As an American, I’m no closer to understanding the loss of Freddie Gray in Baltimore, Michael Brown in Ferguson, Sarah Bland in Texas, or Sam DuBose in my own home state of Ohio. It sickens, saddens, and horrifies me.
Before 2015, Baltimore was the same city it is today – a vibrant, multi-cultural, energetic and historic harbor town with an equal share of troubles and triumphs – like most major cities in the world.
An utterance of “Baltimore” before 2015 would have brought to mind HBO’s The Wire or the films of John Waters. Other common picks include: The Ravens and The Orioles; TV’s Charm City Cakes; 00’s Wham City; American Gothic Lit Superstar, Edgar Allan Poe; Indie Music darlings, Wye Oak and Future Islands; Electronic spaz-o-phonic artist and composer, Dan Deacon; iconic brand, Domino Sugar, and National Bohemian Beer, or as it is affectionately called by locals, “Natty Boh.”
That was before 2015. Now, the city in the spotlight attempts to heal from its wounds caused not by “civil disobedience” or an “error in judgment” but by the violence that begat violence in the midst of class division, racial tension, and authoritarian abuse. The latest pages of the city’s history can’t be unwritten and the impact can’t be unfelt. I only know what I know and can only write a few small, trivial truths about the small pieces of Baltimore I had the pleasure to see in the short 48 hours I was there.
48 Hours in Baltimore
Fell’s Point – Historic pre-colonial seaport with as many pubs, taverns, bars, and saloons as there are bistros, restaurants, cafes, parlors, and altogether other places where food and drink are not involved. Eat, drink, shop, and walk around the cobblestone streets, busy narrow sidewalks with outdoor seating for diners and flower boxes, beer trucks loading and unloading, good, lively music coming from bright acoustic guitars and decent p.a.’s spilling out onto the sidewalks and streets where musicians young and old (trombone Tonys and concertina Tinas) busk with open hats and instrument cases. This neighborhood is alive; a living, breathing organism and it’s the furthest from boring you can get. It also has the best seafood fare. Don’t buy the hype and ignore the marketing efforts of the big guys.
The Thames Oyster House is cool and casual dining with both the briniest raw bar offerings to prove their namesake and cooked-to-perfection fresh catch dishes. I found the tourist to local ratio was pretty well balanced and their beer selection to be superb. (Heavy Seas Loose Cannon IPA!) Being in Baltimore though, I had to go with a “Natty Boh”, or National Bohemian Beer.
Slainte has a full Irish breakfast that is massive in both size and flavor and James Joyce Pub around the corner does too, though there are lots of non-Celtophile options available.
The Farmers’ Market at Fell’s Point was an unexpected surprise, offering rows and rows of organic produce stands from local farmers and co-ops, yummy glutenous (and gluten-free) treats by Baltimore area bakers, modest and Mega-sized bouquets from neighborhood petal pushers, along with a slew of salsa slingers, basket weavers, and even a spreadable bacon booth.
The Horse You Came In On Saloon is both hip and historic for a reason. Edgar Allan Poe was a patron and had his last drink here and Zane Lamprey (of Three Sheets, Drinking Made Easy, and Chug fame) bought a bottle of Jack and stored it to share. Sadly, that bottle is long gone now, but you can buy your own and join the Old # 7 Jack Daniels Club. While you’re at it, enjoy the crab pretzel bites and the local musicians regularly scheduled.
Water Taxi is the best way to travel in this historic harbor town. Faster than most ferries and less stressful than any other mode, it’s also quite cheap.
Kilwins Chocolates & Ice Cream Baltimore at Fells Point may be part of a larger chain, but it feels like a Fells Point original. This can be credited to the cool, colorful, and very Baltimore staff.
The Inn at The Black Olive
Is there such a thing as a green European luxury boutique hotel? In L.A NY, or Portland, maybe but not Baltimore, MD right?
Featuring 800-1500 square feet suites with heated floors and A/C, vegetable dye painted walls, organic Million-thread-count cotton sheets, sustainable and recycled furniture, and a Sanitub, The Inn at The Black Olive is as surprising and impressive as its back story.
The wide openness will be the first thing you notice, while the beautifully and carefully curated artwork that adorns the walls will be the next. Modern amenities such as a smart widescreen TV with Netflix, a plus-sized ceramic tiled glass shower, complimentary wine and mineral water, coffee, teas, etc. come standard and only add to your comfort. The traditional/fusionist Greek cuisine and amazing harbor views await you at The Black Olive rooftop restaurant, and make a good argument for dining on the hotel grounds.
Dimitris, Ryan, AJ, and the rest of the Olive staff are all concierges and can be of service in both practical requests (dinner reservations, juice orders) and philosophical (Ft. McHenry vs. Historical Ships). Everything they do is with a particular, European flare. And they’re the good guys, too. Dimitris started The Inn at The Black Olive, as an addition to his parents’ traditional Greek restaurant right before the recession.
Facing foreclosure and impending doom, Dimitris found a friend in kindred spirit and pop culture icon, Woody Harrelson, who stayed at The Inn during filming for HBO. The two bonded over their shared passion for a healthy, natural, green, sustainable, eco-conscious lifestyle and became business partners so that they could share that passion with the world through chic, zero carbon footprint Mediterranean hospitality at The Inn at The Black Olive.
In a sea of sameness and earth offending hotel chains, it’s this olive green European gem in a positively east coast, American harbor town that shines not brightest, but best, and most natural. Perhaps, The Inn at The Green Olive is more fitting.
Napa ain’t nothin.’
Okay, okay. I instantly take it back – Napa Valley is indeed very much a big something of an institution in American winemaking, but in terms of toughness – compared to Maryland wineries like Boordy Vineyards – Napa ain’t nothin.’
There are between several to a slew of major wineries in Maryland, but Boordy Vineyards is the Mac Daddy of them all. Situated in an idyllic and pastoral setting (as every good vineyard should be) and conveniently located less than an hour outside of Baltimore, Boordy is the real deal.
Transformed by Rob Deford, “the Dean of Maryland Wine,” Boordy Vineyards is both the first name in Maryland Wine and a name on the rise. Though distribution is small, Operations Manager, James Prichard and co.’s ambitions are big and Boordy has the amazing selection of attention-worthy wines (and some award winners, too) that back up the rhetoric. Students of classic French winemaking, the Boordy bunch are developing a burgeoning reputation for producing astounding classic French-style wines of high quality with interesting fruit.
This is in large part due to the tough conditions and harsh winters the vineyards have to endure and grow accustomed to. Losing more than half of their yield every year limits production, but what does survive and makes it through the intensive inspection and selection process, Boordy makes into fine Classic French-style wines.
They may keep the lights on and pay everyone’s salaries with hosting tastings, festivals, and events of the like, but they’re keeping on Sommelier’s shortlists with landmark wines like their Cab Franc that won them the Atlantic Seaboard Competition. Prichard himself attributes this to “the way the grapes are grown, hand-picked, and inspected with keen eyes for the most interesting fruit.”
Taking me through the fields where the “chutes are split and trained” and the facilities where the wine is processed, maturated and stored, I get more than a strong sense of appreciation for James and company’s passion for wine-making – I get an enlightening education into what it takes to be one of the premier winemakers on the east coast. And when I see the lines at the counter for purchasing bottles and cases of their wines, I get the strong sense that this best kept secret wine brand won’t remain that way for much longer.
For more info visit www.boordy.com
Casey is based in the US, but British Airways fly direct to Baltimore from London.
For more info visit www.britishairways.com
Fells Point, Boordy Vineyards, Kilwins Chocolates & Ice Cream and 2nd Inn at The Black Olive photo by Kelly Bowers.