench a few months before moving from Baltimore to Asheville...oh well, better to have drank and lost than never to have never drank at all.

 888 characters

Photo of USCTrojanBrian
4.08/5  rDev -1.9%
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.

 3,311 characters

Photo of John_M
4.13/5  rDev -0.7%
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.

 3,444 characters

The Judge's Bench in Ellicott City, MD
Place rating: 4.16 out of 5 with 30 ratings