1. Where to Stay
Walk to bars and boutiques in the emerging Mount Vernon neighborhood from your home base at Hotel Brexton (from $169), but ask for a room in the rear of the building to avoid street noise. Housed in a red-brick nineteenth-century townhouse, the hotel has 29 spare but bright rooms with neutral color schemes and big picture windows. Start your morning with Greek yogurt from the complimentary continental breakfast, and keep caffeinated all day long with lattes from the self-serve, 24-hour lobby espresso machine. Internet access costs around $10 per day, so use the free Wi-Fi at the Bun Shop (coffee and pastries from $3).
Get the lay of the land from Kimpton’s centrally located Hotel Monaco (from $191/night), which has 202 spacious guestrooms in a landmark Beaux Arts building just north of Inner Harbor. The bold décor (why, yes, those are animal-print bathrobes), L’Occitane bath amenities, and stellar service make up for the central but square neighborhood. Grab a glass of Northern Californian Pinot Noir at the complimentary wine hour, held in the lobby at 5 p.m. nightly, or take a spin on one of the free bicycles on loan to explore edgier nearby areas like Mount Vernon and Belvedere.
See contemporary art at the Four Seasons Baltimore (from $349/night), which partnered with neighboring gallerist Mark Myers to display a 1,000-piece collection throughout the property. (Many works are from the Washington Color School, a mid-century movement that originated in the mid-Atlantic United States.) Located in Harbor East, within walking distance to the historic waterfront neighborhood of Fell’s Point, the hotel has 250 rooms with modern walnut furniture and marble-and-chrome bathrooms, plus a rooftop infinity pool overlooking the harbor and two Michael Mina restaurants frequented by D.C.-based politicos.
2. Where to Eat
Veg out at Golden West, a Hampden hangout serving southwestern favorites like tilapia tacos with cilantro-lime sauce ($13) and a solid selection of vegetarian dishes, like the crowd-pleasing buffalo tofu ($8). The sunny, open space is a low-key café by day but transforms into a lively local watering hole by 10 p.m. nightly. Performances by local bands and free movie screenings bring out a convivial crowd, as does the late-night menu from the rear Long Bar, which serves stiff drinks (mojitos and vodka cocktails from $8) and bar snacks (fried Brussels sprouts with spicy teriyaki sauce, $7) until 2 a.m.
Taste the finest foods the region has to offer at Woodberry Kitchen, trailblazing chef Spike Gjerde’s ode to mid-Atlantic agriculture in the heart of hip Hampden. Start with a Manhampden ($12), a cocktail made with Maryland rye and house-made bitters, then tuck into seasonal fare like North Carolina swordfish with wood-roasted squash and fish in pepper-powered hot sauce ($31). Stick around for late night, when the off-duty bar staff pulls a cart into the parking lot outside the restaurant, and chefs, visiting farmers, and restaurant regulars toast the evening around an impromptu fire pit until the wee hours. You can also try hyperlocal comfort food at Gjerdie’s hotly anticipated, just-opened Shoo-Fly, a “farmhouse diner” in a 5,000-square-foot former shoe warehouse.
Snack and shop at Union Graze (1500 Union Avenue), a Friday-night farmers’ market and party that runs from 4:30 to 8:30 p.m. Chat with the genial crowd while sipping Union Craft Duckpin Pale Ale ($4) from the adjacent brewery and pick up a jar of pickled okra from local favorite HEX Ferments ($5). Afterward, walk five short blocks to the Food Market, an elevated diner serving kids, clubgoers and couples haute comfort food like barbecue-pork tacos with local corn ($10), and fried oysters with egg-and-bacon emulsion ($10). Don’t miss inventive house cocktails like the Snapdragon, which combines organic tequila with Hum Botanical liqueur and fresh lime ($12).
3. What to Do
Hang with hipsters in Hampden, a popular neighborhood of galleries, bars, and boutiques that feels a little like Williamsburg ten years ago. Get a Counter Culture pour-over and sage-flecked egg sandwich at Artifact (breakfast from $6), then catch the latest at Gallery 788, where recent exhibition themes include Skate Culture and Elements: A Metal Art Show. Afterward, shop for art and apparel at Minás Gallery and Boutique, where painter Minás Konsolas sells well-priced vintage clothing (sport coats from $20) and displays contemporary collections from local artists. Toast your acquisition with one of 40 wines by the glass at nearby 13.5% Wine Bar (from $6).
Go on an art crawl in Station North, Baltimore’s newest arts district. Stroll along North Avenue, Charles, and Barclay Streets to see 23 murals and installations by 30 local and international taggers like Gaia, Momo, Vhils, and Freddy Sam. All are part of Open Walls, a city-supported, groundbreaking street-art project that transformed the once-desolate neighborhood into an open-air gallery. Then, step inside Area 405, an abandoned warehouse turned exhibition space and residence for 40 international artists. Twice monthly, it hosts dinner-and-a-movie nights, screening pulp flicks like Lolita and Cape Fear while neighborhood residents lounge on couches strewn throughout the gallery ($15 tickets include three-course BYOB dinner; check website for reservations and show times).
Join the party at Joe Squared, a neighborhood club favored by local artists for its late hours, live music, and signature coal-fired, square-shaped pizzas. Acoustic sets typically play throughout dinner service, but by 9 or 10 p.m., tables are pushed aside and the space transforms into a bona fide concert hall and dance club (no cover, craft beer and cocktails from $5.50). Acts like the Lily Kills, Reina Williams, and D.J. Napspace keep the multicultural, multigenerational crowd dancing until dawn or last call—whichever comes first.
4. Insider’s Tip
The new Remington boîte WC Harlan (400 W. 23rd St.; no phone) is Baltimore’s coolest bar, but it’s a challenge to locate. No website, telephone, or general information is publicly listed (there aren’t even pictures of this place), so owners Matt Pierce, of local band Big in Japan, and writer Lane Harlan rely on word of mouth to keep their charmingly mismatched chairs filled. Walk down the block of empty lots east of Howard Street until you reach a black door that reads “Enter.” Inside, the expansive, industrial-chic space serves craft beer and cocktails (from $6) to a well-dressed crowd of musicians and graduate students.
5. Oddball Day
After exploring Baltimore’s hottest emerging neighborhoods, get hip to Inner Harbor. The waterfront district is better known for chain restaurants than cutting-edge cool, but new outdoor activities and massive artistic renovation projects are giving the area new life. Start your day with a one-hour session at newly launched Elite Fitness Tours ($30), which leads jogging and cross-training expeditions through historic Baltimore sites like the Walter Arts Museum and Washington Monument. Afterward, enjoy Cajun-spiced chicken and waffles ($14.99) at Miss Shirley’s Café, a beloved soul-food mini-chain with a leafy outdoor patio on East Pratt Street. Then learn new skills at the surprisingly engaging Maryland Science Center (admission $16.95), which offers hands-on classes like bicycle repair and introductory soldering, and is currently in the throes of a $3.15 million floor-to-ceiling overhaul. Next, awaken your inner futurist at the forebodingly named “Human, Soul & Machine: The Coming Singularity!,” the new exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum (admission $15.95), a national institution dedicated to works by artists without formal training. Hop on a water taxi to Fell’s Point ($7 each way) for battered cod with Old Bay coleslaw ($17.50) and an order of clam cakes ($6.50 for a half-dozen) at Thames Street Oyster House, a waterfront bistro with a raw bar, second-story dining room and brick-lined rear patio. Cap off the day with blues and brews at Cat’s Eye Pub, an old-school dive and Fell’s Point institution with 40 beers on tap (draughts from $6), tattered vinyl bar seats, and cover-free live performances by local acts like the Drunken Uncles and Carl Filipiak Jazz Band.
City Paper is Baltimore’s weekly alternative newspaper and a great source for events, pop-up parties, and art exhibitions.
Independent digital resource What Weekly covers Baltimore’s emerging neighborhoods, cultures, and countercultures. It was rated the city’s best new magazine by old stalwart Baltimore Magazine in 2011.
Daily events blog the Baltimore Chop covers live music, downtown development projects, social issues, and all things baseball.
The unimaginatively named Adventures in Baltimore Restaurants is one of the city’s only privately run food blogs, and reviews new openings in and around downtown Baltimore.