By Marisa Dobson + Photography by Tom McCorkle
Skip the clogged summer highways and hop on the MARC train to Baltimore for a surprisingly vibrant and exciting urban adventure—one that’ll have you questioning all you thought you knew about “Bmore.” Recently named one of the New York Times’ “52 Places to Go in 2018,” I’m not the only one who has fallen in love with Charm City.
Baltimore was and is a haven for industry (visit the Museum of Industry or sign up for a tour of OpenWorks), has a rich literary and artistic history (note the love of Poe, and tour the Baltimore Museum of Art for free) and is a cultural and social locus for many in the African-American community (W.E.B. DuBois resided near Lake Montebello; before there was the NMAAHC, there was the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture).
Far more than hons, crab cakes and arabbers, Baltimore is a complex tapestry of different cultures, ethnicities, accents and neighborhoods. Nowhere is this more on display than in our city’s restaurants and bars. But first, where to drop your bags?
If you’re not on a budget, stay at The Ivy. Baltimore’s only Relais & Chateaux delivers on its promise of romance and intimate luxury. There are only 18 rooms in this gorgeous boutique hotel, so make your reservation early. Check in in time to enjoy afternoon tea and schedule a service at the spa. Pick up a map from the concierge to orient yourselves to the Mount Vernon neighborhood.
Staying in Mount Vernon is ideal—it’s centrally located, packed with charming historic buildings and steps away from attractions like the Washington Monument, the Walters Art Museum (free admission), the George Peabody Library (an Instagram mecca) and unique retail. Another buzzy hotel is set to open in this neighborhood this May: Hotel Revival. With 107 rooms, it should be a little easier to score a reservation, while still providing a boutique guest experience. Two new dining concepts are slated to open in the hotel, helmed by Executive Chef Wilbur Cox and Bar Manager Chelsea Gregoire. Square Meal will serve New American repasts for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Topside is a much-anticipated rooftop bar, pairing seafood-centric dishes with local craft beers.
Start sliding into staycation mode at Wet City (223 W. Chase St.). This minimalist bar is filled with blond wood, great drafts and even better snacks. Owned by siblings, the collaborative spirit is all-encompassing as evidenced by frequent guest chef pop-ups.
If an iconic dive bar is more your scene, head up the street to Club Charles (1724 N. Charles St.). The crowd is always diverse, fun and welcoming (if you’re lucky, you’ll spot John Waters). The drinks are as strong as they should be, and the couches are surprisingly cozy.
When you’ve drunk your fill, feed your soul at Ida B’s Table (235 Holliday St.). One of Eater’s “Hottest New Restaurants,” this happening spot serves modern soul food as conceived by Chef David Thomas, and hosts live music every Friday and Saturday night. Start with the delectable Octopus Po’Boys, and order a weekend special like Maple Leaf Farms Duck Breast with fried Brussels sprouts tossed in balsamic bourbon, served with three hoecakes and caramelized curried apples. Indulge in one of Tonya Thomas’ seasonal bread puddings, and a nightcap from the ever-evolving cocktail menu by Joseph Weeks and his team.
Sleep soundly knowing you spent your first day well, and that tomorrow requires a little more adventuring! If it’s Saturday morning, head to the Waverly Farmers Market (400 E. 32nd St.). Hands-down my favorite farmers market in the city, it’s also the best place to order unforgettable biscuit sandwiches from Blacksauce Kitchen (you’ll know it by the line). Zeke’s Coffee is right across from the Blacksauce stand, and there’s also Love Water Juice if you’re in need of an all-natural pick-me-up. Most weekends there’s also fresh local flowers, donuts, handpies, lox and an array of organic produce and pasture-raised meats.
Keep your options open with a pit stop at R House for lunch (301 W. 29th St.). This new food hall is offering whatever you’re craving (pizza, poke, hearty vegan salads, bibimbap) and has a regularly rotating pop-up stand to keep things fresh. In the warmer months, they open up the garage doors to make a lovely wraparound breezeway, perfect for sipping a cocktail al fresco. A block or so down the street is BWillow (220 W. 27th St.), a dreamy plant shop owned and operated by Renaissance woman Liz Vayda. Pick up a few babies to restock your terrarium, or take home handmade decorative crafts by local artisans.
You’ve earned your queso fundido. Now it’s time for dinner at Clavel (225 W. 23rd St.). Don’t be put off by the industrial surroundings; you’ll be completely transported once you’re inside. Handmade tortillas (a fifth-generation recipe!) wrap carnitas, cochinita, huitlacoche, lengua and more. An open kitchen lets you observe the masters at work, and you’ll probably spot owner Lane Harlan as she roams the dining room. The mezcal program is unmatched in the city, so take your time and sample something new.
Perhaps it’s Sunday morning now, and you’re sipping coffee in your pillow-stuffed hotel bed. If you drove in and feel like living like a local, I have three far-flung recommendations.
Silver Queen Café (5429 Harford Rd.) in the Hamilton-Lauraville neighborhood is the best kind of family-friendly joint, with inventive daily specials that overdeliver every time (think Chorizo Fries with Jalapeño Mornay Sauce). A devoted play area means that you get to enjoy every last bite while the kids are occupied. Cocina Luchadoras (253 S. Broadway) is brand new to the Broadway strip. This woman-owned Mexican counter and takeout has taken the city by storm with its tamales and tacos. Within a couple months of opening, Rosalyn’s tacos ended up on the cover of Baltimore magazine. Minnow (2 E. Wells St.) in South Baltimore is the latest venture from La Cuchara chef/owner Ben Lefenfeld. A seafood-focused spot (with a crunchy chicken sandwich to boot), the brunch scene here is a scene—and fun flashy cocktails like the Velvet Underground keep the Boomerangs bouncing.
If you’d rather stick to exploring one neighborhood, head on over to Hampden. “The Avenue” is famous for its restaurants and shopping. You’ll want to snap a pic of the giant flamingo outside of Café Hon. Pop into Atomic Books (3620 Falls Rd.) for its awesome array of graphic novels and art books and grab a cold cider from the back bar. Or maybe it’s time for something cold and sweet? The Charmery (801 W. 36th St.) is everyone’s favorite, for good reason. Inventive flavors like Old Bay Caramel tickle your fancy while the aroma of fresh waffle cones beckons.
Next, check out Union Collective (1700 W. 41st St.). Set to open in May/June, this 138,000-square-foot space will house Union Craft Brewing, Well Crafted Kitchen, The Baltimore Whiskey Company, Earth Treks (should you feel the urge to work off some of your indulgences on the wall) and more. Or, grab a coffee and fancy toast at Artifact (1500 Union Ave.); this all-day café from Spike and Amy Gjerde brews Counter Culture coffee and has an adjacent green space for an impromptu picnic.
All this walking and sampling has hopefully helped you work up an appetite by now, so you’re ready for dinner at Cosima (3000 Falls Rd., Mill No. 1). Follow the neon sign around the cobblestoned hairpin turn and hand over the keys to the valet (complimentary!). Longtime beloved restaurateur Donna Crivello continues to impress with a high-end Italian program. The indoor grotto-like space is wonderful for date night, while the deck overlooking Jones Falls is perfect for people-watching on summer evenings. Make a reservation for Sunday night and indulge in Mangia!—a Sunday-night special that’s an absolute steal: three courses, served family style for $35 per person.
You might also try Dylan’s Oyster Cellar (3601 Chestnut Ave.). My favorite raw bar in a city for seafood, it’s worth splurging on the Kusshi oysters from Washington or the Cherrystone clams from Virginia. Don’t miss the opportunity to try the Coddie, a traditional favorite that’s been updated just enough. Beautiful handmade ceramics dot the tables, and the decor somehow feels up-to-the-minute trendy while also feeling very Baltimore (maybe it’s the polished booths and tiled floors?).
End the evening at The Bluebird Cocktail Room (3600 Hickory Ave). This sexy, literary-themed bar offers a seasonal cocktail menu, ranging from $10 to $16. The spring menu features Miss Havisham (a twist on a pisco sour), White Rabbit (carrots and amaro), the Santiago (Old Fashioned with a limited-edition rum) and more. Entry is first come, first served and on weekend nights, there may be a wait. But, they’ve smartly provided porch swings and fairy lights to keep spirits high. Once inside, the velvet couches and chandeliers provide the perfect Old World setting for peacocking about the latest novel you’ve read.
It’s checkout time, but before you head out of town, grab a late breakfast or early lunch from The Corner Pantry (6080 Falls Rd.). One of the best casual lunch spots (and fortunately open on Mondays!), this British-inspired café can always be counted on for inventive salads and properly satisfying curried chicken sandwiches. Or, swing by a Baltimore legend: Attman’s Delicatessen (1019 E. Lombard St.; free parking in adjacent lot). Since 1915, this classic joint has been slinging corned beef, pastrami, crunchy pickles and western fries. All of Baltimore comes through here for overstuffed sandwiches—and in a city divided and rapidly changing, it’s a wonderful reminder of our common humanity.
Pro tip: Much like #ACreativeDC, check out the #MyBmore hashtag or the Instagram account @TheBmoreCreatives for an up-to-the-second account of what’s happening around town.