Welcome to Baltimore, Hon

Neighborhoods, Markets and History Show There is More to Charm City Than the Inner Harbor

By April Bartel | Posted on 06.02.13 – Destinations, Feature, Travel

The ‘burbs have house developments, but the cities have neighborhoods—eclectic, un planned spaces filled with houses, streets, noise and … life. Baltimore has more than 225 neighborhoods, from the gritty to the gentrified. That’s plenty of ground to cover for returning visitors who have no doubt already experienced Inner Harbor, in which the tourists outnumber the sailboats, with familiar haunts such as the Maryland Science Center and National Aquarium. You can throw in the ubiquitous crab cake dinner at the equally wellknown Phillips’ Seafood Restaurant for good measure.

But since we’re fortunate enough to be about an hour from Charm City, there’s good reason, hon, to explore some of the lesser-known spots.

While each neighborhood has its own distinct vibe, they share an independent spirit and a love of all things “Bawlmer;” from Mr. Boh, the moon-faced icon of National Bohemian Beer smiling down over Brewer’s Hill, to the Italian-style Bromo Seltzer Arts Tower keeping time downtown. The tower hosts bi-weekly tours (May 4 and 18, June 1 and 15) along with open houses of resident artists’ studios.

Just up Eutaw Street is Lexington Market, one of six oldschool public markets located around the city. Here, independent purveyors offer fruits and veggies, meats and more, including chocolate-covered Bergers Cookies. (You can find these icing-laden wonders in Frederick supermarkets, too, but there’s something about eating a Bergers in Baltimore.) Baltimore locals know that the restaurant stalls make these markets foodie-friendly graze-a-thons and visitors are learning it as well. Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods on the Travel Channel, once enjoyed a tongue sandwich at Mary Mervis’ shop during his visit. More often, the spotlight shines on Faidley’s Seafood. Established in 1886, Faidley’s market/eatery is always a contender for Baltimore’s best crab cake, fried fare and raw bar.

On Charles Street in “hip” and gentrified Federal Hill, the Cross Street Market serves up its own range of delicacies, from tacos to Italian pastries, rotisserie chicken, fresh juice and Teppanaki. Nick’s Seafood/Oyster Bar/Samurai Sushi steps it up for a hopping happy hour. Patrons pour in Monday through Thursday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. as the market morphs into an early-evening hot-spot. Nick’s is open late on Fridays and Saturdays. In season, the crowd gets amped on football Sundays, rooting for the Ravens and hissing the Steelers.

Tucked between Federal Hill and Locus Point, the Baltimore Museum of Industry explores Maryland’s industrial heritage, mirroring Baltimore’s pride as a “working man’s town.” The million-item collection documents “how the city developed from a small trading post to a thriving industrial center.” Family Day is on May 9 and Big Truck Day is May 11. Admission is $12, but kids under 6 get in for free.

In Locust Point, Fort McHenry is a can’t-miss stop, especially for history buffs. Immortalized in poetry by Fredericktonian Francis Scott Key, the British attack here raged for more than 24-hours, ending early on Sept. 14, 1814. Key’s ode became our national anthem, and his original pages are housed in the Maryland Historic Society on West Monument Street in Baltimore.

It’s the perfect time to visit the fort as War of 1812 bicentennial events are scheduled. The newly remodeled visitor center is state of the art and one of many interactive displays allows guests to hear celebrities perform The Star- Spangled Banner, including Marvin Gaye, Whitney Houston and Jimi Hendrix. Exhibits highlight details of the battle and of Key’s life. After learning the history, visitors can “vote” on whether we should commit to war. There’s also a free Junior Ranger program for the kids.

Memorial Day weekend, May 26 and 27, is a big event at the fort. Re-enactors and park rangers will interpret Civil War connections to the modern holiday. The Fife and Drum Corps will perform and on Monday at 3 p.m. a moment of silence for the fallen is observed. June 1 features a military ceremony with music, pageantry and the U.S. Navy Band and Drill Team. The site gears up again for Flag Day on June 14 with an evening of music and fireworks. A seven-day pass to the historic area is $7 for adults with free admission to those 16 and under. Visitor center access is free.

On Baltimore’s north side, Hampden is the self-appointed heart of kitsch-culture, thanks to the annual HonFest in June and HampdenFest in September. Along 36th Street, a.k.a. “The Avenue,” you’ll find an array of eclectic shops with vintage clothing, furniture, art and more, plus Café Hon, the birthplace of HonFest. Celebrating 20 years this June 8 and 9, the free street festival pays homage to the fun, flamboyant style locals love. “Hon” is a term of endearment and a way of life. The motto here is, “The higher the hair, the closer to God,” so expect to see plenty of beehive hairdos and cat’s-eye glasses.

HampdenFest rolls out the highly dignified Toilet Bowl Race, where creatively decorated “vehicles” vie for bragging rights. There’s also a relatively tasteful Mac-Off contest to choose the city’s best macaroni & cheese maker, as well as music, food and entertainment.

Other hidden Baltimore treasures include the Hampton National Historic Site (free), a post-Revolutionary War mansion in Towson. Steps from Camden Yards, is the museum/birthplace of Baltimore legend George Herman “Babe” Ruth ($6). Or get unlimited rides at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum at 1901 Falls Road for $7/adults ($24/family). Thomas the Tank comes to the B&O Railroad Museum on May 3- 5 for $19/pp. And the first Tuesday of every month is “Thrifty Tuesday” at the B&O with half off admission.

With so much so close, there’s no excuse to suffer boredom. Pick a day. Pick a place or two then dive right in. You just might find a new favorite of your own.