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Baltimore

Overview
Baltimore's comeback streak has pretty much obliterated its former reputation as the murder capital of the nation (even if it still regularly scores well in crime rankings and visitors should still leave nothing visible in their cars). Real estate prices are booming, retail rakes it in during the tourist season, and businessmen have discovered a city where, just steps from the convention center, they can sightsee, shop for their kids, AND hoist a beer at Hooters. But the city's real treasures are hidden in its neighborhoods, where fierce local pride mixes with a local flare for the, uh, creative. (If you can't get to Café Hon or the Visionary Art Museum, ask hometown filmmaker John Waters to explain). And, yes, The Wire is the most amazing TV series ever. Baltimore never looked so good (and bad) on film. To see the real charm behind its nickname, "Charm City," venture into the cobblestone-and-brick-lined neighborhoods of Fells Point, Federal Hill, and Mt. Vernon. Here, you'll find Ravens fans mad-hopping in dive bars, crabs and oysters are staple menu items, artists and musicians display their work, and unpretentious locals make you feel right at home.See more.

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Getting There
For a car-free route from DC to Baltimore, take the MARC commuter train from Union Station to Penn Station Monday through Friday. Alternatively, take the Green line metro to Greenbelt, walk to the Greenbelt Station and Bus Bay D, catch bus B30 to BWI/Thurgood Marshall Airport and catch the MARC Light Rail toward Hunt Valley; stops include Camden Station for baseball fans and Pratt St for the inner harbor. For travel schedules and fare information check http://mta.maryland.gov/marc-trai




         



On Our Radar:

Posted By:  Magda Nakassis
Photo:  Magda Nakassis

American Visionary Art Museum
Okay I know that the American Visionary Art Museum is not in DC. It's in Baltimore, which is a city all its own and a solid hour by car or train. But seeing as we share airports and mind-numbing traffic, I think it's worth highlighting. More important, I really wonder if such an institution could ever exist in DC. I love Federal City and all, but there's no denying the charms of Charm City. Its arts scene is so compelling, independent, creative, and downright wacky that it spills outside the countless studios and into the galleries and museums--and a public space dedicated solely to outsider, self-taught artists has yet to elbow its way onto the National Mall. So what can be found inside this elliptical, postindustrial building? In a warehouse formerly stocked with Four Roses whiskey, visitors can view large sculptures, cars covered with psychically bent cutlery, or wander into the sculpture garden. Media is frequently nontraditional, and subjects are highly personal. Curated exhibitions and selections from the permanent collection can be haunting, childlike, and obsessive--but also challenging and thoughtful. The galleries (and especially the gift shop) can be overwhelming, but well-written wall text can aid you on your self-guided tour. And if afterwards your head is spinning (as it should), wander over to Federal Hill, sit on a quiet park bench, and gaze out on the harbor and skyline. Ahhh, skylines...they're nice.



Posted By:  Rin-rin Yu
Photo:  Hats in the Belfry

Hats in the Belfry
Now here's a happy little spot in charming Fells Point to wander into on a Sunday afternoon. In an attempt to bring hats back fashion, this shop has opened its fourth location (the other three are in Philadelphia, Annapolis and Inner Harbor of Baltimore). And fashionable hats they are: there's the big brim, the cloche, the newsboy cap, and the kinds people today can only describe as "The Indiana Jones hat" or "The Sherlock Holmes hat." During holidays, the shop can't help but offer campy hats as well, from giant leprechaun hats for St. Patrick's Day to Uncle Sam's hat for the 4th. But most of the regular toppers are proper, classy accessories. Shoppers can try them on and see themselves transformed from local Hopkins student to Debonair Dude. The hats are high-quality and you'll likely keep them for years and years, unless you lose them somewhere. For that reason, they don't come cheap: a posh cloche will run you from $78 to $300.  Right now, this location is having a 20% grand opening sale, so the tag might not hurt so much in today's economy. At least you can look good while unemployed.




Posted By:  Rin-rin Yu
Photo:  Courtesy of Bertha’s Restaurant

Bertha's
The lettering on the outside makes it easy to order: "Eat Bertha's Mussels," it reads. And there's really no reason to come to Bertha's except to try their delicious mussels and variety of sauces, especially those involving butter. There's garlic butter and capers, butter and lemon, butter and basil, butter and spinach and tarragon. There are also other choices, like sour cream, but mussels are a perfect excuse for eating lots and lots of butter. Bertha's also has a number of other tasty seafood items, such as a catch-of-the-day, crabcakes, chowders, shrimp and escargot. If you're not a seafood fan, you really shouldn't come to Bertha's, but it does have decent burgers and a happening bar with live music. It's a bit of a maze to navigate from bar to restaurant, since the restaurant is situated in what seems to be once someone's house, as are many things in Baltimore, and the inside is rather dark for its lack of many windows. But there's a whole lot to look at: random fishing equipment, items fished from the harbor, a whole ceiling lit up green with beer bottles. Inside, the fish is frying, the fiddle is playing, the atmosphere is alive.




Posted By:  Rin-rin Yu
Photo:  Courtesy of Bo Brooks

Bo Brooks Restaurant
Now, here's a restaurant with a point to hammer home. Maryland crabs, beers, harbor scenery, Old Bay smeared everywhere. No fuss, big mess, Baltimore-style, year-round. Of course, the restaurant is more packed in summertime with outdoor seating and harbor views, but cooler months still see a fair share of crab lovers driving to the lighthouse for a day or night of hammering. There's a full menu of alternatives to crab, including fat crabcakes, sandwiches and salads. For crab novices, the meal works like this: get a dozen oysters (to share) or peel-and-eat shrimp, a garden salad, some fries, three extra large crabs and two seasonal beers to go with. You will be stuffed, but happy. There's a $2 happy hour on weekdays from 2 to 7 pm, and their signature drink: the Angry Mallet, a concoction for frat boys involving grain alcohol. Keep those crab claws and hammers away from those drinking the Angry Mallet.



Posted By:  Rin-rin Yu
Photo:  Rin-rin Yu

The Helmand
Surprise! Baltimore’s more than just beehives and break-ins: it has an amazing exotic eatery, too. Located in the artistic neighborhood of Mt. Vernon, The Helmand is an elegant Afghan restaurant where locals dress up equally divinely and feast on creative dishes few palates have encountered in this city. If you like chick peas, raisins, yogurt, mint and other potentially unknown tasty Middle Eastern ingredients, this is a perfect choice for a classy date or gathering of friends and family. And it caters to diners of all types--vegetarians, carnivores, dieters and non-dieters, starving students and the bourgeoisie. Definitely order the kaddo borawni--a pan-fried pumpkin appetizer with sugar and yogurt. It’s probably the restaurant’s most popular dish. The menu takes a while to decipher but leaves few disappointed.



Posted By:  Nancy Parode
Photo:  Nancy Parode

Di Pasquale's Italian Marketplace
A dozen years ago, my Italian friend Lisa told me she didn’t need to have her mother send groceries from Italy any longer. The reason? She’d finally found an authentic Italian store in Baltimore. I knew right then that Di Pasquale’s had to be the real deal. And it is. Di Pasquale’s Highlandtown location is well off the tourist’s path. This place is strictly local and totally Italian. Head past the bocce sets and close your eyes. Take a deep breath and enjoy the aromas of freshly-baked bread, homemade lasagna, and imported Italian cheese. Di Pasquale’s selection ranges from anchovies to vino. (It’s true; Di Pasquale’s array of Italian wines is amazing.) I head there when I crave whole wheat gnocchi, scamorza cheese, crusty bread—I know I always come home with cookies, but that’s just a coincidence. Di Pasquale’s deli counter is stuffed with fragrant salads, vibrantly-hued olives, and creamy cheeses. You can order a sandwich to eat in the café area or load up on take-home treats. Nibble an arancine (breaded, fried rice ball with chunks of meat and cheese inside) or feast on a real brick oven pizza. Just try something. You’ll be back for more.



Posted By:  Nancy Parode
Photo:  Nancy Parode

Vaccaro's Italian Pastry Shop
Let’s face it—when it comes to frozen treats, nothing tastes quite like genuine Italian gelato. Next time you’re in Baltimore, stop by Vaccaro’s in Little Italy and treat yourself to the real thing. Try an authentic Italian flavor, such as nocciola (hazelnut) or tiramisu, or go New World and taste peanutto & fudge or apple pie. If ice cream isn’t your thing, indulge your sweet tooth with a delectable pastry. You can take your sweet snack outside or pay a bit more for table service.Vaccaro’s supplies some of Baltimore’s best restaurants with cannoli—tube-shaped pastries stuffed with rich, sweet ricotta cheese, and chunks of chocolate—as well as tiramisu and Italian cakes. The flagship Café in Little Italy is usually stuffed full of people. Come on in—the biscotti (cookies), dolci (desserts), and gelati (ice cream as only Italians can make it) are worth the wait. Family-owned Vaccaro’s has been a fixture in Little Italy for over 50 years. It’s time you paid them a visit.



Posted By:  Lola Pierson
Photo:  Lola Pierson

It’s hip to be hip. And deaf. At the Ottobar you can be both. The music’s loud, the drinks are cheap, and you will smell like cigarettes from two weeks after you leave. You might not like that. I do. With bands like The Ex and comedians like Neil Hamburger their occasional somewhat pricey cover is understandable. The sound is great and it is definitely one of the best places to see a show in Baltimore. If you’re looking for a more relaxed evening that costs a little less just walk upstairs instead. The second floor is full of comfy benches, sofas, and chairs. Tuesdays and Wednesday’s are 2 for 1 on all drinks, and if you can hear the jukebox over the music downstairs that will please you too. The crowd there is a little too hip for its own good, but deal with it and you’ll have a swell time. Maybe you’ll even meet a new pal.



Posted By:  Lola Pierson
Photo:  Lola Pierson

Wyman Park Restaurant
If you’ve been up all night…not faux up all night—actually up all night, as in watched the sun come up, normal people are going to work up all night then do yourself a favor: hit up the New Wyman Park Diner in Charles Village. It’s only open for breakfast and lunch, but man-o-man have they gotten those meals right. If you’re looking for a little taste of Baltimore culture look no further. The waitresses are as Baltimore as they come, Hon, and the prices can’t be beat. You can get a full meal with dessert for under $6. I highly recommend any of the breakfast specials involving eggs and pig prepared in various fashions. The only thing missing is some sort of regulation of the temperature because it’s always ridiculously cold or oppressively hot so wear layers.



Posted By:  Lola Pierson
Photo:  Lola Pierson

If you’re reading this it means that you’re literate. And if you have the capacity to read, and you’re anywhere near Baltimore then you need to go to The Book Thing. Aptly named, The Book Thing is a non-profit where you can go and get as many free books as you can handle. There’s only one condition: you can’t resell the books (they are stamped upon exit to ensure that). Forget comparisons to other places in Baltimore, this is absolutely one of the greatest places on the face of the earth. It’s not much to look at from the outside, but the inside is full of wonderful surprises. The volunteers are more helpful than paid employees at most book stores, and the selection is fantastic. You may not be able to find the exact book you’re looking for, but you will definitely be able to find something worth taking home. It’s all free, so you’ve got nothing to lose. Go check it out. Now.



Posted By:  Lola Pierson
Photo:  Lola Pierson

I like to call the marriage of being hungry and having a hangover the state of being hungryover. The best treatment for being hungryover is heading over to Pete’s Grille. You walk in and are immediately disappointed because it smells delicious, but there are no seats and the line is almost out the door. Pete’s Grille doesn’t even have tables—just one long beautiful counter. The wait, however, is shorter than you’d expect, and the food more than makes up for the many minutes spent standing and salivating. Everyone who works there is exceedingly friendly, and whether you decide on the delightfully greasy home fries or the unbeatable blueberry pancakes, you’ll be completely satisfied. Pete’s is also very affordable; you can start your day off right for under $10 or less. Think of the wait as working for your breakfast.




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