Baltimore, MD, Guide (38/52)

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Baltimore Guide

“Avoid this, this, and this street, when walking from the hotel” advised the concierge at check-in. This Baltimore sets the context for “that” Baltimore. Whichever data set you look at, the city is one of the most criminal, racially segregated, and economically divided in the U.S. It’s an unfortunate reflection of reality that most people’s primary cultural association with Baltimore was the television series The Wire, until it was the riots that erupted following the shooting of Freddie Gray. And yet the city isn’t defined by these features. Even amidst the worst decay downtown there are signs of renewal, of defiance of the vicissitudes of history, and of the temerity that accompanies this kind of perseverance.

And then of course there is the other Baltimore. Pristine, historic, growing, food, drink, art, and all the trappings of a thriving city; a city that to tourist eyes appears, at least aesthetically, apart from that other Baltimore. Perhaps some element of Baltimore’s magnetism is in how it beckons you to enjoy, both aware of, and despite, these facts.

Chief among Charm City’s charms were its residents. Among the proudest, most open, and sincere, that we’ve encountered on our travels to date. We’ll be back to experience the city in warmer months. In the meantime, if you haven’t visited Baltimore before, you’re missing out on a great weekend. But more than that; on an essential part of the American experience, and on some of the forces at work in this vast, complex, and beguiling country. 

Saturday 

6:45am Baltimore Bound

Hop on the Amtrak from Penn Station (book a month or two in advance to score some great savings) and arrive in Baltimore around 9:30am. Catch a cab to your lodgings, dump your bags and hit the town. Courtesy of some Kimpton points we stayed at the Hotel Monaco. While the location was solid, we’d recommend you spend time on Airbnb in search of some more compelling options.

10am Explore Mount Vernon

Head to the historic Mount Vernon neighborhood where the opulence of the city’s gilded past sparkles in its fully preserved splendor. Grab coffee and some killer breakfast sandwiches at Dooby’s, an award winning Korean inspired café, to fuel your exploring. Start with the 19th century Peabody Library, a 300,000 book collection housed in one of the most awe inspiring spaces we’ve been in. The 6 floors, seemingly suspended by 20 columns interwoven with regally cast-iron balconies, rise almost infinitely, to an intricate skylight that throws shadows onto the marbled floor beneath you. Hours seem to vary, but on last check it was open until 2:30pm on Saturday and closed Sunday. After you’re done, take in the neo-gothic splendor of the Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, Baltimore’s very own Washington Monument (we didn’t ascend it), and poke into the Walters Art Museum (admission is free).

12pm Where the Hipsters Are

Leaving Mount Vernon, head north and then hang a left onto West Read Street, and walk 5 minutes until you reach Knits, Soy & Metal: Part thrift store, part candle making workshop, you’ll be hard pressed not to stay for a lesson and perfect your own scent. Across the street Bottle of Bread has some terrific vintage finds, while the ludicrously hip scene next store at the Bun Shop is the perfect spot for a coffee and bun break.

1:30pm Faidley Seafood Lunch

Turn left onto North Howard Street and walk 10 minutes south along the tram line, often flanked by the now vacant remnants of Baltimore’s grand past. Hang a right onto Saratoga, and then a left onto North Paca will bring you to the storied Faidley Seafood inside the buzzing Lexington Market (around since 1782) just in time for lunch. If Baltimore is seafood heaven, Faidley has been its pearly gate since 1886. The fresh lump crab cake is King here, but save room for some of the biggest oysters you’ve ever seen. The atmosphere is quintessentially Baltimore, transporting you to a different era. Speaking of which, a few minutes down the road on West Fayette street lies Edgar Allen Poe, should you wish to pay your respect to one of the greats, and ponder the peculiar circumstances of his death.

3pm Federal Hill and the American Visionary Arts Museum

Jump in an uber and head over to Federal Hill Park to take in a sweeping panorama of the Inner Harbor. The hill was named in 1789 as it hosted a celebration of the ratification of the constitution. Later, during the Civil War, it was occupied by Union troops who turned their guns toward the city so as to ensure, by threat of force, Maryland’s allegiance to the Union. Linger a little and take in the neighborhoods historic residential architecture.

Just below the park sits the American Visionary Arts Museum, a small and curious collection of rotating art and sculpture by self-taught artists. Peak inside and check out the gift shop to determine if it’s your scene. 

4:30pm Wandering Fells Point

If the ferry schedule aligns, you can catch a boat from the Rusty Scupper to Harbor East and walk into Fells Point, an 18th century nautical neighborhood. While the historic boarding houses, bars, and brothels, have given way to some the cities hippest boutiques, restaurants, and bars, all of the old charm remains. If the ferry doesn’t work out, the 30 minute walk along the Baltimore Waterfront Promenade through the Harbor is a worthy detour in its own right.

Follow the path into the harbor, past the Lightship Chesapeake and the National Aquarium, and over the various footbridges until it links up with Eastern Avenue. Set your sights for the cobblestoned Bond Street, which links up with Thames Street, the district’s historic thoroughfare. Explore whatever shops pique your interest, and plan to take in sunset from Henderson’s Wharf (where Fell Street and the Waterfront Promenade intersect).

6:30pm Fells Point Happy Hour 

Fell’s point abounds in places to eat, drink, and be merry. If more seafood is what you’re after make a dinner reservation in advanced at the Thames Street Oyster House. For drinks try and hit two of these three: Penny Black for a no nonsense tavern, Rye for some serious mixology, or Birds of a Feather for a dram or two of whisky in wood paneled nautical surroundings. Full disclosure, we didn’t make it beyond our first stop at Birds of a Feather such was our love of the place and our conversation with the characters within.

9pm Dinner and Cocktails

The newly opened Bar Clavel pays homage to two of our favorite things: Mezcal and Mexican food in a hip minimalist setting. The food was fantastic, but the real reason we dined here was its proximity to its sister bar W C Harlan: An intimate 1920s themed speakeasy in a residential building serving up the most invented and meticulously crafted cocktails that charm city has to offer. It’s a little out of the way, but worth seeking out. A destination in its own right.

Sunday

10am Hipster Breakfast at Jack and Zach’s

Breakfasts doesn’t get much more hipster than at one of stools at Jack and Zach’s 12 seat diner counter. It doesn’t get any tastier either. Closed on Saturdays, the dedication to local ingredients shines in the simple but hearty breakfast classics.   

11am Graffiti Alley

Walk 30 minutes or jump in a cab to Graffiti Alley, an urban canvas tucked between North Avenue and Howard Street, where crumbling brickwork is constantly undergoing a vibrant renewal at the hands of the city’s street artists. Once you’re done taking in the eye popping works, head across the road to Red Emma’s, a self-described radical bookstore, café, and gathering place.

12:30pm Browsing in Hampden 

Another uber ride will bring you to the Hampden neighborhood, chocked full of antique, vintage, coffee, and boutique stores. Start out at Bazaar, an impossibly weird shop crammed into a row house, packed full of taxidermy, antiques, medical devices, skulls, Victorian hair pieces, artwork, and other curios. Then wander along West 36th Street (otherwise known as the Avenue) dipping into wherever your curiosity leads.

Keep an eye out for retro fashion at Double Dutch Boutique, Home Décor at Trohv, vintage jewelry from The Parisian Flea, and some ridiculously good coffee at SPRO. Circle back on yourself if you’re feeling peckish, and take advantage of the Sunday specials at Dylan’s Oyster Cellar. Wash that down with an ice cream from The Charmery across the street, and you’re having a pretty good, and rather decadent, Sunday if we say so ourselves.

4pm One Last Toast to Charm City 

Returning downtown, drop into the Brewers Art, situated in an elegant Mount Vernon period townhouse, for a goodbye pint in what Esquire Magazine once claimed was the best bar in America. Then onto Baltimore Penn station, where the 6pm train will have you back in NYC by 9pm.

There’s much you’ll have missed: a visit to Patterson Park and its famous pagoda, the Baltimore Museum of Art followed by a visit to the R. House food hall, a trip up the architectural marvel that is Bromo tower (possible only Saturdays) are all on our radar for next time. There are obviously many sides to Baltimore, and we got but a glimpse of a few of them. Charm City native and best-selling author Laura Lippman quipped: “Anyone can love a perfect place. Loving Baltimore takes some resilience”. If loving Baltimore takes resilience, enjoying it as a tourist is pretty easy. 

 

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