The Baltimore avenue where hipsters and kitsch converge.
If there’s one street along the Eastern Seaboard that’s got it going on, it’s The Avenue—a several-block stretch of 36th Street in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood. Long a blue-collar quarter thanks to the nearby mill, it’s evolving into a boho-hipster realm, where you’ll find decades-old barber shops, dive bars, and tattoo shops shoulder-to-shoulder with designer boutiques, maker studios, and ever-trendy pavement cafés and eateries. The Avenue is at once urban gritty and metro glam, where you can spend the greater part of a day exploring local street art, bolstering your vintage-garb wardrobe, tasting some of the city’s best bites (and libations), and delving into the heart and soul of ‘ole Bawlmer. Here’s a plan to do just that.
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Breakfast: Good Morning, Baltimore!
The Avenue has several excellent options for brunch, but the one you’ll want to target is the Food Market. First off, it’s never too early for a crafted cocktail, especially if it’s a jalapeño-infused bloody Mary or—check this out—a French toast breakfast shot with Bailey’s, butterscotch, and cinnamon. That said, it’s not just about how drunk you can get before noon. The space is industrial-mod, with the menu, directed by Chef Chad Gauss, showcasing upscale comfort food. You’ll love the fried donut holes that greet every guest—pace yourself (I speak from first-hand experience). Follow this with crab benedict, lazy French toast (all cut up so you don’t have to), a Greek yogurt parfait, and/or one of the many more fun reasons to celebrate brunch. You’ll leave with a warm and fuzzy feeling—and that’s not necessarily the alcohol talking.
Morning: Save the Planet, Buy Vintage
Vintage shopping is having a moment along The Avenue—not only for creating that individualized look you’ve been yearning for, both for you and your living space, but also for being sustainable. And there is no shortage of places to pop into, which is why we’ve allotted the morning. (If it gets to be too much, there’s always a café to hunker down in and recover.) So, let’s begin.
Hunting Ground, in an old stone church just north of the Avenue on Falls Road, has a grueling acceptance policy to ensure that each vintage piece—for both men and women—is in mint condition and reflects current trends. Translation: this is the place to find your white-fringed bolero, old school sunglasses, and embroidered denim jeans fresh from the seventies. That said, they also offer hand-picked indie designers as well. Next up is Milk & Ice Vintage, founded by the BFF duo Angie Gavin and Kate Thomas in 2014 (though they’ve been doing this for 15 years), where you might stumble upon a black 1930s evening gown with panels of black swiss dot tulle, or—hold your breath—a 1970s crochet top with florets down the center. And if you’re tired of shoehorning your home into the uninspired Pottery Barn look, Wishbone Reserve is your go-to for vintage home goods. The brainchild of three design-obsessed friends, Athena Hoffberger, Julie Lilienfeld, and Ryan Haase, this is the place to find mid-century furniture, Iranian rugs, and retro coffee sets.
INSIDER TIPIf you want your house to look like their shop, Wishbone Reserve offers in-house interior design services as well.
Lunch: It’s Hon Time
White working-class women of the ’60s called each other “honey,” which came out “hon” in local Bawlmerese (think John Travolta’s character, Edna Turnblad, in John Waters’ Hairspray). Today, hons—with their beehives, cat-rimmed glasses, and bright eye shadow—are celebrated at the campy Café Hon. You can’t miss it: It’s the diner with the big pink flamingo stuck on front (and the cat-eyed-hon mural on the side). Fill up on Mom’s meatloaf, grilled three cheese, or corned beef and sauerkraut sandwich, topped off with a hot-fudge sundae. They claim the hons aren’t really much of a “thing” any longer, but the gift shop sells everything you need to transform yourself into one.
Makers are flocking to this creative outpost, and you can find their creative wares in indie boutiques, art galleries, and food shops all along The Avenue. Do not miss Ma Petite Shoe, showcasing designer shoes and locally-made gourmet chocolates. How’s that for a dream come true? At Trohv, with its colorful displays of artsy gifts and home goods, you’ll be tempted by handmade hot sauces, furniture, letterpress stationery, and more. And okay, while Caravanserai does not purvey local goods, per se, we have to mention this festive extravagance offering goods from artists around the world, everything from Afghani tribal rings to embroidered sofas to Moroccan lamps.
All this said, the talk-along-The-Avenue is the new Whitehall Food Market on nearby Falls Road, opening in March 2020. A 1732 grist mill, which originally gave life to the neighborhood, has been converted into this sprawling, 18,000-square-foot food shrine and maker paradise. Just follow your nose to local purveyors like Ceremony Coffee Roasters, Firefly Farms Market (yummy cheeses nurtured on Maryland pastures), and Crust by Mack (aka scrumptious sweets). Granted, you might not be hungry right now, but the folks back home might appreciate a foodie gift. You’ll also find handcrafted homewares here—check out the Homebody General Store.
Filmmaker and Baltimore native John Waters filmed several movies in Hampden, and he’s sometimes seen strolling the Avenue, popping into shops (they say looking for vintage costumes for his next movie) and enjoying the annual festivals (Hampdenfest in September is amazing, by the way, a neighborhood arts and music celebration complete with toilet bowl race). Legendary Atomic Books at 36th and Falls is devoted to Waters—he has picked up his fan mail here for 25 years. It’s a fun place to stop by, with its offering of hard-to-find comic books, zines, and toys—along with an outstanding selection of books. Then, be like Waters and head to the Atomic’s back room, where a petite bar and lounge, called Eightbar, serves beer, wine, mead, and hard cider in a cozy, couch-filled setting. It’s 5 p.m. somewhere, right?
Pre-Dinner: A Birdy Told Me
Some may want to sip their pre-dinner cocktails at one of The Avenue’s pavement cafés, which is great for people-watching. But for something special, opt instead for the Bluebird Cocktail Room, all dark blue with gilded trim, gleaming wood, and sparkly chandeliers. The Bluebird serves drinks inspired by literature and botany, each with its background story written up in the menu storybook. The Golden Goose, for example, mixes rye whiskey, yellow chartreuse, mascara cherry, maple syrup, and lemon juice; and, the writeup tells the “absurd” tale of a son who, thanks to his generosity, ends up marrying a princess. You can sit at the massive zinc bar, or sprawl out at a table. The food is tempting, but try to resist.
Dinner: Way Beyond Chesapeake Crab Cakes
The promise is “oysters” and “booze” at this establishment at the Avenue’s east end, but it’s much more than that. Dylan’s Oyster Cellar is a warm and inviting space, with a simple menu offering exquisite dishes for both the marine adventurer and seafood averse alike. Case in point: choose from the likes of anchovy on toast; red beans and rice; a green chili cheeseburger, or one of the seasonal fish offerings. That said, if you’re a bivalve fan, you have no choice but to try the freshly-shucked finest, from the Chesapeake and beyond. Delicious paired cocktails (including an oyster shooter) go without saying.
Nighttime: One Night in Hampden...
The perfect ending to an Avenue day is an all-out laugh fest at Zissimos Bar, where attendees have been laughing ever since Lou Costello first showed up (if you don’t know him, look it up). Well, he was only here because his aunt, Eva Zissimos, founded the place with her husband in 1930. He would hang out here, drink, and, of course, be the center of attention in the bar—the upstairs is named the Lou Costello Room in his honor. This revered establishment, which has continued to be owned by the Zissimos family (and The Avenue’s oldest business), still hosts gifted comedians from Baltimore and beyond for stand-up and improv Thursday through Sunday (there’s music Monday-Wednesday). This is also where the two-week Charm City Comedy Festival takes place every year in May—an excellent reason to return to this happening little neighborhood in Baltimore.
INSIDER TIPBaltimore legend Killer the Cat strolls the sidewalks of Hampden, sometimes sporting an octopus or dragon costume. Check him out at @killercatbaltimore—and submit your own photo or video.