The Most Underrated City in the U.S.?
Posted Monday, August 08, 2011 5:52 PM
A resident praises Baltimore’s charms.
When you think of Baltimore, what comes to mind? It could be sports as Baltimore is home to both the Orioles and the Ravens. Maybe it’s films and TV shows like Hairspray and The Wire, both set in this Maryland mainstay. Or perhaps crabs, the city’s trademark cuisine.
Whatever it may be, it certainly doesn’t do this Mid-Atlantic gem justice. Infused with an eclectic mix of history and modern sensibility, Baltimore is unlike any other city in the U.S. Its location between New York and the nation’s capital often leaves it overlooked, but this beacon between north and south has developed a vigorous one of a kind personality all its own.
The city has also produced its fair share of Americans icons. One of the more famous Baltimoreans is Edgar Allen Poe, who lived in the city for the majority of his adult life. There is also George Herman “Babe” Ruth. Widely recognized as the greatest baseball player to ever live, Ruth got his start by playing for his hometown team, the then minor league Baltimore Orioles. Directors Barry Levinson and John Waters both grew up in “Bawlmer” and still have connections to the city. Levinson is part owner of the Orioles, and Waters directs most of his movies in his hometown.
Surrounded by the Chesapeake Bay, Baltimore’s nautical life is one of its more identifiable characteristics, known as the preeminent place in the country to enjoy crabs.
With such a reputation, it isn’t hard to believe that there seems to be more crab houses than you can count. Five local favorites that rise above the rest include Canton Dockside, an upscale modern restaurant with breathtaking views and an inventive menu, Captain James’ Crab House, strategically positioned in the heart of the Inner Harbor this old school eatery offers a more humble experience, L.P. Steamers, dubbed the “quintessential Baltimore crab experience” by Baltimore Magazine, Obrickyi’s, known for its unique black pepper spice, and Riptide by the Bay, a newer Fells Point establishment equipped with an impressive ale selection.
The adjoining neighborhoods of Fells Point and Harbor East pave an oceanfront pathway decorated with hearty pubs and irresistible storefronts into the city’s nautical epicenter, the Inner Harbor. Home to Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium and the National Aquarium, this area has undergone a renaissance over the past 50 years. Although the Inner Harbor is the most tourist friendly, it lacks the charisma and old world charm of places like Fells Point and Federal Hill.
These two hotspots are home to some of the best nightlife in the city. Federal Hill, so named for the lush green mound that serves as a barrier to the Inner Harbor, in many ways summarizes the city as a whole. Complete with architecture from the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, many Baltimoreans are happy to call this neighborhood home. Like the city itself, versatility is Fed Hill’s most attractive quality, as it stays true to its historical roots while simultaneously incorporating modern shops and nightlife.
In the center of the neighborhood surrounded by a refreshing mix of bars and restaurants is Cross Street Market, one of the nation’s oldest modern markets.
Federal Hill was also home to one of the nation’s most pivotal moments. As the British attempted to recapture control of our young nation in the War of 1812, the only thing that stood between Baltimore and the British was Fort McHenry. Bombarded through the night by the British Navy, the men of Fort McHenry refused to let our flag fall. Francis Scott Key encapsulated these brave Baltimoreans defiance of the British in a song that ultimately became the National Anthem, “The Star Spangled Banner”. Fort McHenry still stands today and is open to the public for tours and museums that both memorializes and celebrates the brave Baltimoreans that warded off the British all those years ago.
From the top of the Fort there is a lovely view of some of Baltimore’s harbor life, including Fell’s Point. Located between Canton and Harbor East, this neighborhood is similar to Federal Hill, but with a nautical twist. Home to some of the city’s most rambunctious nightlife, Fell’s Point still possess some charm of old with its cobblestone roads and 18th century architecture. One of its most interesting features is the Water Taxi, which provides citizens with free transportation to and from the city’s many maritime destinations.
As you move away from the water and deeper into the city, you might be lucky enough to stumble upon historic Mt. Vernon. A far cry from any other area in town, this neighborhood is undoubtedly Baltimore’s most historical district, as it is home to some of the most stunningly authentic 19th century architecture in the country. Decorated with monuments of local and international heroes, the area’s crowning achievement is its 176 ft. monument of our nation’s first commander-in-chief, George Washington.
Another notable architectural accomplishment includes the Baltimore Basilica, America’s first cathedral. As if the churches and statues were not enough, Mt. Vernon is also home to the city’s premier art museum, the Walters.
Although Mt. Vernon is the undisputed historical hub of the city, as Baltimore crept into the mid-20th century, it began to write a new kind of history, in a new corner of town. Located in the city’s northwestern corridor, Hampden is a truly unique neighborhood. Formerly a blue-collar town, this quirky quarter evolved into the epicenter for Baltimore shopping in the 1960’s. However, this ever-evolving neighborhood has taken on a new identity once again, and is now known as a haven for the city’s hipsters.
Eccentricity is Hampden’s specialty, making it all the more Baltimorean in nature. Just take a stroll down 36th street, known to locals simply as ‘the Avenue’, with multiple hair salons, unique dress shops, and a café that serves “progressive American coffee.
A true testament to the American mosaic, Baltimore has so much to offer. Whether it’s impressive cuisine, historical roots or majestic marine life, it’s almost impossible not to leave this Maryland metropolis without feeling, well, charmed.
Luke was born and raised in Connecticut, where his father taught him three valuable things: Always look someone in the eye when you shake their hand, be the best at what you do, and live and die with the Boston Red Sox. Luke attended Loyola University in Baltimore, and immediately took a liking to the quirks of the city. His writing has appeared in Baltimore Magazine.