City Portrait

Chesapeake Charm: Baltimore’s Hot Spots

Discover Baltimore’s thriving dining scene, world-class art, and waterfront beauty

photo: Helen Norman

A crab feast at L.P. Steamers

Eat & Drink

Bluebird Cocktail Room

“There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out, but I pour whiskey on him,” reads a framed quote from the Charles Bukowski poem for which Paul Benkert, the former bar man- ager at Woodberry Kitchen, named his new drinking den. The literary theme carries over to a cocktail menu that’s broken into chapters. Skip to Chapter III and ask for the Santiago—dark rum, sherry, and maraschino liqueur, poured over ice cut from the bar’s three-hundred-pound block. thebluebirdbaltimore.com

photo: Helen Norman

The Sweet Pea cocktail at the Bluebird.


Charleston

Chef Cindy Wolf ’s blend of French and Lowcountry cuisine earned her a seventh nod as a James Beard Award finalist in 2018. The three-to-six-course prix fixe tasting menu changes daily, but regular favorites include lobster soup with curry, cornmeal-fried oysters, and pan-roasted magret of duck. With an eight-hundred-label wine list curated by co-owner Tony Foreman, and arguably the top service staff in the city, Charleston hits the mark every time. charlestonrestaurant.com


Clavel

The mezcal wave arrived in Baltimore in 2015, when Lane Harlan opened Clavel in the Remington neighborhood. Expect an education with your drink. The expansive menu, which you can taste in flights, is organized by the scientific names of different agave plants, followed by the common names and the locations where each species is found. The pork, beef, lamb, fish, and shrimp tacos will help keep you upright. barclavel.com

photo: Helen Norman

Salts and spices at Clavel.


Ida B’s Table

“People mistakenly think of Baltimore as the North, but it’s not,” says Ida B’s executive chef, David K. Thomas. “The first slaves were brought in through the port of Baltimore. All of the ingredients we use here—the Maryland corn, okra, fish peppers—were grown here for centuries.” Thomas draws from multiple Maryland farms for his interpretation of soul food—from jerk chicken to catfish to meat loaf to vegetarian Liberian greens. idabstable.com

photo: Helen Norman

Ida B’s Table chef David K. Thomas.


 

L. P. Steamers

Ask for a rooftop table at this brick row-house restaurant, pile a dozen large jimmies on its brown-paper-covered top, order a pitcher of beer, and get to picking. If you don’t know how, the L. P. Steamers staff will teach you—this true crab house’s motto is “Pick a man’s crabs, and he’ll eat for a day. Teach a man to eat crabs, and he’ll live in Maryland for the rest of his life.” locustpointsteamers.com


Mama’s on the Half Shell

After Mama’s owner Patrick “Scunny” McCusker died, in a bicycle accident in 2012, Baltimore wept. Olympian Michael Phelps tweeted condolences. The governor came to the wake. A National Bohemian beer truck led the funeral procession. Thankfully for the city, Scunny’s widow, Jackie, and business partner Phil Gelso preserved the beloved restaurant. Stop in for brunch and grab a seat on the sidewalk patio; arrive around 10:00 a.m. if you want a table. Try the Crabcake Benny or, if you’re up for it, the gargantuan seafood club. And order a Baltimore signature—the orange crush, made with squeezed-to-order orange juice, vodka, triple sec, and a dash of Sprite. mamasonthehalfshell.com


Thames Street Oyster House

A paper menu listing at least a dozen types of fresh-shucked oysters waits at every table. Mix and match however you like. A recent lineup ranged from plump Sewansecotts from Virginia’s Hog Island Bay to the Sunshine Coasts from British Columbia. A heartier dinner menu, including monkfish, swordfish, and lobster rolls, is available after 5:00 p.m. This Fells Point space is small and narrow and always slammed—but the seafood is worth it. thamesstreetoysterhouse.com


Woodberry Kitchen

Chef Spike Gjerde is wildly passionate about Maryland ingredients—he famously replaced Tabasco in his restaurants with his house made Snake Oil Hot Sauce, crafted from hyperlocal fish peppers. At Woodberry Kitchen, he pulls from more than sixty Chesapeake growers, cheese makers, and fishmongers, dishing out plates of rockfish, pork chops, and buffalo fried oysters from inside a former mill. woodberrykitchen.com

photo: Helen Norman

Woodberry Kitchen.

Shop

Hampden neighborhood

A friendly mastiff named Grendel hangs out near the potter’s wheel at Wild Yam Pottery, a bright ceramic shop at the center of this energetic neighborhood. It’s possible to spend a whole day in Hampden, popping into stores along Thirty-Sixth Street. There’s sophisticated clothing for women at Double Dutch, home goods and gifts at In Watermelon Sugar, and several antique stores, including Antique Exchange Interiors. You’ll also find Café Hon and a gift shop called Hontown. The names are nods to Baltimore’s most recognized slang. It’s short for “Honey,” of course, and you can use it to address anyone, hon. hampdenmerchants.com


The Sound Garden Record Store

Walk through the doors of this Fells Point warehouse, and to your left you’ll spy folks flipping through crates of vinyl. Step to the right, and you’ll find yourself back in the 1990s, with more than 100,000 new and used CDs and DVDs. Whether you’re looking for Margo Price’s latest or a Springsteen classic, there’s a good chance they’ve got it here. cdjoint.com

See & Do

 

Baltimore Museum of Art
In 1898, North Carolina textile magnate Moses Cone gave his younger sister Etta $300 to brighten up their family’s Baltimore home. Etta bought five impressionist paintings at an estate sale, the start of a life of collecting and close friendships with the likes of Picasso and Matisse. Etta and her sister Claribel bequeathed most of their acquisitions to the Baltimore Museum of Art in 1949. The BMA now houses the world’s largest collection of Matisse’s work. Make time for the nearby Walters Art Museum, which holds thousands of priceless artifacts from the fifth millennium B.C. through the early 1900s. artbma.org; thewalters.org

photo: Helen Norman

Little Dancer Aged Fourteen by Degas at the BMA.


Cat’s Eye Pub

Next door to Thames Street Oyster House, jazz, blues, R&B, roots, or rock spills out of this working-class pub every night. Since Cat’s Eye opened, forty-three years ago, it’s been a destination for people who need an evening without judgment. On one recent night, as a jazz band named Community Groove performed, the drummer wore a Black Panther T-shirt, a man in the corner wore a Def Leppard hat, and people of all backgrounds tugged on each other’s arms and twirled as if they’d known each other forever. catseyepub.com

photo: Helen Norman

Cat’s Eye Pub.


Sagamore Spirit Distillery Tour

Nearly a century ago, Maryland had forty-four distilleries and produced more rye than almost any other state. But the industry never recovered from Prohibition. Cue Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, who is on a mission to restore the state’s standing in the whiskey world. The Sagamore Spirit facility, which sparkles along the Port Covington waterfront, is one heck of a start. To taste on-site, take a tour of the distillery, which tells the story of Maryland rye, or stop by the adjacent Rye Street Tavern, which pours all four of Sagamore’s selections. sagamorespirit.com

Stay

The Ivy
When you check in, a concierge hands you a glass of champagne. Later, a staff member may offer a nightcap from the bar cart at just the right time. Two local families purchased this circa-1889 mansion in 2011; they sprang for an $18 million renovation, carving out eighteen guest rooms and adding the Magdalena, a sumptuous restaurant helmed by chef Mark Levy. Start dinner with the shellfish platter, with shrimp, oysters, lobster salad, and aguachile—from there, you can’t go wrong. theivybaltimore.com

photo: Helen Norman

The cozy common area at the Ivy.


Sagamore Pendry

While transforming the vacant, century-old Recreational Pier into a luxury hotel, construction crews discovered three cannons from the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. One now sits in the Sagamore Pendry’s whiskey room. The object is one of countless hotel details that tell the story of the city. With floor-to-ceiling windows, the rooms all have a view of either a courtyard or the water. pendryhotels.com


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