Dundalk is known for its cheesesteak subs at Captain Harvey’s, crabs on the waterfront at Dock of the Bay and, more recently, the fine beers at Key Brewing Co. But one of the best selections of whiskey in the area?
Well, there’s a store on North Point Road with more than 200 varietals of bourbon, rye and single malt, and it just so happens to be associated with Dundalk’s oldest operating pharmacy, Drug City.
Since buying Drug City in 2016, Dr. George Fotis, a Greektown native, has been quietly stocking the back shelves of the 65-year-old drug store with one of the most diverse selections of whiskies anywhere in the Baltimore area. Collectors and whiskey fans come from all over to snap up bottles of Pappy Van Winkle, a cult favorite; Nikka from Japan, and bottles that would make a bartender drool.
Asked to put a number on his stock, Fotis replies: “Your guess is as good as mine. I have no idea how many bottles we have down there.”
When Fotis bought the business, where he started working in 1996 as a pharmacy school student, he wanted to beef up the attached liquor store which, like most in the area, stocked little more than overly sweet wine and cheap beer.
Realizing that Drug City was an integral part of the local community, Fotis wanted make sure that the new collection of whiskies was accessible to the surrounding neighbors who have frequented the pharmacy since the days when owner Harry “Doc” Lichtman would stay open an extra hour if a customer was on the way in from somewhere, and would hand deliver medicine.
“I had a group of friends who met and drank scotch,” Fotis says, “We used to meet and taste a bunch. I found that it wasn’t for me. I found out that I really like bourbon and said to myself that I wanted to start doing this bourbon thing. I’m gonna get huge with bourbon.”
The trick was turning the local liquor store into a shop for fine whiskey aficionados and locals alike. Other places will get in limited-run bottles and ratchet up the price.
“My friends had told me how some places you’d be a VIP customer,” Fotis says. “But when the [special bottle] allotments would come out they would get charged $600. It was a rip-off. If you’re a VIP customer, you should be treated as such. I also wanted to keep the prices down for the regular customer.”
And three years later, it seems he has met that goal. Even the pricey, obscure whiskies are more inexpensive when compared with prices online or, if they have them, other more upscale liquor stores in Baltimore City.
He’s also found there’s plenty of demand.
“A lot of people around here love good bourbon,” Fotis says. “I was really surprised.”
As the popularity grows–bartenders from downtown establishments are coming to shop now–Fotis keeps the momentum going with tastings and the introduction of a private club called the Straight Pour Society, where entry is free but invite-only.
Members of the club, which is hidden behind a wall and locked with a glowing blue thumbprint lock like in a spy thriller, convene to crack open bottles of the really good stuff.
“The club chooses you,” says Fotis, more with the air of offering a friendly gathering in a Dundalk basement than, say, some suited bourbon bro in Harbor East. “I know pretty quickly who’s going to be in the club. They start talking to you, showing you photos of their bars, talking about which [whiskies] they like.”
The club isn’t centered around anything other than a love of fine whiskey, according to Fotis. He has members who are blue collar and others who are doctors. If invited, Fotis sends you a gold card with a formal invitation inside.
“It’s just something for people to feel special,” he says. “It’s great to get one in the mail and open it. No one does that anymore. We do.”
Outside of Drug City, Fotis likes to explore the city’s growing whiskey scene.
“We have distilleries now,” he says like a fan boy. “I mean, how cool is that?”