CHARMED CITY

Sev­eral towns near D.C. of­fer fun-filled get­aways. Just an hour north by car, Bal­ti­more, Mary­land, ups the cool fac­tor with tall ships, “out­sider” art and “hons.”

Where Washington - - CONTENTS - By Jen­nifer Barger

Day trip­pin’ to Bal­ti­more for tall ships, out­sider art and “hons”

COBBLESTONE STREETS AND old­erthan-Amer­ica row­houses make it easy to imag­ine a bunch of pi­rates wan­der­ing the streets of Bal­ti­more’s Fells Point. After all, pri­va­teers and ship­builders plied their trades in this har­bor town in the early 19th cen­tury. And some­how, that spirit of com­merce and cool sur­vives here in spades, mak­ing it my fa­vorite place to spend a day away from D.C.

My pal Anne and I ar­rive on a sunny Satur­day morn­ing to shop, feast on lo­cal seafood and ex­pe­ri­ence another one of Charm City’s many charms: its thriv­ing art mu­seum scene.

In typ­i­cal B’more fash­ion, the cul­ture here veers be­tween haute and hip­ster. We start with the re­fined, head­ing to The Wal­ters Art Mu­seum (600 N. Charles St., 410.547.9000, the­wal­ters.org), where 18th- and 19th- cen­tury paint­ings and sculp­tures are dis­played old-fash­ioned gallery style, with land­scapes hung next to stuffed croc­o­diles and other cu­riosi­ties. “It’s like wan­der­ing into some fab­u­lous old aunt’s house,” says Anne.

Be­fore a brunch break, we power through another down­town art showplace, the quirky Amer­i­can Vi­sion­ary Art Mu­seum (800 Key High­way, 410.244.1900, avam.org). One of the coun­try’s only dis­play spa­ces for so- called “out­sider” pieces, AVAM’s like a gritty Guggen­heim, with works by un­trained-yet-fan­tas­tic tal­ents like Howard Fin­ster (folksy paint­ings) and Flam­ing Lips’ singer Wayne Coyne (a Gummy Bear self- por­trait).

The gift shop sells both af­ford­able art by folks in the col­lec­tion and ma­te­ri­als to make your own mas­ter­pieces; Anne and I both pick up a few stick­ers and post­cards for later projects.

For brunch, we’re off to na­tive son/ film­maker John Wa­ters’ funky ‘hood, Ham­p­den, where we meet up with my Bal­ti­more friends, pho­tog­ra­pher E. Brady Robin­son and stylist Rose DiFer­di­nando. Like ev­ery­one here, they seem groovy and artsy. We cor­ral our­selves at Golden West Cafe (1105 W. 36th St., 410.889.8891, gold­en­west­cafe.com), a long­time diner, where paint- by- num­ber por­traits line the walls and com­fort chow crowds the menu. “I swear, this break­fast bur­rito can cure any han­gover,” says Brady. I tuck into spicy banh mi tacos that also do the trick.

Be­sides eclec­tic restau­rants that could star in a Wa­ters flick, Ham­p­den is also ground zero for a wealth of in­die shops, es­pe­cially ones sell­ing both cool vin­tage and new cloth­ing. “I think it comes from the ‘hon’ cul­ture up here,” says Rose, re­fer­ring to the bee­hive-sport­ing, retro­dress wear­ing women im­mor­tal­ized in Wa­ters’ “Hair­spray.”

Rose leads us on a spree through some of her fa­vorite fash­ion-y spots in Ham­p­den, in­clud­ing Dou­ble­dutch (1021 W. 36th St., 410.554.0055, dou­ble­dutch bou­tique.com), where new flo­ral maxi dresses mix with jew­elry and bags made by lo­cal de­sign­ers. Lo­cated in an old church, Hunt­ing Ground (3649 Falls Road, 410.243.0789, sho­phunt­ing­ground.com) stocks men’s and women’s vin­tage pieces like a 1930s vel­vet Dior robe Rose re­cently snapped up for $30.

Anne and I also like Changed My Mind Vin­tage (3602 Hick­ory Ave., 410.366.1069), where I score a 1970s black disco dress for $20 and she picks up a pretty pink wool coat for only $30.

Other stores in Ham­p­den trade in an as­sort­ment of things like greet­ing cards, bath oils and cook­books (In Wa­ter­melon Sugar, 3555 Ch­est­nut Ave., 410.662.9090, in­wa­ter­mel­on­sug­arshop.com) and lo­cally made sweet treats (Charm City Choco­lates, 809 W. 36th St., 443.449.5164, charm­c­i­ty­choco­late.com). At the lat­ter, don’t miss the Ch­e­sa­peake Crunch, choco­late bark stud­ded with peanuts and lo­cally made Old Bay spice.

Fu­eled up, we de­cide it’s time to think about those long-ago pi­rates, ship­builders and naval he­roes. We swing by the In­ner Har­bor, the re­de­vel­oped hub of the city, where the Pride of Bal­ti­more (pride2. org), a replica of an 1812-style clip­per, is open for tours and day sails. It’s a grace­ful re­minder of the tu­mul­tuous early years of the 19th cen­tury, when the city func­tioned both as a ship­build­ing power and a key site in the War of 1812.

Not far away, Fort McHenry (2400 E. Fort Ave., nps.gov/fomc), where Amer­i­can sol­diers held off the Brits dur­ing the War of 1812, proves an even more stir­ring chap­ter from the past. A mas­sive replica Star-Span­gled Ban­ner flies over the star-shaped strong­hold, a re­minder that events years ago in­spired Fran­cis Scott Key to pen lyrics that be­came the coun­try’s na­tional an­them.

All that shop­ping and his­tory makes us fam­ished, so be­fore head­ing back to Washington, Anne and I de­cide to in­dulge in an early din­ner. Like many places in this old- meets- edgy city, Gun­ther & Co. (3650 Toone St., 443.869.6874, eatat gun­ther.com) in Brewer’s Hill dishes up mod­ern food in his­toric sur­round­ings.

“It’s in the boiler room of an old brew­ery, and it’s got a great vibe,” says lo­cal food blogger Amy Lan­grehr (charm city­cook.com). She’s a friend of Brady’s, and her rec­om­men­da­tion turns out to be a good one. In the two- level, dra­matic space with soar­ing, ex­posed red brick walls and mod blue ban­quettes, we tuck into roasted lo­cal oys­ters spiked with chili and a rich dish of red wine­in­fused lamb. It’s sat­is­fy­ing and soul­ful, just like Bal­ti­more it­self.

Pri­va­teers and ship­builders plied their trades in this har­bor town in the early 19th cen­tury. And some­how, that spirit of com­merce and cool sur­vives here in spades.

B'MORE BESTS (Clock­wise from left) “Out­sider” art at Amer­i­can Vi­sion­ary Art Mu­seum; a glimpse of the city’s sea­far­ing past in Fells Point; hunt­ing for vin­tage in Ham­p­den; mod­ern fare at Gun­ther & Co.

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