January 21, 2016
“Baltimore, Maryland: There’s more than murder here!” The neatly folded t-shirts in the trendy Hampden neighborhood shop, Trohv, seem to perfectly sum up Baltimore residents’ sentiments about their city. “Actually, I like it,” reads a bumper sticker down the street. If you tell anyone who lives in Baltimore that you’re headed there for the weekend, you will almost invariably be met with a resounding “WHY?” But despite its reputation as a somewhat gritty city with a notoriously substantial homicide rate and a less than bustling tourist industry, there is, in fact, much more than murder there—and it is well worth a visit.
Baltimore (pronounced something like “Bald-more” or “Bawl-mer” depending on which part of town you find yourself in) is an approachable city from the moment you arrive. Downtown is a nice place to start, flawlessly situated on the waterfront and allowing easy access on foot to not only the (touristy but obligatory) Inner Harbor, but also the far more interesting Fell’s Point neighborhood. This historic district is unquestionably inviting for a stroll down its cobblestone streets, and a peek down alleys and roads with vibrantly colored doors and window frames.
If you find yourself in need of nourishment, the restaurant/bar scene in Fell’s Point is notable, and the local beer prospects are impressive. Slainte Irish Pub is a nice place to try a local brew specially made for them by Oliver Brewing Company called S.I.P. – an Irish Red Ale on nitro (heaven in a glass, more or less). Beyond Fell’s Point, the Peabody Heights Brewery on the site of Old Oriole Park will give you a great tour (complete with a tasting straight from the barrel and for some reason a lot of Star Trek references) and Union Craft Brewing also has a great selection of interesting beers, and a food truck on site. If GrrChe Café, the gourmet grilled cheese truck, is indicative of the city’s overall food truck scene, then bravo Baltimore, because a grilled mac and cheese sandwich can’t be wrong. Or try out the Waverly Brewing Company’s tap room, which offers a cool atmosphere to get together with friends, made of repurposed wood and recycled materials. If you like to get a little cultural while you drink, you can check out the local art they have on display in the gallery lounge.
Baltimore’s artsy side is notable in the accessibility and prevalence of public art throughout the city. Not only that, but the overall flair of the rows of multicolored townhouses and thoughtfully adorned abodes speak to an anything-but-boring population. If you head to West 36th Street, the heart of the unique and popular Hampden neighborhood, this eccentric spirit can’t be ignored. From kitschy shops to the giant pink flamingo outside of Café Hon, there’s plenty to keep your interest piqued in this part of town.
Of course after all of this walking and beer drinking, you will likely want a bite to eat. I know I don’t need to tell you to eat crab cakes in Baltimore, but eat crab cakes in Baltimore. If you forget to stop for some reason while you are passing by the countless seafood places in town (or just need another fix before you head home) Obrycki’s at the airport will do the trick. If crab isn’t your favorite, not to fear—they don’t put crab on everything in Baltimore. OK, they kind of do, but not everywhere. Try Lucia’s/Joann’s Kitchen for a good, cheap, old fashioned breakfast on Aliceanna Street, a short walk from the waterfront. It doesn’t look like much, but I promise you will leave with a full belly—and full pockets. If you want something a little different for breakfast, Miss Shirley’s Café has two locations, one in the Inner Harbor and the original in Roland Park. It’s well known for a delicious breakfast, especially since its recent debut on Food Network’s Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. The food is good, but the Bloody Mary, known there as a Spicy Shirley, is truly a work of art. And yes, they will ask you if you’d like some crab in that.
Whatever you do, don’t let the news, or the city’s reputation, or the locals’ bewilderment as to why you are visiting deter you. Baltimore is a city with a distinct personality and sense of character, and in spite of its downfalls, it’s probably one of the most alive and interesting cities you never thought to visit. Director and Baltimore native John Waters wrote, “You can look far and wide, but you’ll never discover a stranger city with such extreme style. It’s as if every eccentric in the South decided to move north, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay.” And when you do go, then you will understand exactly what he means.