The Best Arts, Eats and Lodging for a Long Weekend in Baltimore
The Charm City is offering a citywide cultural pass to celebrate Black History Month
Most longtime Washingtonians know the talking points of the District’s rich cultural history — one that is deeply intertwined with Black American culture and the Civil Rights Movement. In fact, Washington, DC, was affectionately called “Chocolate City” for decades, an homage to the demographic majority there which at one point hit 71 percent African American in 1970.
Surprisingly, though, many DC residents are fairly unfamiliar with neighboring Charm City to the north — Maryland’s most populous city of Baltimore. Despite the short drive of about an hour that connects the two hubs, Baltimore remains unseen as a major tourist destination for even those a mere hop, skip and jump away. Its population has also dropped of late, dipping below 600,000 for the first time in more than a century, according to U.S. Census estimates released last year. According to the Baltimore Sun, the port city has seen their population numbers decline steadily since 2015, when Baltimore saw civil unrest following the death of Freddie Gray from injuries he suffered while in police custody.
Indeed, what is typically reported about the city is its crime rate or details of its supposed urban blight, but that should not detract from Baltimore’s pivotal role in the evolution of Black history and culture in America. It’s the place where Frederick Douglass worked on the docks before fleeing north to freedom, where you could have seen a young Billie Holiday playing on the streets as a child, and where the nation’s first Black American U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Thurgood Marshall, grew up.
Now, Baltimore is enjoying a new wave of diverse creatives and entrepreneurs entering the city with a tenacity to invent and create, breathing new life into Charm City. This means a bursting scene of restaurants, cafes, shops and more that visitors can patronize, as well as a street art and music scene that can duke it out with the best.
During Black History Month, Baltimore’s tourism bureau is making it even easier to show your support with a new pass that gives visitors discounts to a long list of Black-owned businesses and educational cultural attractions. Called the BoP pass, the name plays into the Baltimore slang term for a long walk, or a “bop.” The pass is free, and visitors can use it to “take a journey through the streets where Frederick Douglass, Billie Holiday and Harriet Tubman once walked, learning about their contributions to history and how their fearlessness, big ideas and bold innovation informs our culture today,” according to Baltimore’s website.
The list includes some of the city’s many museums, like the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History & Culture, which currently has a Black Lives Matter exhibition on view. The museum also highlights the history and accomplishments of Maryland’s Black Americans and features more than 400 years of history within its permanent collection. After, head over to the American Visionary Museum, where the works of self-taught artists show visitors an endless realm of artistic possibility.
Shopping in Baltimore
There are tons of boutiques worthy of a visit during your stop in Baltimore. Start your journey at the eclectic WE ARE MAUD, located right by the historic Green Mount cemetery, for home goods, bath and body products and more. Next grab a homemade, small-batch candle from Letta Moore’s KSM Candle Co. in Woodberry, right by Brandon Warren Designs, a local designer whose regal robes and colorful masks are inspired by African culture.
The city of Baltimore is also making it easier for Black entrepreneurs and creatives to open new spaces of their own with a just-launched program nicknamed The Downtown BOOST. The initiative seeks to pair creative Black businesses with vacant storefronts, and connect them with the technical, marketing and other expertise they need to succeed.
Eating and Drinking in Baltimore
It won’t be hard to find some good eats in Baltimore, a port city known for its flavorful crab cakes, buckets of steamed seafood and pit barbecue. Another thing Baltimore does well is comfort, like at Terra Café, which has been serving the city for more than 10 years since its opening. There, dig into comfort food classics like shrimp and grits and fish and waffles while supporting owner Terence Dickson in his mission to give back to the community. Last year, Dickson partnered with World Central Kitchen to distribute food to those in need, and recently launched an incubator that helps Black small businesses affected by the pandemic.
If you’re looking for a Baltimore showcase in one place, try out the new Whitehall Mill located in a renovated 18th-century flour mill. The space now serves as a food hall stacked with everything from the famous crab pies from Crust by Mack to freshly shucked oysters at True Chesapeake Oyster Co.
Wash it all down with the brewers of the Guinness Open Gate Brewery, where they’ve combined talents with Black co-workers and allies across multiple departments at the brewery to create “Station at 601,” a limited-edition brew releasing on February 11. The beer is a Black IPA with tangerine available in cans, with a powerful message printed on each can’s side: “Named to pay homage to the local train station at 601 S. President St. in Baltimore, a key landmark in the Underground Railroad used by abolitionists who guided enslaved people to freedom. This brew is the result of a collaboration amongst Black co-workers and allies at our Maryland production site.”
All proceeds of the new brew will benefit the Job Opportunities Task Force, and is part of the Guinness Gives Back Baltimore Community Fund — a million dollar commitment to support economic justice, community empowerment and equal representation in the city.
Where to Stay
If you plan to stay the night in Charm City look no further than The Ivy Hotel, the only Relais & Chateaux property in Maryland. Owned by philanthropic couple Eddie and Sylvia Brown, the iconic hotel is set in a reimagined mansion in the neighborhood of Mount Vernon. Besides the rumor that Beyonce and Jay-Z stay there while visiting the city, the hotel’s luxurious appointments and award-winning restaurant Magdelena are enough of a reason to stay. The Browns themselves sweeten the deal, as visitors can feel good about patronizing a hotel whose owners have donated millions to the Baltimore Museum of Art.
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