Baltimore, MD

Let an international footy match be your call to check out Charm City.

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BEST WEEKEND TO GO: July 24--26

DISTANCE: 189 mi -- about 3 hours 18 mins (up to 4 hours 0 mins in traffic)

WHY GO: "Goooooooal!" isn't exactly something you hear all the time in Baltimore. Charm City is better known for its crime, both real and fictional (thanks, David Simon!), and its arts scene—the city birthed John Waters, Dan Deacon and Baltimore club music—than its love of soccer. Still, on July 24 the city hosts the World Football Challenge (worldfootballchallenge.com, $35-$125), a matchup between England's Chelsea Football Club and Italy's AC Milan. The real draw is the players though, who are among the best in the world: Chelsea's captain, John Terry, is also the captain of England's World Cup team, while AC's midfielder, Kak, was FIFA's 2007 World Player of the Year.

WHY STAY: If watching the game brought out your competitive side, throw down in a good old-fashioned round of duckpin bowling (the balls and pins are smaller than the standard ones) at the 72-year-old Patterson Bowl (2105 Eastern Ave between Chester St and Collington Ave; 410-675-1011, pattersonbowl.com), a Baltimore institution. (Keep in mind that the alley is BYOB.) Shop on the Avenue (36th St between Falls Rd and Chestnut St), a strip of antique stores, galleries and boutiques, including Ma Petite Shoe (832 W 36th St), which sells only shoes and chocolate. When they're in town, Andy Stack and Jenn Wasner of local indie-folk band Wye Oak like to hit up Value Village (800 W North Ave near Watts St) for cheap vintage finds, or "go to an O's game at lovely Camden Yards" (call 'em "the O's" instead of "the Orioles" and you'll blend right in).It's worth mentioning that earlier in the summer, the Avenue is the site of Honfest (honfest.net; June 13, 14), an annual tribute to Baltimore culture and "Hons" (think of every beehived woman in John Waters films and you've sort of got it).

WHAT TO EAT: When they're not filming their hit Food Network show, Ace of Cakes, the gang from Charm City Cakes (charmcitycakes.com) is often found at local favorite the Diz (300 W 30th St at Remington Ave, 410-235-0171). "It's our home away from home—it's across the street from Charm City Cakes," says bakery owner Duff Goldman. "[It has] Some of the best burgers in town, genuinely diverse staff and clientele, and cold, cold Stella." Other bakery faves include the Brewer's Art (1106 N Charles St between Biddle and Chase Sts, 410-547-6925), with an on-site brewery—the CCC staff recommends washing down an order of rosemary-garlic fries ($4) with a pint of the house special, the deliciously potent Resurrection Ale—and the gothic Annabel Lee Tavern (601 S Clinton St at Fleet St, 410-522-2929), named after a poem by Baltimore's most famous literary transplant, Edgar Allan Poe. The tavern offers inexpensive grub (like the house chicken salad, $9) and Poe-themed drinks, including the dork-point-scoring Manhattintinnabulation ($9), named after a word coined by Poe in his poem "The Bells" and made with Maker's Mark, grenadine and Madeira wine. Curious literary nerds can stop by Poe's grave at Westminster Hall (Greene St at Fayette St, 410-706-2072) after throwing back a few.

WHERE TO STAY: Amanda Krotki of Metromix Baltimore (baltimore.metromix.com) recommends staying away from the "tourist trap" Inner Harbor and heading east instead. "Harbor East has totally exploded," she says. "It's nice to walk around, and you could walk to the stadium from there." The Hilton Garden Inn (625 S President St at Fleet St, 410-385-0065) in that nabe has rooms beginning at $219 per night. Krotki also suggests Fell's Point, a quaint but hip neighborhood just east of the Harbor (Homicide fans may recognize the 'hood—much of the show's filming took place there). There, Celie's Waterfront Inn (1714 Thames St between Ann St and Broadway; 410-522-2323, celieswaterfront.com), a cozy B&B, has rooms available from $149 per night, while the Inn at Henderson's Wharf (1000 Fell St; 410-522-7777, hendersonswharf.com) offers luxurious touches (a complimentary bottle of wine!) at affordable prices—rooms start at $219 per night. Hostelling International's Baltimore Hostel (17 W Mulberry St between Cathedral and Charles Sts; 410-576-8880, baltimorehostel.org) is both inexpensive (from $25 per night) and centrally located: the Washington Monument, Lexington Market and the Walters Art Gallery are all within walking distance.

GET THERE: Amtrak (amtrak.com) is the quickest and most convenient way of getting to Baltimore: The trip from New York Penn Station to Baltimore Penn Station is about 2 hours and 45 minutes, and one-way tickets start at $64. Go cheaper with Bolt Bus, which offers service from its 33rd Street stop to Baltimore Penn for as little as a $1 if you get lucky and book early (boltbus.com). Once you're there, the MTA bus is a reliable way to get around, but the city is spread out, with different 'hoods connected by highways (and cool things to do in completely opposite areas). Renting a car is probably the more convenient option.

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