The Ultimate Neighborhood Guide

The inside scoop on 10 great Baltimore 'hoods

An antique shop on Ellicott City's Main Street –Cory Donovan

Baltimore has always been a city of neighborhoods, every one a universe unto itself. Each section of our city has its own history, culture, and personality—an identity that can only be truly understood after years or generations of experience. For this story, we combined our own expertise with that of dozens of residents to create insiders' guides to some of our greatest neighborhoods. So dog-ear pages, use these maps, and get exploring!

Canton

While still the destination of choice for young urban professionals looking for restaurants and nightlife, more of them are staying to get married and have kids.

Why I Love My Neighborhood by Patrick "Scunny" McCusker
Canton is like a small town they plucked out of the middle of suburbia and dropped into a city. The neighborhood has a real sense of itself, and a real sense of community. Plus, we have a waterfront for kayaking. We have a huge park for outdoor concerts. We have a lively square and tons of corner bars.

I opened Nacho Mama's 18 years ago and, along with the owners of Looney's, Claddagh, and Speakeasy, I've watched this neighborhood grow. When I first opened, a guy asked me why I was putting a Mexican restaurant in a Polish neighborhood. It's grown from that old-school, working-class feel to a place where people are settling down with their kids and raising families.

I have original customers of mine bringing in their grandkids now—which is a testament to the fact that people don't just live here, they stay here.

About the Writer
Patrick "Scunny" McCusker owns Nacho Mama's and Mama's on the Half Shell (2901 O'Donnell St.).

Insiders' Tips

  1. Watching the Charm City Roller Girls compete in roller-derby matches at DuBurns Arena (1301 S. Ellwood Ave.) is always a thrill, but when archrivals the Boston Derby Dames come to town, the intensity ratchets up a notch.
  2. Walt's Inn (3201 O'Donnell St.) has some of the best karaoke—and strongest Jell-O shots—in the city.
  3. You can always run into 2910 on the Square (2910 O'Donnell St.) and get a funky present for just about anyone.
  4. The pool at Patterson Park is one of the greatest deals in the city at $1.50. Go on weekdays to avoid the crowds.
  5. Chesapeake Wine Co. (2400 Boston St.) is a perfect place to relax and enjoy some vino on a Sunday.
  6. The off-leash, fenced-in space of the Canton Dog Park (3221 Toone St.) is as much a mingling spot for owners as it is for their pups.
  7. The buffalo mushrooms at Annabel Lee Tavern (601 S. Clinton St.), a wonderfully cozy restaurant, are sublime. Get there early before it fills up.
  8. Don't miss Gloria's storytelling and sing-alongs at Thursday's "Mother Goose on the Loose" program at the Canton Pratt library (1030 S. Ellwood Ave.).
  9. Personal trainer Jamie Samuel, owner of Kilo (2737 Dillon St.), gives an intense one-on-one workout guaranteed to whip you into shape.

Cockeysville

A boom in the gaming and tech industries of nearby Silicon Hunt Valley has given this lush suburb—chock full of great restaurants and country charm—new luster.

Why I Love My Neighborhood By Marc Steiner
I moved out to Sparks, just a little north of Hunt Valley, a few years ago because my wife loved it. I grew up a street-corner kid and my last address was on University Parkway, and now I’m surrounded by horse farms and sheep farms.

We live on a country lane, so we take four- or five-mile walks, and it’s like walking into the English countryside. When we moved out here, my 13-year-old laid down in the middle of the road, and said, “Can you imagine? I can lay down and not get run over.” You couldn’t do that on University Parkway.

It’s a different way of life. I buy most of our meat and our vegetables from the farms around us. There’s a great little place up the road called Soup’R Natural, where everyone is friendly and they use all local ingredients. We love Wegmans and Calvert Wines—you have to find your local wine store.

Sometimes I miss the city—I like the concrete, I like the noise—but it’s 22 minutes between my studio in Hampden and my house. In 22 minutes, I can go from the heart of the city to the heart of the country.

About the Writer
Marc Steiner hosts The Marc Steiner Show on WEAA.

Insiders' Tips

  1. Go to Hunt Cup, not for the horses but to peep the glorious outdoor spreads, many with candelabras and elaborate place settings.
  2. Gourmet mega-store Wegmans (122 Shawan Rd.) is the multi-jeweled king of local markets, but its brightest gems are the cheese and tea departments, each with hundreds of specimens from all over the world.
  3. Oregon Ridge Park (13555 Beaver Dam Rd.) is not only a great spot on the Fourth of July (when the BSO plays there), but a year-round kid wonderland with two sparkling playgrounds and a fantastic nature center.
  4. The geeks in the area’s booming tech industry rave about the newly renovated Cockeysville library’s graphic novels selection (9833 Greenside Dr.), said to put the Enoch Pratt’s collection downtown to shame.
  5. A tour, tasting, and picnic at Basignani Winery (15722 Falls Rd.), just up the road in Sparks, is a great way to spend a Saturday.
  6. The local’s guide to BBQ: Andy Nelson’s (11007 Yord Rd.) for pulled pork, The Corner Stable (9942 York Rd.) for ribs.
  7. Go hiking, biking, or jogging on the NCR Trail and then stop at Jackie and Joe's (10 Fila Way) for great sandwiches and salads.

Ellicott City

Nestled on the banks of the Patapsco River, Ellicott City's walkable 19th-century Main Street remains an uncommon draw for visitors seeking antiques, one-of-a-kind shops, cozy restaurants, and an escape from suburban sprawl.

Why I Love My Neighborhood by Cindi Ryland
I've been on Main Street for 15 years, and I still never know how my day is going to go, who is going to walk in, or what I'm going to learn. We have people coming from across Maryland, but also from the Carolinas, New York, Florida, and California. There are locals, too, of course, who come in all the time. We make friends with everybody and try to match people with our treasures.

Main Street has a real friendly atmosphere, and it's a unique community, I think. We like the one-of-a-kind shop, where the owners are hands on and in the store, and the regular salespeople have been there forever. There's talk of Subway opening a store—I don't know whether that'd be good or bad for business—but a chain store wouldn't fit with the ambiance.

The Ellicott City Restoration Foundation and the Howard County Historical Society do a terrific job helping downtown maintain its character, and we draw a lot of history buffs. My building dates from 1860 and was a harness shop and then a church. Like so many of the buildings, it's in great shape.

Historic Ellicott City is a bit eccentric and eclectic—a true escape from the suburbs and the city.

About the Writer
Cindi Ryland owns Retropolitan Fine Antiques and Vintage.

Insiders' Tips

  1. Tea on the Tiber (8081 Main St.) is a genuine Brit teahouse. "My mother would've loved it," says Diane Conway, a Gloucester native visiting her daughter on a recent Sunday.
  2. Ed Crowl has been selling, repairing, and refinishing furniture at Wagon Wheel Antique Shop (8061 Tiber Alley) since 1974, and his shop is full of fascinating items like the wood and glass hearse dating to 1850.
  3. Locals go to Envy Hair Salon (3723 Old Columbia Pike) not only for cuts and styles, but for Tuesday "tini" (martini) nights and Wednesday "brews and do's."
  4. The collection of '30s and '40s vintage clothes and hats in the basement of Retropolitan Fine Antiques and
    Vintage (8227 Main St.) is a must-see.
  5. Bella Bikes (8450 Baltimore National Pike) caters to women. Talk to Diana Smith about monthly tire-changing demos and women-only mountain biking trips at Patapsco State Park.
  6. Nathan Sowers, co-owner of Little French Market Café (3744 Old Columbia Pike), bakes the baguettes for nearby French country restaurant Tersiguel's. Visit the shop for sublime custard and chocolate-chip croissants.
  7. Locals love the three fresh-roasted daily coffees and perfect quickie breakfast—warm granola with steamed milk, honey drizzle, and cinnamon—at Bean Hollow (8059 Main St.)
  8. Babe Ruth got married at St. Paul's Catholic Church (3755 St. Paul St.), dedicated in 1838. Stop by the parish office and they'll show you copies of his wedding documents. 

Federal Hill

Steeped in history from port to fort (McHenry), Federal Hill is like a great pair of blue jeans: time-tested, comfortable, and eternally stylish.

Why I Love My Neighborhood by Amy Grace
When my partner and I moved to Federal Hill as empty-nesters from the suburbs in 1996, the neighborhood’s business district was struggling to define itself, rehabbing was just starting in the areas south of Cross Street Market, and collaboration between the local entrepreneurs and residents was scarce.

Then it all changed. Buildings got fresh coats of paint, new facades, and updated signage. Hospital executives started working side by side with homeless men to clean up trash on the sidewalks. Veteran store owners—some with businesses dating back more than 100 years—started mentoring new entrepreneurs to create a vibrant Main Street.

Lifelong residents began taking art classes with young artists at School 33. Parents and grandparents could be seen pushing young children on swings at Federal Hill Park. Book clubs, chili cook-offs, street festivals, and award-winning restaurants began popping up like dandelions in a spring lawn.

Federal Hill had become Baltimore’s “historically hip” place to call home, and, best of all, it had happened organically because residents—old and new, gay and straight, rich and poor, professional and blue-collar—had pride in the neighborhood’s past and a vision for its future.

About the Writer
Amy Grace is a board member of Federal Hill Main Street.

Insiders' Tips

  1. Joggers run the stairs, parents and kids flock to the playground, and everyone else basks in the best view of the city in the city at Federal Hill Park (300 Warren Ave.).
  2. The American Visionary Art Museum (800 Key Hwy.) is a local gem, not just for eccentric exhibits but for community events like outdoor movie festival Flicks from the Hill.
  3. The crab and cheddar pie at Dangerously Delicious Pies (1036 Light St.) is one of tat-covered chef Rodney Henry's killer specialties.
  4. Locals love SoBo Café (6 W. Cross St.) for its cheerful décor (including local art) and amazing macaroni and cheese.
  5. Get the $50 “Book Pass” at The Book Escape (805 Light St.)—a welcoming hangout with reams of new and used books—for access to extended evening hours in the summer and steep discounts year-round.
  6. Nightly comedy and magic shows make Illusions Bar & Lounge (1025 S. Charles St.) one of the most interesting bars in town.
  7. Cross Street Market (1065 S. Light St.) is a goldmine for thrifty foodies. Highlights include the hefty sandwiches at Big Jim’s Deli and tasty, inexpensive oysters, steamed shrimp, and sushi at Nick’s Inner Harbor Seafood.
  8. Besides its namesake mollusks, Ryleigh’s Oyster (36 E. Cross St.) is good for what some locals describe as “the neighborhood’s best burger.” (Others stand by The Abbey Burger Bistro.) Homemade potato chips, too!
  9. Seeing Kelli Kulnich behind the bar at Bluegrass Tavern (1500 S. Hanover St.) raises locals’ spirits. “She makes a good drink and she’s super friendly,” says one.

Hampden

Old and young, entrepreneurial and community-minded, blue-collar and bohemian: Hampden is an intriguing mix of opposites, a microcosm of Baltimore.

Why I Love My Neighborhood by Benn Ray
It happens every week. A group of folks stops in my store and says, “I wish we had a neighborhood like this where I live.”

But that isn’t the part that gets me. What makes me proud of Hampden are the answers I get when I ask where they are from. Answers like “New York.” “Washington.” “San Francisco.” “Chicago.”

What these folks covet is Hampden’s main street: “The Avenue,” which is nearly devoid of chain stores, instead favoring individually owned shops and boutiques staffed and managed by city residents who would be priced out in those other cities.

They are referring to Hampden’s unique character that comes from a micro-melting pot of lifelong residents and young artists and professionals—a mutually beneficial cohabitation of people of various socioeconomic backgrounds. They are referring to the real possibility that the person who just served them a meal or a drink at a local bar or restaurant is, more likely than not, in a band that just got a great review on NPR or www.pitchfork.com.

It’s the envy of others that keeps me from taking for granted what a truly unique and precious Baltimore City neighborhood Hampden is.

About the Writer
Benn Ray owns Atomic Books.

Insiders' Tips

  1. Mondays are the best night to be in Hampden. Holy Frijoles (908 W. 36th St.) has half-price margaritas, while Fraizer’s on the Avenue (919 W. 36th St.) has free pool, 45-cent wings, and an open mic. “We tattoo everyone who works there, from barbacks up to management,” Eric Gilbert, manager of Have Fun Be Lucky Tattoo, says of Frazier’s. “You always know you’ll have a good time when you go there.”
  2. David’s Used Furniture (914 W. 36th St.) might be the best place in the city to shop for reasonably priced big-ticket items like bookshelves and armchairs.
  3. The huevos rancheros and black bean burgers at Golden West Café (1105 W. 36th St.) are the top choice for area vegetarians.
  4. HampdenFest is a less-crowded alternative to the already quirky Honfest. Held every September, the event features music and art exhibits, a film festival, local food and drink, and the legendary Charm City Beard & Moustache Championships.
  5. Ironic though it may be, The Wine Source (3601 Elm Ave.) is the top beer source in town.
  6. The savory pastries at Puffs & Pastries (830 W. 36th St.) are “satisfying and hearty,” says Martin Kasey, barista at Spro Coffee, who likes the pulled-pork with spinach and carrots.
  7. Visit Griffith’s Tavern (3631 Hickory Ave.) to see the tiniest bar—maybe 10 seats—in town, and possibly the world.
  8. Twenty20 Cycling Co. runs a cycling team out of the shop (725 W. 36th St.). “It’s pretty easy to get on the team,” says Twenty20 co-owner Johnny May. “We just ask that you love cycling and be cool to hang out with.”
  9. Thrifty locals love the $4.23 falafel deal at King’s Pizza & Subs (907 W. 36th St.). “I’ve ordered it so many times that when I call, someone picks up and says ‘Okay, 10-15 minutes,’” reports Jason Willett, owner of The True Vine (3544 Hickory Ave.), The Avenue's best record shop just around the corner.

Harbor East

Once a no-man’s-land between the Inner Harbor, Little Italy, and Fells Point, this little burg that could has become Baltimore’s Soho: The destination for high-end boutiques, restaurants, and nightlife.

Why I Love My Neighborhood by Max Weiss
When we moved our offices to “Inner Harbor East” in 1997, it was a virtual ghost town. There was a new restaurant called Charleston (that chef Cindy Wolf… will she make it?), a little deli/market that we affectionately referred to as the “smelly delly”—and that was pretty much it.

There were rumors—wild tales of a Whole Foods, a movie theater, of restaurants, monuments, and hotels. It all seemed like crazy talk. We would’ve been happy to get a place that sold a decent slice of pizza.

Oh, what a difference 14 years makes. In that time, Inner Harbor East got shortened—KFC style—to the snappier Harbor East. That Whole Foods did indeed come, plus a CVS, two pizza joints (with a third on the way), a bunch of blow-yer-paycheck boutiques (including South Moon Under, Urban Chic, and Handbags in the City), more restaurants (Lebanese Taverna, Roy’s, Oceanaire, to name a few), fancy office buildings, four hotels, and—cue the angels singing—a Starbucks.

But the best thing about Harbor East today is that it is both a fabulous bridge neighborhood—to Fells Point, Little Italy, and the Inner Harbor—and a bona fide destination. It reflects that urbane, sophisticated side of Baltimore—you know, the side out-of-towners don’t even know exists—and we’re proud to say that we were among the first..

About the Writer
Max Weiss is managing editor of Baltimore magazine.

Insiders' Tips

  1. Stop in the local Whole Foods (1001 Fleet St.) at lunchtime and visit Ms. Iris near the checkout lines for featured samples (sliders, meatloaf, soup) served with a heavy dose of Bawlmer charm.
  2. At Thursday night wine tastings at Bin 604 (604 S. Exeter St.), sample the area’s best selection of vino, while meeting and mingling with the shop’s refined clientele—including lots of singles.
  3. On Wednesdays, be sure to make your way to Central Avenue near Pratt Street, where the Gypsy Queen Café food truck doles out portable gourmet specialties like crabcake tacos and caramel chai doughnuts.
  4. The bubble teas at Teavolve Cafe and Lounge (1401 Aliceanna St.) are a perfect accompaniment to the mellow live music popping off every Friday and Saturday night.
  5. The Monday through Saturday happy hour at RA Sushi (1390 Lancaster St.), from 3 to 7 p.m., is a great scene, with $2 sake to wash down some of the best sushi in town.
  6. You can get surplus fresh bread at absurdly low prices—75 cents for a loaf of white, $2.59 for two specialty whole- grain loaves—at the H&S Bakery Outlet Store (1616 Fleet St.).
  7. Landmark Theatres (645 S. President St.) is the only cinema in town where you can bring drinks from the bar into the theater. Combine the martinis with the plush leather seats, and it’s also a great location for a stealth nap.

Mt. Vernon

The cobblestone streets lined with history and urban charm in central Baltimore mark not only a cultural and epicurean center, but, increasingly, a family-friendly residential neighborhood.

Why I Love My Neighborhood by Gary Vikan
Mt. Vernon is like a 19th-century theater. There’s no place in this country where you can walk out of your door and essentially walk back 150 years, almost as if you’re a player on the stage.

As I sit in my office and look out the window, just slightly to the right is the Washington Monument, circa 1829. Looking across the square, I see the beautiful Mt. Vernon Club, from 1842 and, of course, Mt. Vernon Place United, a Gothic church from the 1870s.

That is Mt. Vernon unanimated. In the last 10 years, it’s come to life with young people, artists, and people with dogs and kids, and it’s very vibrant.

My favorite spot is on the north side of the west park. In the spring and the fall, there are benches, which are in full sunlight, and you have a view of the monument and this entire rack of buildings that I’m in. Around lunchtime, kids in their little blue uniforms from Grace and St. Peter’s will be out there. It is sublime.

About the Writer
Gary Vikan is director of The Walters Art Museum.

Insiders' Tips

  1. Locals know spring has sprung when Towson University’s indie-minded NPR affiliate WTMD launches its First Thursday concert series in Mt. Vernon Square.
  2. Nestled among the busy streets and cultural institutions is the lovely, thoroughly modern Mt. Vernon Children’s Park (1221 N. Calvert St.), with a big sandbox, water sprinklers, and sculptures.
  3. At the über-casual Thairish (804 N. Charles St.), a gem among the top-tier eateries along Charles Street, owner/chef Kerrigan Kitikul doles out to-go platters of spicy Thai panang with unmatched charm.
  4. The Walters Art Museum (600 N. Charles St.) is not only a world-class museum for grownups, but, on weekends, the basement is a perfect (and free!) drop-in play area, with art projects, dress-up clothes, and puzzles.
  5. The new Milk & Honey Market (816 Cathedral St.) has great ambiance and the best selection of cheese south of Wegmans.
  6. Student concerts at Peabody (1 E. Mt. Vernon Pl.) are a great, cheaper alternative to those at the Meyerhoff.
  7. The annual late September Baltimore Book Festival in Mt. Vernon Square is the highlight of the city’s bibliophilic calendar.
  8. More than just a quick bite before a show at CenterStage, Iggie's (818 N. Calvert St.) has become a contender for the title of Baltimore's top pizza place.

Station North

Launched a decade ago, Station North was the first area in the city to receive state designation as an Arts and Entertainment district. Today, the edgy arts neighborhood continues to blossom on North Avenue.

Why I Love My Neighborhood by Kevin Brown
My co-owner, William Maughlin, and I were two of the pioneers in the development of Station North, having been here since 2005. When we launched our business in the 1800 block of North Charles, the block was 80 percent vacant and no one wanted to come beyond The Charles Theater, let alone North Avenue. People would say it was nothing but junkies and methadone clinics.

Now, we’re throwing them out at closing time!

The Arts District designation by the state was, yes, supposed to bring artists, but also start economic development. There are still, what I call “pockets of poverty” and “islands of excellence,” but it’s happening. The North Avenue market, with Cyclops bookstore at one end and The Windup Space on the other, has three or four art spaces, businesses, and studios. And an Irish pub is going in.

Who’d ever have imagined an Irish pub on North Avenue?

Station North is a diverse place, and I see it becoming a destination neighborhood in the city. Not like Fells Point, Federal Hill, or Canton, sprawling with bars, but where there are hardware stores, galleries, cafes, and ice cream shops open during the day and live music, shows, and nightlife in the evening.

About the Writer
Kevin Brown is co-owner/ operator of Station North Arts Café Gallery.

Insiders' Tips

  1. Michael Ross, a drummer who rehearses next door to Joe Squared (133 W. North Ave.), is among many who swear by the crab pizza, with garlic sauce, crab, cilantro, zucchini, red onion, egg, and three cheeses. “Just eat it right away,” he says. “The egg makes it weird the next morning.”
  2. The ramshackle performance space at Cyclops Books & Music (30 W. North Ave.) belies the top local visual artists and national acts showing and playing here. To wit: Three bookstore veterans were just announced for Bonnaroo.
  3. The experimental- and improvisational-musician gathering Out of Your Head Tuesdays at The Windup Space (12 W. North Ave.) remains spontaneous and vibrant.
  4. Try the full Jong Kak combo at Jong Kak (18 W. 20th St.), which serves Korean barbecue over hot charcoals ’til 4 a.m.: marinated beef bulgogi, spiced pork, and chicken, with 10 different sides. Feeds a small crowd for $87.95.
  5. On the first Saturday of every month from April to November, Station North Flea Market (North Ave. at the Howard St. Bridge) offers eclectic people watching and 40 to 50 vendors, artists, and artisans. Occasionally, someone brings a guitar.
  6. The funky Bohemian Coffee House (1831 N. Charles St.) buzzes until 3 a.m. on weekends, featuring locally roasted Zeke’s Coffee, vegan offerings, art, poetry, and a wall dedicated to napkin sketches.
  7. Driving north on Howard Street past North Avenue, the first alley on the right is a towering cathedral of the city’s best graffitti and street art. Beware of broken glass.
  8. Employee-owned Artist & Craftsman Supply (137 W. North Ave.) serves MICA students and local artists. Also: make-your-own puzzles, paint-your-own masks, and little, red toy accordions.

Towson

A college town situated at the edge of Baltimore City, Towson's walkable downtown strikes a unique balance, serving students and professionals alike while maintaining the homey feel of leafy residential neighborhoods nearby.

Why I Love My Neighborhood by Scott Recher
My family had been in the movie business, owning the Towson movie theater since 1959, so I've been coming here for a while. Thirty years ago, I used to frequent bygone places like The Crease, Poor Richard's, and Angel's Grotto. Towson's the county seat, so there's a large government presence, lawyers and business people, during the day. Everybody says that at night the government workers leave and the college kids take over.

The theater closed in 1992. My brothers Brian, Steve, and I re-opened it first as Rec Room Billiards in '96. We got the liquor license later that year, which really helped us grow. In '99, we became the Recher Theatre, a full-time music venue. In 2000, we opened the Rec Room sports bar next door. Now we're adding an upscale lounge/dining room.

We keep evolving. So does Towson, I think.

About The Writer
Scott Recher co-owns The Recher Theatre and The Rec Room.

Insiders' Tips

  1. The White Stripes, Sonic Youth, and the Jonas Brothers have all played the Recher Theatre (512 Yord Rd.). It's not just for kids, either: Aimee Mann comes in April and the Wailers this summer.
  2. Zia's (13 Allegheny Ave.) is the organic cafe, juice bar, and mini-market of choice for TU students looking for an alternative to Jerry's Subs. Monthly raw-food dinners and juice—"try the carrot and pineapple," says one undergrad—are among the local favorites.
  3. Newcomer Havana Road (8 W. Pennsylvania Ave.) has the-real-deal Cuban fare, with signature salsa, mojo, pepino, and other products in-store and at local markets.
  4. Loch Raven High grads Seth and Jack Revelle founded independent Ukazoo Books (730 Dulaney Valley Rd.) with all the right ingredients: comfy chairs, readings, complimentary coffee and tea, and 100,000 books.
  5. Pho Dat Thanh (510 York Rd.), next to the Recher, is the best place to watch visiting foodies and rock stars eating Vietnamese noodles.
  6. Visit the original Record & Tape Traders (736 Dulaney Valley Rd.)—the last one standing—for Howlin' Wolf vinyl, Caleb Stine on the listening post, incense, and Stones T-shirts.
  7. Students go to Burger Bros. (14 Allegheny Ave.)—an old-time burger joint with Formica tables, tile floors, fresh-squeezed lemonade, baked brioche buns, and Idaho potatoes hand-cut daily—on Sunday for a half-price burger and drink purchase with college I.D.
  8. No one seems to know why or how Towson became a sushi mecca. Sushi Hana (6 E. Pennsylvania Ave.) wins best-bet honors.

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