Anyone who’s been involved in a wedding will understand when I say that Morgan and I were after some time alone following our nuptial rituals. The trouble is, we aren’t exactly rolling in dough (so air travel’s pretty solidly out of the question) and neither of our cars are exactly seaworthy—a symptom of our lack of dough. These are the two main reasons we chose to keep to the shallows (so to speak), not to mention sought out an area we could find varied activities without the use of the car we’d need to get home. It was my father (regular readers will find that unsurprising) who pointed out Fell’s Point as one such area. A quick bit of research on Google Maps told us that the National Aquarium, and therefore the Inner Harbor, is indeed within walking distance, so the plan was set.
He tantalized us with the notion that Fell’s Point is where bar culture in Baltimore really took. I explained last month in the introduction to our honeymoon series that the shipbuilding industry led to sailors with time ashore for brief hiatuses, and as we all know, such populations with time on their hands seek out bars (and all the delightful things that go with them). I don’t mean to imply that Fell’s Point is at all seedy; it certainly is not in our day and age. In fact, it’s been declared a National Historical Neighborhood, so there are dedicated security personnel. Thus, it is now a charming little corner of Baltimore obviously built during the Colonial Era (people were smaller then) and a delightful destination for locals who want a drink and tourists looking for vacation alike.
Many of the streets are cobbled and most of the buildings are brick; Thames Street (pronounced phonetically, not like the river in London) runs along the waterfront and seems to be one of the primary centers of commerce. A big, serious hotel sits right on the water, and on its stretch of Thames, it is one of the only buildings blocking several bars’ and coffee shops’ view of Baltimore’s natural harbor. Being still in the MidAtlantic, the weather could best be described as “mild yet damp” during our stay. It didn’t rain at any deeply inconvenient times for us, but it was usually chilly and overcast. That being said, only chilly in the middle of November is a vast upgrade for outdoor activities from a good portion of the country.
There wasn’t a restaurant that we regretted eating at. We hit three different coffee shops, a taco place, an upscale seafood restaurant, and ordered delivery pizza, and not one of those meals disappointed us. The coffee shops are charming and boast a surprising number of windows—and is there anything nicer than a prodigious amount of natural sunlight as you enjoy your coffee and morning paper? Coffee shops are coffee shops, but they’re distinct from one another in fun ways and it’s worth sampling the variety at hand—on Thames Street alone.
The coffee shops were our favorite, though in a classic case of me and Morgan, we don’t have the same favorite (one of the many reasons I love her). I liked Pitango Gelato’s bakery and café on the corner of Fells, Thames, and South Ann Streets. It’s an amazing corner building with tons of windows and plenty of seating bathed in natural light on a beautiful, sunny morning like the one when we went—and the harbor water directly across the street only sweetens the deal. If you’re interested in trying it for yourself, be sure not to confuse it for the Pitango Gelato location on Broadway Square. That’s just a little gelato shop, without coffee or an oven. The café location, however, not only has an oven, but they use it for recipes inspired by classic Italian bakeries and sandwich shops. My porchetta sandwich was well worth the $12, and with every step of preparation performed in-house, I had high hopes. It was warm and herbaceous, and exceeded any hope my pre-caffeine brain knew to muster. I still dream about that sandwich. Morgan’s favorite was Daily Grind, the home of her most favorite salmon bagel ever (the real reason she’s not fully vegan anymore). Admittedly, I found it less pretentious and the menu was more varied and digestible (yes, somehow both at the same time). Plus, since the prices were lower, Daily Grind is the café to which we returned.
Off Thames, the first floors of most buildings are commercial—shops or restaurants or bars or the like. As I age, I fall deeper and deeper in love with gift shops. I think it was at Niagara Falls my junior year of college when I really got apparel with landmark or attraction names on them. Where I come from, everybody vacations in maybe four different places: Delaware Beaches (Rehoboth, Bethany, Dewey, Lewes, etc.), Disney, the Outer Banks, or Ocean City (Maryland or Jersey). So, when I see T-shirts or pairs of sweatpants that say “Bethany” or bumper stickers with only “OBX” on them, I don’t register them as distinctive. After Niagara Falls, where I saw apparel for places as far away from each other as Montreal and San Diego in a place that was neither, the humble gift shop took on a whole new meaning for me. In Baltimore, we probably spent $150 in shops on nonconsumable merchandise. They’re fully worth your time; we found things we didn’t know we were looking for. An Old Bay Christmas Tree ornament was just the beginning: a pre-owned Hamilton (Original Broadway Cast Recording) on vinyl is the crown jewel of our souvenir haul, and the Fort McHenry longsleeve T-shirt is a topical favorite.
Aliceanna Street is kind of the main thoroughfare through Fell’s Point. It really more skims the northern edge of Fell’s Point proper, separating it from Upper Fell’s Point and the rest of Baltimore. It’s the road from which we entered the Point after coming from I-95, and on our way in, we passed a joint called Papi’s Tacos. The building reminded me of Dublin, and the menu reminded us of a favorite restaurant of ours in Burlington, so the experience was delightful, particularly since the tacos were authentic and delicious. Our experience at Sticky Rice was equally charming, with pan-Asian cuisine replacing the Mexican menu, but the building still reminded me of restaurants in Dublin, deep and narrow as it was, with wood floors and walls and a long bar down one wall. This reminiscence of Dublin gives me a good memory of the bars in Baltimore.
Frankly, it’s hard to do bars poorly, so when I say Fell’s Point does bars well, know that I mean that there are Irish Bars, Western bars, upscale restaurants with bars, plenty of dive bars, and everything in between. It was at the upscale restaurant that we, or rather, I ran afoul of the dress code. They don’t allow backwards hats, you see, and though it was a completely neutral and nonthreatening Buffalo Bills hat, I was made to remove it before the bouncer (on a Monday night, no less) allowed us through. The random dive bar directly across the street had a dress code, too (no gang colors, sports jerseys, etc.), but as there was nobody else there (Monday night), there was no bouncer making sure the sandwich board rules were followed and the bartender was just happy to see us.
Morgan and I can’t wait to go back to Baltimore. Cities with history have a character there’s no other way to acquire; it’s in the cobbled streets and brick buildings, whose doorways are sometimes much smaller than seems generally practical. Twisting staircases and irregular buildings create truly unique experiences which live in the memory forever. Morgan and I had to leave our car with the hazard lights on and unpack our trunk with obstacles such as a row of parallel parked cars, a locked gate, a narrow alley, two big steps, and the aforementioned twisting staircase between us and our Airbnb’s front door. Pitango’s bakery and café is a triangular property with harbor water across the street. We loved our time in Baltimore; Morgan keeps hoping a good reason to go back comes up. It will, I know it, and I can’t wait either.