The drink wall at The Fool's Lantern in St. Michaels. Photo courtesy The Fool's Lantern.

Self-Serve in St. Michaels

Wine and beer on tap at interactive restaurant

There’s a welcome new addition in St Michaels, Maryland: The Fool’s Lantern Wine and Tap Room. This spot on Talbot Street, which opened on April 1, puts an interactive twist on the bar experience with their self-dispensing wine and beer machines.

Mike Hannon, who owns the restaurant in partnership with his wife Kristin and friend Michele Conti, was inspired on a trip to Italy in fall 2019. “We were walking around Verona with our friend Michele and we came across this wine bar,” he said. “They had 100 different wines on tap. And we thought, this could really work in St. Michaels.”

They went home and crunched the numbers, coming up with a plan. Covid slowed everything down, but it also gave them more time to finesse everything. The bar officially opened on April 1 with 12 beers and 24 wines on tap, available from self-dispensing beverage vending machines.  

The process is simple. You purchase a card, which is then linked to your credit card. Then you wander the room and insert the card when you want to try something. You can do a sip (2 ounces), a taste (4 ounces) or a glass (6 ounces), while the beer goes by the ounce. 

The current varietals include California chardonnay and pinot noir but also a Portuguese vinho verde, Italian Soave classico and Spanish Rioja tempranillo. The beer side is all area craft breweries. St. Michael’s own Eastern Shore Brewing Company and Cambridge’s RAR are represented, as are smaller breweries including Parkton’s Big Truck Farm Brewery, and two Virginia vendors: Lost Barrel in Middleburg and Cobbler Mountain Cider from Delaplane. The plan is to switch out beverages frequently, so there’s always something new to try. 

The food menu is collaborative as well, with a tapas-style menu designed for sharing; think charcuterie boards and bread boards with rockfish dip or artichoke spread, along with sandwiches and daily specials. Desserts include housemade chocolate fondue and DIY s’mores.

“It’s an experience, ” says Mike. “Not just ‘let’s go get something to eat,’ it’s a to-do event.” Mike and his wife have lived in nearby Neavitt for more than a decade, and while they love everything that St. Michaels has to offer, from the Chesapeake Bay Maritime Museum to the local winery, “we thought the town could use more to-dos.” 

Apparently, the town agrees. “The reception from the town has been great; probably 70 percent have been locals,” he said. “Everybody has been very positive.” 

The name Fool’s Lantern comes from the War of 1812 era. Upon getting word that British warships were approaching, the residents hung lanterns in the treetops to misdirect the gunfire, causing the attackers to overshoot the town and save its Victorian downtown from destruction. “The anniversary of the Battle of St. Michaels is August 10,” says Mike. “Every year we’re going to try to do something to celebrate it.”

The Fool’s Lantern is currently open seven days a week, starting at 11 a.m. They’re open through 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and until 11 p.m. on weekends.