By Amanda McDougall - 06/27/12 10:43 PM EDT
Baltimore gets a bad rap. Its blighted neighborhoods and crime stats don’t help the city’s image problem. Most likely, you’ve never ventured out much beyond Camden Yards or the Inner Harbor. But that’s not where the real character of Baltimore lies.
Once-derelict factories are being renovated and reinvented as miniature epicenters of modern dining and living. An 18th-century townhome is an acclaimed brewery and restaurant. A small storefront is a tortilla factory. A downtown restaurant is an outlet for royal cocktails.
The Happiest of Hours
First things first: Do whatever you need to do to get into Baltimore by 4 p.m. on a Friday, not just to beat traffic, but also to hit up excellent weekday happy hours. The Brewer’s Art, in Mount Vernon, is a case study in what makes the city great. Residing in an enormous 18th-century townhome, it serves stellar brewed-on-site Belgian-style beer ($3.50/glass) and a bevy of imaginative seasonal small plates that range from rosemary-garlic fries ($4) to stinging nettle and morel gnocchi ($12). Nab a seat at the front-room bar or settle into a nook in the moody basement. You can’t go wrong with any of the house brews and cocktails; same goes for the food.
B&O Brasserie, taking up residence at the Hotel Monaco in downtown, has an early check-in for its 4 p.m. happy hour. The first-floor bar and lounge has a cool, contemporary feel with a mix of sofas, tables and bar stools. The cocktail menu is large and ranges from classics to house concoctions, including punch bowls for the table. Bonus: happy hour appetizers ($5-7).
Starting at 5 p.m., Spike Gjerde’s amazingly popular, hyper-local food paradise Woodberry Kitchen has discounted local beer ($3), local wine ($5) and a house cocktail ($7). This is perhaps the perfect place to get introduced to Maryland wines and sip some of the specialty Chesapeake produce about which Gjerde and his team are so incredibly passionate. The bar area doesn’t take reservations, so if you get a bar table (and you don’t have a reservation for dinner), plant roots and dig into the menu.
Plan in advance (at least a month for a prime weekend hour) for a “supper,” as they like to call it, at Woodberry Kitchen. The place is oozing with charm, from its wood- and brick-intensive rustic décor to its endearing, apron-wearing staff and infectious Maryland pride on the menu. The food is simple and outstanding from beginning to end. And, to top it off, nearly every entrée is under the $30 mark.
B&O is a solid option for a dinner. The kitchen stays open late on weekends (until 11 p.m.) and the menu is large enough to accommodate appetites large and small. The upstairs dining room is quiet — almost too much so; the lively bar/lounge is a better place to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the craft cocktails.
Other than location convenience, Hotel Monaco can be a fantastic deal if there isn’t a convention or other event in town to drive up the room rates. In the former headquarters of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, the foyer features impressive marble staircases up to the second-floor hotel lobby; rooms are impeccably clean and well-stocked with amenities (including a companion goldfish upon request — no joke). Free bicycles are available to guests on a first-come, first-served basis, so you can burn off your excesses from the previous night.
By bike or automobile, make your way north (via Falls Road) to the Hampden neighborhood for a serious cup of joe. Spro, located on the area’s main drag of West 36th Street, is a coffee-lover’s haven. It offers beans from several roasters and a choice of a half-dozen different brew methods. Fuel up and then walk down “The Avenue” (West 36th) to check out the antique, vintage and other adorable independent shops.
Woodberry Kitchen is also expected to open a coffee shop and café in mid-July in a renovated cotton mill on Union Avenue. Called Artifact Coffee, it will bring the same obsessively curated seasonal menus to its patrons, including “manually brewed” direct trade coffee and a pared-down food menu divided into morning, lunch and dinner.
Naturally, you’ll be ready for lunch before you depart for D.C. It might seem a bit out of the way in Upper Fells Point (due east of the Inner Harbor), but the trek to Tortilleria Sinaloa for a farewell taco feast shouldn’t be passed up. Besides, you can send yourself off with a package of fresh tortillas and a bag of chips with guacamole — for the road. The chalkboard menu is straightforward, as are the tacos. Topped with that classic combination of chopped onions and cilantro and served with side dishes of blazing hot red and green salsas and lime wedges, this is as close to Mexico as you can get in the region.
Off the tourist circuit in Baltimore
The Brewer’s Art
Hours: Monday – Saturday, 4 p.m. - 1:45 a.m.; Sunday, 5 p.m. - 1:45 a.m.
Highlights: $3.50 house beers at happy hour, which runs from 4 to 7 p.m. weekdays and all day Sunday and Monday. Eclectic small plates; casual, quirky ambience.
B&O American Brasserie
Hours: Breakfast, 7 - 10:30 a.m.; lunch, 11:30 a.m. - 2:30 p.m.; dinner, Sunday – Thursday, 5 – 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 – 11 p.m.; bar, 11:30 a.m. – 12 a.m.
Highlights: $3 happy hour Monday – Friday, 4 – 7 p.m. Cool, spacious lounge; large, varied cocktail menu.
Hours: Monday – Thursday, 5 – 10 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 5 – 11 p.m.; Sunday, 5 – 9 p.m.; brunch, Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m.
Highlights: Spike Gjerde’s lauded Maryland-centered cuisine, including beverages. Charming ambience, great service.
Artifact Coffee (anticipated opening in mid-July)
Highlights: Serious coffee; free Friday morning cuppings; a scaled-down iteration of Spike Gjerde’s hyper-local food.
Hours: Monday – Wednesday, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Thursday and Friday, 7 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Saturday, 8 a.m. – 9 p.m.; Sunday, 9 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Highlights: Coffee from multiple roasters; 7 brew methods; neighborhood spot; very friendly staff.
Hours: Monday –Thursday, 7 a.m. – 7 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 7 a.m. – 8 p.m.; Sunday, 7 a.m. – 6 p.m.
Highlights: Freshly made tortillas to-go; Mexican Coca-Cola.
Price: Room rates start at $139 (will vary by week).
Highlights: Central location; luxurious rooms; free bicycles.