LGBTQ tourists have abundant choices on the East Coast for a long weekend. Philly is close; Boston well within range, and P-Town only a short ferry ride away from there.
But Baltimore has more than its share of secrets to share, and coaxing them from the lips of the locals is both easy and delightful way to spend a few carefree days.
Admittedly, when you’re ushered into the Baltimore Museum of art with legendary director John Waters providing a personal tour of the visual art he’s crafted over a lifetime, this trip started with the highest of expectations. (Check out our review of his one-man exhibition, which runs through the first week of 2019, here.) But that’s just where Baltimore begins to defy expectations.
This is no longer simply a gritty urban backdrop for The Wire, and the city has spent both time and well-placed effort to ensure that visitors are not whiling away their time in Anytown, USA. A mere jump to Washington, D.C., Baltimore wants to distinguish itself as a city playing cultural Twister, with a reach that encompasses a Northern sophistication and genteel Southern charm. It’s got one foot firmly planted in Maryland’s colorful past (including many a nod to favorite literary son Edgar Allan Poe), while another is vaulting into the future with a revitalized downtown and spectacular architecture that integrates both heritage and high-tech into a seamless whole.
Tourists will want to leisurely stroll “the Avenue,” the Hampden neighborhood’s 36th Street to drop in on a number of artisan shops (including Ma Petite Shoe, an unlikely combo of ladies’ fashionable footwear and small-batch chocolates) and Atomic Books, a kitschy comic shop — and also where Mr. Waters appears regularly to check his mail.
The Bluebird Cocktail Room is perched nearby, just a few floors above street level. Mixologists behind the bar know exactly what they’re doing, and at happy hour, the music bounces from hip-hop and indie tracks all the way back to “Sugar, Sugar,” the 1969 Archies hit. There are several libations incorporating absinthe, and each one packs a wallop.
One of the signposts of Baltimore’s revitalization is its thrumming art scene. Not only is the Baltimore Museum an impressive edifice with an impressive collection of its own; it’s also home to Gertrude’s, where “culinary ambassador” and chef John Shields presents an array of seafood dishes that have collectively come to represent Chesapeake Bay cuisine.
But across town, there’s something a bit funkier afoot at the American Visionary Art Museum, a decidedly more homegrown enterprise currently housing an exhibit called “Parenting: An Art without a Manual,” offering up a richly detailed portrait of family life by self-taught artists. Their work crosses the strata of mediums and message, and while it’s always creative, it’s often complicated in depiction. This is no Hallmark Greeting Card of an exhibit. It challenges and involves patrons who are met with images that evoke pain and abandonment as well as love and nurture.
After something so absorbing, you’ll want to grab a bite to eat before heading out on the town. It’s hard to beat the fare at Rye Street Tavern, boasting a raw bar, your weight in Maryland crab and some of the best fried chicken on either side of the Mason/Dixon line.
From there, it’s a quick ride to Mt. Vernon, known locally as “the gayborhood.” You’ll find dance clubs like Grand Central, a local hangout called Drinkery — known for its extensive and eclectic jukebox, and an art deco fixture called Club Charles, where the ’20s never stopped roaring.
Stay overnight in Mt. Vernon and the next day you can say “Good Morning, Baltimore” to the Walters Art Museum, boasting some 55 centuries of art, including Egyptian mummies, medieval armors and 19th-century masterpieces. And it’s just a short jaunt away (in the shadow of a monument to founding father George Washington) to the George Peabody Library, an architectural marvel that’s been kept up and preserved by Johns Hopkins University since the days when visitors read (not without risk) by gaslight.
Halloween where Poe wrote the first detective story and innumerable tales of the macabre? Sign me up. I stopped in at The Horse You Came in On, where the author famously had his last drink before dying under mysterious circumstances. Personally, I refuse to leave the planet without another visit.
Last modified: October 25, 2018