Last week I had to travel (despite some serious snow delays) to Baltimore Maryland to attend the EDUCAUSE which is a educational technology convention. After only two days I think I want to move there.
It took 29 years but I finally found a place that I could call home outside of NJ. Baltimore Maryland is my kind of town. It’s not the prettiest, it may not be the safest but in 2 days I was convinced I could make a home in that area. Baltimore is something of a dirty town. It has a distinct blue-collar vibe to it. It has an age to it as well. Everywhere you look you see one hundred year old buildings, you see the harbor that has been used since the founding of the country and you get the distinct vibe that despite some new paint nothing much has changed. I spent the majority of my time in Fell’s point and you can easily imagine what it would feel like to be in the town in the 1700s wandering down cobblestone streets looking for a tavern to hang your hat.
I’m usually not one for noticing architecture but Baltimore really caught my eye with its combination of modern and historic. Usually in some cities (cough cough Pittsburgh) the modern buildings just seem slapped down in the middle of the older more refined structures. Baltimore really manages to pull both styles together flawlessly and the result is you spend an inordinate amount of time just looking at buildings.
If Princeton was a girl, she would be the girl you bring home to mom and dad. She is nice, polite and sweet. You can spend an evening on a date and walk home alone feeling happy. Baltimore is the girl who your mom tells you to avoid. She smokes, has a tattoo and when you walk home from a date you gotta check your pockets for your wallet. Baltimore has a seedy feel to it like each corner you turn down something scary might happen and I love it. Vegas has a similar feel but in that engineered, fake way. You walk the streets of Fells point and you get the distinct vibe that a lot of people lived and died here and frankly no one will miss you.
Of all of the places I had the opportunity to visit I would recommend two head and shoulders above all else. First is the Wharf Rat. This was the first stop on my little adventure and it was a great start. Walking in you get the distinct impression that when the bar first opened in the 1700 as a tavern for sea-faring travelers nothing has been changed or replaced for that matter. The Rat operated in an English pub style which means there are no waiters and no cooks, only bartenders. Your bartender is your cook, server, and waiter. There is a wonderful selection of local seafood as well as some great choices of beer. I definitely recommend a visit. It’s a rare experience to enter a bar and not get the feeling like everyone is bending over backwards to serve you. You walk in sit where you want, no greeting you order what you want then you have to go back up to the bar to get your order and pay. You may prefer the bubbly hostess at the door and a waitress/waiter that tried to push you to order “Extreme Fajitas” but to me that experience is getting old.
Next you should check out Maxs’ Tap House. I ended up in here on a total whim and it was one of the best choices I made during my entire trip. Maxs’ offers almost 200 beers (I am guessing at this number but if the beer list comes on a poster, it is a lot) in draft and bottles. The thing I loved most about Maxs’ was that you walked in and felt welcome. A lot of times when I travel I enter a bar and I get that odd vibe that I am wearing a giant shirt that says “I am a tourist, please feel free to make fun of me.” Maxs’ you walk into such an inviting atmosphere you feel like a local that has been frequenting the place for years. I usually tend to be a shy person when I am out, but at Maxs’ I had started up a conversation within 5 minutes of being there. Maxs’ is a great example of the Old meets New feeling you get in Baltimore. The entire building has the original brickwork from 100+ years ago yet it has all of the standard conveniences of a modern bar. If there is one place you visit while in Baltimore this HAS to be it.
And there you have it. A town old yet new, inviting yet foreboding. Baltimore is a fickle creature and I find myself wanting to return very soon.