Queer Girl City Guide: Baltimore, MD

Baltimore has always been an important city for me. My stepdad grew up here, and my family took regular trips here years before I started college at the Peabody Conservatory, a Johns-Hopkins-affiliated music conservatory in the city. In my sophomore year, my mom took a job teaching at a private school here and my parents followed me, though, really, they’d been looking for an excuse to move here since long before I chose a college. Far from the violent cesspool depicted by crime dramas like The Wire, Baltimore is mostly a fun, vibrant and large city with a quirky flavor. While you may or may not agree with the city’s motto emblazoned on its benches — “The Greatest City in America” — it’s hard to visit this place and not concur with Baltimore’s other, far more popular nickname: Charm City.

 

BALTIMORE NEIGHBORHOODS TO KNOW

 

Mount Vernon: Both Baltimore’s main cultural district and the closest thing it has to a “gayborhood.” Also this is where my alma mater, Peabody, is so it’s the area I know the best. Very scenic: lots of parks, marble buildings and cobblestone streets.

Hampden: A working-class neighborhood that has since been colonized by hipsters without fully losing its roots. The Avenue, the four blocks of 36th Street east of Falls Rd., is Hampden’s “main street” where you can find lots of bars and quirky boutiques.

Homewood/Charles Village: The most student-y neighborhood as it’s where the main Johns Hopkins campus is. Like most college towns, expect bars and cheap eats.

Station North: Mt. Vernon’s edgier northern cousin, centered on Penn Station. Lots of bars and clubs, and underground/indie music venues. Home to the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) on one end and the University of Baltimore on the other.

Inner Harbor: The tourist center of Baltimore, the Inner Harbor is dotted with chain restaurants and other attractions for out-of-towners, like the National Aquarium, the USS Constellation and the Harborplace/Gallery mall complex.

Harbor East/Little Italy: Harbor East is kind of swanky, with lots of upscale boutiques and fancy restaurants. Its main landmark is the Katyn Memorial, honoring the Polish generals and intelligentsia killed by Soviet secret police in the Katyn Forest in 1940. Walk a little further east and you’ll find the culinary heaven that is Little Italy, where you can also see where Nancy Pelosi grew up.

Fells Point and Federal Hill: The city’s two biggest bar scenes. The former is in the southeastern part of the city and is one of its oldest neighborhoods, with buildings dating back to the colonial era and cobblestone streets. The latter, south of the giant hill of the same name, tends to be a favorite home for young marrieds and other affluent but non-student young people (since it’s kind of far away from most of the universities).

Roland Park: One of Baltimore’s wealthier neighborhoods, it’s also home to Loyola University of Maryland. And lots of cute cafes. You’ll find more natives (and “Bawlmer” accents) here than you will further downtown.

 

CULTURE SHOCK

 

Baltimore isn’t usually thought of as a big city for the arts, and it’s certainly no New York or LA in those respects. But it has way, way more going on than you think, especially music-wise:

via The Baltimore Sun

Let’s start with my area of expertise: classical music! If you like it, or even if you don’t, really, you should definitely check out The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra (Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral Street) at some point. It’s one of America’s premier institutions of classical music, and its music director, Marin Alsop, is a queer lady. If a symphony concert sounds expensive, don’t worry: if you have a student ID with you, you can get $10 “student rush” tickets starting at noon the day of a concert. And it’s a fantastic way to impress the ladies! If you’re more into having words with your music, the Lyric Opera Baltimore (Modell Performing Arts Center at the Lyric, 140 W. Mt. Royal Ave) is the city’s main destination for grand opera. Because the Lyric is also used for musicals and big traveling performers, the opera company only does a few productions per season, but it’s well worth checking one of them out if you can. If you’re on a budget, Baltimore also has countless little chamber opera companies, mostly started by Peabody voice grads; one of my personal favorites is Figaro Project, who in the past have tended to go for contemporary operas (such as one-act operas by Peabody composition students and faculty) and quirky adaptations of traditional fare (like Don Giovanni as a murder mystery). They usually do one big production a year at the University of Baltimore, and a bunch of smaller aria selections concerts at area restaurants.

Peabody just about always has something going on, and while the large ensembles, operas and visiting artists will usually cost you money, most smaller concerts — like degree or departmental recitals — are free. Another popular destination for chamber music is An Die Musik (409 North Charles St.), a small, easy-to-miss little venue that also has a good CD store for classical, jazz and world music. An Die Musik is a particularly great place for contemporary classical and early music concerts; for fans of the former, I strongly recommend the Evolution Contemporary Music Series (currently hosting a Kickstarter campaign).

 

Sound Garden via 600block.com

As for non-classical music: Baltimore is renowned nationwide for its indie music scene. Where to go for underground music varies a lot, although generally the bars and clubs in the various central/south Baltimore neighborhoods, especially Station North, are good places to look. There’s also the Ottobar (2549 N. Howard St.) a haunt for Hopkins and MICA students that features both local and traveling indie acts. And proving just how eclectic the city’s music scene is, there’s even a Baltimore Rock Opera Society. The free underground newspaper Baltimore City Paper can keep you constantly updated on the city’s music scene. As for where to buy it, check out Fells Point’s The Sound Garden (1616 Thames St.), which also has a wide selection if you’re into more mainstream rock/pop fare and is just all-around awesome, and Celebrated Summer Records at Hampden’s Atomic Books (3620 Falls Rd.). For bigger names, check out the concerts at 1st Mariner Arena (201 W. Baltimore St.) or Merriweather Post Pavilion (10475 Little Patuxent Pky., Columbia).

If the stage is more your thing, Baltimore’s two main professional theater companies are CenterStage (700 N. Calvert St.), located in Mt. Vernon, and The Everyman Theatre. Both offer a mix of works by big-name playwrights, old and modern, and those by local talents, including new works. For the truly out-there, though, you’ll have to check out Baltimore’s underground theater scene in Station North, including the Single Carrot Theatre (120 W. North Ave.) and the women-centered Strand Theater Company (1823 N. Charles St.). As for touring Broadway productions, you’ll find most of those at the aforementioned Lyric Opera House and especially The Hippodrome Theatre (12 N. Eutaw St.).

Charles Theater via bmoremedia.com

What about movies? Serious film buffs should head to The Senator Theatre (5904 York Rd.) and the Charles Theatre (1711 N. Charles St.) in Station North, both sites of John Waters premieres. The Senator only shows one film at a time, but the Charles features a number of indie films, foreign and short films, as well as the usual Oscar bait. The main conventional theaters in the city are the Rotunda Cinematheque (711 W. 40th St.) near Hopkins and Harbor East Landmark Theatres (645 S. President St.).

As for the visual arts, Baltimore has a ton of great art museums. The main one is the Baltimore Museum of Art (10 Art Museum Drive), located near Hopkins. This is where you’ll find your big-name artists: Warhol, Matisse, the impressionist masters and so on. If you’re more into older art, like from ancient Egypt or Renaissance Europe, you’ll find plenty of that at the BMA but your main destination should be the Walters Art Museum (600 N. Charles St.) in Mt. Vernon, which specializes in art from antiquity to the 19th century.

American Visionary Art Museum via The Guardian

Both the BMA and the Walters are totally free, but you’ll have to pay for Baltimore’s most unique art museum, the American Visionary Art Museum (800 Key Highway) in Federal Hill. The AVAM specializes in “outsider art”; it’s particular notable for its works made out of unusual materials, including intricate busts carved from Styrofoam cups and a totem pole created by blowtorching plastic bins. If you have to visit one art museum while you’re in Baltimore, make it this one, because you won’t find anything like it elsewhere. As for galleries: they can be found all over the city, particularly more upscale and artsy neighborhoods like Mt. Vernon or Harbor East, but the center of underground art is in northern Mt. Vernon and Station North, that is, near MICA, which itself hosts numerous showings and performances throughout the school year.

 

EAT, DRINK AND BE MERRY

 

Okay, so now that you’ve been jamming to some great tunes and looking at some great art, you’re probably feeling your tummy start to grumble. Not to worry, Baltimore is a fantastic restaurant city, too!

Crabs! via coconutandlime.com

Crabs: Obviously, the main culinary draw to Baltimore is its famous Maryland blue crabs. Whether you like them hard-shell, soft-shell, or fried in a crab cake, Baltimore is the place for all your crustacean needs. Crab cakes are available everywhere, every place bills themselves as “Baltimore’s best crab cake” and you basically cannot go wrong with one in this city. It’s steamed crabs where you have to dig a bit more; for those, my family tends to favor the suburban Ocean Pride (1534 York Rd., Lutherville) and harbor-front Canton joint Bo Brooks (2780 Lighthouse Point).

Other seafood: Good seafood, in general, is not hard to come by in this city. Two popular tourist destinations for seafood, near the Inner Harbor, are Phillip’s (601 E. Pratt St.), which recently opened a deck for steamed crabs, and The Rusty Scupper (402 Key Highway). Both are on the pricey side by a long shot, but are worth checking out if it’s your first visit to Baltimore and have some money to throw around. One of my seafood essentials is Bertha’s Mussels (734 S. Broadway) in Fells Point, which has the BEST mussels you will find anywhere. You can order them with a variety of sauces, or you can get one of the specials, such as one with a Thai coconut sauce or beer-battered with Old Bay seasoning. Baltimore also has a million sushi restaurants; everyone has their personal favorite, and mine happens to be Chiu’s Sushi (608 S. Exeter St.) in Harbor East. With its wide selection, there’s something for just about every palate (including vegetarian sushi!) and if you’re feeling adventurous, you can get a side of baby octopus or jellyfish.

 

One World Cafe via The Baltimore Sun

Vegan/Vegetarian: I often find myself chowing down on the vegan sandwiches and soups at Milk & Honey (816 Cathedral St.); this extremely veg-friendly cafe has something on every section of its menu to accommodate herbivores, including a variety of vegan pastries from local bakeries like Dirty Carrots. It’s also a mini-grocery store filled with organic and locally-grown goods. Another one in Mt. Vernon is Red Emma’s (800 Saint Paul St.), an anarchist coffee shop/bookstore where vegan fare is more the rule than the exception. And Hopkins student favorite Carma’s Cafe (3120 Saint Paul St.) always has at least a few delicious vegetarian or vegan options among its daily specials, while the nearby One World Cafe (100 West University Parkway) seems to specialize in vegan desserts and cheap lunch eats. The blink-and-you’ll-miss-it Soup’s On (11 W. Preston St.) near the University of Baltimore campus has a wide variety of cheap soups and open-face sandwiches, a huge chunk of which are vegetarian or vegan. And while I’ve mostly had their burgers, my friends tell me that Hampden’s Golden West Cafe (1105 W. 36th St) has a lot of tasty vegan selections as well.

The Helmand via helmand.com

International Flavors: Afghan restaurant The Helmand (806 N. Charles St.) is owned by the brother of Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai, and man, is it delicious. It’s also fairly healthy and veg-friendly, but make sure you stay for dessert and try some of the cocktails. Helmand’s block in Mt. Vernon has a wide variety of South and Southeast Asian restaurants; across the street, check out the $10 weekday lunch buffet at Indian restaurant Indigma (801 N. Charles St.). And only a stone’s throw away, you’ll find chic French bistro Marie Louise (904 N. Charles St.) and Ethiopian favorite Dukem (1100 Maryland Ave.). If Italian food is your forte, look no further than Little Italy; it’s probably quicker to list the Italian restaurants here that aren’t good than those that are, so you really can’t go wrong. You must check out the dessert menu at Vaccaro’s (222 Albemarle St.), especially its gelato and cannoli. The latter are so good that even my sister, who normally hates cannoli, adores them. If you’re more into Mexican, Holy Frijoles (908 W. 36th St.) in Hampden has a huge and varied menu, including massive burritos served with a fresh, spicy house salsa. Lastly, nestled among the cookie-cutter chain restaurants of the Inner Harbor’s Harborplace pavilions, check out the Irish-themed sports bar Tir Na Nog (201 E. Pratt St.), with entrees like shepherd’s pie and “Irish-style” bangers and mash alongside traditional bar fare.

Other Cool Places to Eat: Coffee shops! Baltimore has a lot of them. Many of the places I’ve already mentioned (Milk & Honey, Carma’s, One World and Red Emma’s, for example) are also good for coffee; some others popular with students-on-a-budget are Mt. Vernon’s Koffee Therapy (6 E. Franklin St.) and Donna’s Charles Village (3101 Saint Paul St.). XS (1307 N. Charles St.), one of my favorites, is an interesting blend of coffee shop, sushi/Asian fusion restaurant, bar (with tasty, but potent cocktails) and art gallery. Iggie’s (818 N. Calvert St.) and Kyro Pizza (900 Cathedral St.) are great pizza joints, but be prepared for something a bit more interesting than just pepperoni or cheese. Local chain Sofi’s Crepes has a variety of very cheap savory and sweet crepes, and multiple locations in the city: in Station North by the Charles Theatre (1723 N. Charles St.) and at Belvedere Square near the Senator (5911 York Rd.). Lastly, if you need some place to impress your parents and don’t mind spending a lot of money, try some inventive, locavore gourmet at Woodberry Kitchen (2010 Clipper Park Rd., No. 126).

Drinking/Nightlife, Queer: While there are scattered gay bars and “lesbian nights” all over the city, most of Baltimore’s queer nightlife is centered around Charles and Eager Streets in Mt. Vernon, where you’ll find the two most popular gay nightclubs: Grand Central (1001/1003 N. Charles St.) and Club Hippo (1 W. Eager St.). The Hippo has a generally older clientele than its counterpart across the street. Grand Central is where most of the younger queers hang out, especially gay dudes, but it has a good mix of queer ladies, too, and even has a special lesbian lounge, Sappho’s, open Fridays and Saturdays. Grand Central’s drinks can be crazy expensive if you don’t go when they have specials (like Wednesday’s $1 drinks), so keep an eye on your wallet; it’s easy to let money slip through your fingers as you order drink after drink when you’re there on a crazy weekend night. Lastly, while more of a hipster bar than a gay bar, Club Charles (1724 N. Charles St.) in Station North has a proud reputation in the queer community as one of the supposed haunts of John Waters.

 

Grand Central Baltimore via 10best.com

Drinking/Nightlife, General: The Brewer’s Art (1106 N. Charles St.), one of Baltimore’s most famous bars; it serves a variety of local brews as its house beers, most famously the Resurrection Ale, and the food is pretty good, too. The Power Plant Live (34 Market Place) complex near the Inner Harbor is one of the most popular and biggest places for drinking and dancing all night. Or you could just head over to Fell’s Point or Federal Hill and crawl through their numerous cheap bars. If you’re interested in history, go to the former and check out The Horse You Came In On Saloon (1626 Thames St.); while it looks like just another typical Fells Point sports bar (and pretty much is), it holds the distinction of being the oldest continuously-operating bar in the U.S., open since 1775 and even during Prohibition. Edgar Allan Poe himself was a patron and according to legend, he had his last drink there before he died. Spooky!

 

OTHER BIG ATTRACTIONS

 

Oriole Park at Camden Yards via andrewclem.com

Sports: Baltimoreans are absolutely crazy for their sports teams, especially the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens. M&T Bank Stadium (1101 Russell St.) tickets are not cheap or easy-to-get, though, and in 2010 a lesbian couple was ousted from the stadium for kissing. However, you shouldn’t have trouble seeing the city’s other major-league sports team, the Baltimore Orioles (unless they’re playing the hated Yankees or Red Sox). Oriole Park at Camden Yards (333 W. Camden St.) is one of the country’s nicer baseball stadiums, and 2012 has been on of the most successful seasons for “the O’s” in years, so get out there and show your orange! For those who prefer the other kind of football, Baltimore has a men’s indoor soccer team, the Baltimore Blast. If you’re into horse racing, you probably already know that Baltimore is home to the second jewel in the Triple Crown, the Preakness Stakes. Lacrosse is one of the region’s biggest high school and college sports, with some of the best teams in the country, like Johns Hopkins and men’s national champions Loyola University, in the area. And of course, it’s impossible to write a queer girl’s guide to Baltimore sports without mentioning the Charm City Roller Girls, the city’s roller derby league. The first bout of the 2012-2013 season, with the Mobtown Mods vs. the Night Terrors and the Junkyard Dolls vs. the Speed Regime, is Sept. 8th, 6:30 pm at Du Burns Arena (1301 S. Ellwood Ave.).

Educational Attractions: The National Aquarium in Baltimore (501 E. Pratt St.) is a must for any visit to Charm City. With special exhibits ranging from jellyfish to sharks, from the Amazon to Australia to Maryland’s own aquatic species, it’s got something for every sea lover. For general science geeks, there’s also the Maryland Science Center (601 Light St.) which, while often billed as a kid-focused museum, has plenty to offer adults, too, including a state-of-the-art planetarium and an IMAX Theatre. If you’re interested in African-American History, check out the Smithsonian-affiliated Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History & Culture (830 E. Pratt St.) near the Inner Harbor. One of my favorites is The Baltimore Museum of Industry (1415 Key Highway), where you can discover the city’s labor history and the technologies behind those industries; exhibits cover everything from an old-fashioned pharmacy to print shops to canneries, and much more. Classic lit lovers will likely want to visit some of the city’s many sites associated with Edgar Allan Poe; this website has a list of them, the most notable ones being the Poe House and Museum at 203 Amity St., and his gravesite at Westminster Hall (515 W. Fayette St.). And of course, American history buffs will want to see Fort McHenry (2400 E. Fort Ave.), the place that inspired Francis Scott Key to pen the U.S. national anthem, though expect it to be extra-busy this year due to the War of 1812 bicentennial.

 

Red Emma’s via redemmas.org

The City That Reads: This used to be the city’s motto, and it’s demonstrated through Baltimore’s variety of interesting bookstores. The Inner Harbor boasts a huge Barnes and Noble in the location of the city’s former Power Plant (601 E. Pratt St.); there’s also a sizable one in Towson (1 E. Joppa Rd. #100, Towson) across the street from the Town Center mall. In terms of smaller and used book shops, one of my favorite drains on my wallet was Salamander Used Books (519 N. Charles St., Lower Level) in Mt. Vernon. The neighborhood also boasts The Book Escape (10 N. Calvert St.), which includes both new and used titles and has a second location in Federal Hill (805 Light St.), and the previously-mentioned anarchist bookstore/coffeehouse collective Red Emma’s, which has a great selection of queer- and feminist-related books (along with ones on any other progressive topic your bleeding heart desires). The LGBT/queer section at Red Emma’s particularly has a lot of books on trans* and gender-identity issues; they take up about half of that shelf. If you’re out in the suburbs, there’s Ukazoo Books (730 Dulaney Valley Rd., Towson), which seems to give out a free book coupon every year at the Baltimore Book Festival. But what if you want to read but don’t have any money? Well, you could always go to the Enoch Pratt Free Library (with locations throughout the city, but the nicest is their Central Branch at 400 Cathedral St.), but if you want free books to keep, there’s the legendary Book Thing (3001 Vineyard Lane), where you can take or leave all the free books you want.

Shop ‘Till You Drop: If you’re a mall rat, your main two destinations will be The Gallery and Harborplace Pavilions (200 E. Pratt St.) at the Inner Harbor, and Towson Town Center (825 Dulaney Valley Rd., Towson) out in the suburbs. The latter is much bigger, and a tad more upscale in its selection than the former. But Baltimore also has tons of downtown window-shipping: you’ll find quirky boutiques in Hampden, upscale boutiques in Harbor East, cultural artifacts in Mt. Vernon, etc. – the city is your oyster!

 

Northern Sea Nettle at the National Aquarium

 

FESTIVALS AND EVENTS

 

Baltimore has a number of festivals throughout the year. Some of my personal favorites are:

JHU Spring Fair (Johns Hopkins University Homewood Campus) weekend in mid-to-late April: Basically Hopkins’s biggest party during the year, the Spring Fair can give you a full day of fun: from every type of carnival food you can imagine (and some you probably didn’t), to a bazaar full of local crafts, to booths for Hopkins student organizations, even rides! The best-known part is the JHU Beer Garden, where Hopkins student organizations ranging from Greek organizations to the College Democrats line up to sell you cheap draft beers to raise funds.

Flower Mart (Mount Vernon), first weekend in May: A small but cute festival, Flower Mart floods the area around the Washington Monument with stalls dedicated to every kind of greenery you could imagine, not just flowers as the name suggests, but also vegetables and herbs, and even carnivorous plants! The fair is almost just as notable for selling lemons with peppermint sticks, a favorite summer treat.

HonFest (Hampden), first weekend in June: In the Baltimore accent (“Bawlmerese”), “hon” is a popular term of endearment. In this festival dedicated to Baltimore’s “hons,” women come dressed in beehive hairdos a la Hairspray and feather boas to compete for the honor of “Bawlmer’s Best Hon.” You can check out the costumes or wear one, or just peruse the many booths and enjoy the live music and carnival foods.

 

Baltimore Pride via baltimore.about.com

Baltimore Pride (Mount Vernon and Druid Hill Park), mid-June: Baltimore’s Pride Festival is relatively small compared to other large cities, and easy to ignore if you live outside of Mount Vernon, but if you’re in that area at all, don’t expect to go anywhere near Charles Street without being bombarded with rainbow flags, especially on Saturday, the day of the Pride Parade. The weekend also includes huge dance parties in many of the city’s gay bars, particularly those in the Charles and Eager St. area; the area hosts a giant block party the night of the Pride Parade. On Sunday, the action moves to Druid Hill Park in the northwest part of the city where the Pride Festival includes booths, live music, carnival games and even family events.

Artscape (Station North, mid-July): Artscape takes up a huge chunk of the area around Penn Station with a massive free art fair, live bands and carnival rides and food. Unlike more typical art fairs, though, Artscape doesn’t limit itself to the visual arts; Mt. Vernon and Station North’s various arts venues also use it as a chance to flood the area with concerts, theatrical performances and film screenings, many of them featuring new or experimental fare.

Otakon (Baltimore Convention Center), weekend in July or early August: Otakon is the second-largest anime convention in the U.S. and the largest on the East Coast; you might remember the article I wrote about it this year. The next Otakon is scheduled for August 9-11, 2013. While the registration fee can be steep, you’re guaranteed to have fun if you’re interested in just about any aspect of Japanese pop culture, even if you’re not quite dedicated enough to brave the heat and humidity in full costume.

Baltimore Book Festival (Mount Vernon), last weekend in September: Every major local bookstore makes an appearance, and it’s easy to throw away tons of money on used books, but that’s not the only reason to go, the Book Festival also includes talks and signings by local authors. For example, in the Children’s Tent two years ago I got to meet two of my adolescent literary idols, Margaret Peterson Haddix and Scott Westerfeld.

 

Christmas House via christmasstreet.com

Lighting of the Monument (Mount Vernon), first Thursday in December: During the holiday season (and often throughout the winter), Mt. Vernon’s Washington Monument (older than the one in D.C., as locals will tell you) is strung with bright Christmas lights, and when the lights officially go up, one of the parks surrounding it hosts a festival filled with food stands and choral performances of holiday music, including by the renowned Morgan State University Choir. The festival starts at 5:30 pm, while the actual lighting happens at 7:30, accompanied by a display of fireworks. The event more or less signals the beginning of the holiday season in downtown Baltimore.

Miracle on 34th Street (Hampden), December and early January: Every year during the Christmas season, one residential bloc in Hampden’s 34th Street goes all-out for the holidays, with every resident draping their house in elaborate light displays and holiday sculptures.

 

GETTING AROUND

 

Within the city:

The Charm City Circulator will take you through most of the touristy sections of the city and is generally much safer than the money-charging MTA buses.

Charm City Circulator via The Baltimore Sun

For other free buses, you can check the various college-specific shuttles, although some of them will require proof of school ID. There are two main multi-campus ones: the first is the Baltimore Collegetown Shuttle, which goes between the campuses of Johns Hopkins (main Homewood campus), Goucher, Towson University, Loyola, Notre Dame of Maryland, Morgan State and MICA, as well as the Towson Town Center mall and Penn Station. The second option is the JHMI Shuttle, used to transport Hopkins students between the Homewood campus, Peabody and the medical campus, as well as Penn Station. Officially, you are supposed to be a Johns Hopkins student or faculty member in order to use it, but I have never seen them check IDs except with people who look suspicious. And it’s fairly reliable as long as you know the schedule (it can have strange times, like 20-25 minutes past the hour instead of 15 or 30).

The MTA Buses can be hit-or-miss; they aren’t free ($1.60 one-way, and you have to use exact change) or fast. And depending on which route you take, safety can be an issue. You’ll need to check with a local to make sure that the route you want to take is one that’s safe to use, or, at the very least, look at the whole route map to see if it goes through any unsafe neighborhoods. It can also be somewhat unreliable, especially on days with special events that block up traffic. Even on regular days, drivers will sometimes skip your stop entirely if there are only a few people waiting at it, whereas the Circulator and JHMI Shuttle will almost always stop. On the plus side, the MTA Maryland website has a really nifty “trip planner” for when you need to get someplace by a specific time, telling you all the specific details of when/where/which bus you need to get on and off.

 

Out of the city:

One of my favorite things about living in Baltimore is how close it is to so many other large cities. Going by car, Washington, D.C. is about 45 minutes to an hour away, Philadelphia is about two hours, New York City is three and a half and Pittsburgh is four and a half hours. There are just about always trains going to and arriving from those cities at Penn Station, as well as a number of cheap bus options for trips to the first three, especially for D.C. If you take the Bolt Bus on the right day, it can cost as low as one dollar.

Two popular summer destinations for Baltimore residents are the Eastern Shore’s resort town of Ocean City, with its 10-mile beach and boardwalk, and Pennsylvania’s Hershey Park, a theme park that’s basically a giant ad for the chocolate company. They’re about three hours and two hours (respectively) from Baltimore by car.

image via shutterstock

Ocean Cityimage via shutterstock

LGBT RIGHTS IN BALTIMORE

 

Baltimore is a pretty good city to live in for LGB rights. Maryland state law officially prohibits job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and marriage equality was passed by the state legislature and signed into law here by Governor Martin O’Malley (D) on March 1st of this year. Maryland’s political climate generally runs blue; the western Applachian foothills and the Eastern Shore are more conservative, but most people live in the liberal Baltimore and D.C. metro areas in the middle. But if you’re interested in LGBT rights political activism, 2012 is a big year for that; anti-gay forces in the state have successfully put marriage equality on the ballot this year, and Maryland has a good chance of being the first state where the gays win at the ballot box. You can get involved with Marylanders for Marriage Equality to help ensure that happens (and make sure to vote “YES” on the ballot question this November)!

 

GLCCB Baltimore via The Washington Blade

Baltimore also has an LGBT community center, The Gay and Lesbian Community Center of Baltimore (GLCCB) (24 W. Chase St.) which is celebrating its 35th anniversary this year. Some of its unique features include The LGBT History Project, a video series focusing on the lives of older LGBT Baltimoreans; a special Baltimore travel guide and website for LGBT visitors; and a special youth support group, SAIM (Sufficient As I Am), for queer people ages 24 and under. The GLCCB presents Baltimore in its travel guide as a gay-friendly city, and I would agree; as an out queer woman whose social circle is mostly queer as well, I’ve never felt unsafe in this city, and have usually felt accepted for my sexuality when I’m open about it.

Unfortunately, trans* rights aren’t quite as secure in the Old Line State. The state’s anti-discrimination laws have no protections for gender identity, and recent attempts to move bills securing those rights through the state legislature have failed, with the typical transphobic tropes about “men crossdressing to peek at women in bathrooms” popping up in floor discussions. And the bill in question, while supported by “mainstream” gay rights groups in the state like Equality Maryland, was largely opposed by trans* activist groups for failing to protect homeless trans* Marylanders. Rosedale in Baltimore County was also where trans woman Chrissy Lee Polis was attacked last year for using a women’s bathroom at a McDonald’s, a hate crime which galvanized the trans* community to push for change in Maryland and nationwide. As a cisgender woman I can’t personally speak for the trans* community here, but that incident alone leads me to think that Baltimore isn’t quite as safe for the T in LGBT. If you want to get involved to make things better, Trans Maryland is one of the state’s biggest trans* rights groups; the GLCCB also has a list of support groups that meet at the center regularly, including specific ones for trans men and trans women.

 

THE SAFETY ISSUE

 

via Baltimore City Paper

I’m a native of Detroit, so I grew up associating big cities with danger. But unlike the Motor City, Baltimore doesn’t really fit the violent reputation it’s been given by pop culture; while The Wire may be a realistic account of life in certain parts of the city, it’s very easy to visit Baltimore or even live here for years without dealing with that part of it at all. But the “unsafe” marker isn’t wholly undeserved. Here are some tips I picked up from my four years in “Harm City”:

All the basic stuff applies: There’s safety in numbers, don’t draw unnecessary attention to yourself, don’t leave any valuables visible in a parked car or apartment window, etc.

Certain neighborhoods are safer than others, but no neighborhood is 100% safe in Baltimore. Always be aware of your surroundings. Don’t go walking around listening to music or texting, and if you don’t have your wits about you (like if you’re drunk, high, super-tired or whatever), make sure you have a sober friend nearby to keep an eye on things.

Trust your instincts.

Get to know some locals and find out where the parameters are for where you shouldn’t go, as they vary by neighborhood. In Mt. Vernon, the rules of thumb were “don’t go west of Howard Street, east of the highway, or to the area between Station North and Charles Village.” In general, though, stay out of West Baltimore or northern East Baltimore unless you have a specific reason to be there (like if you’re a student at JHU’s medical campus, which is located in the latter).

Walk confidently and with purpose! Looking scared or lost will make you look like an easier target.

Check out this safety primer from City Paper’s 2010 College Guide. Did you know that if you’re on a one-way street, it’s safer to walk on the driver’s side? The more you know!

So whether you’re here for college, for good or just for a week of fun, I hope I’ve given you enough info to make your stay in Baltimore a success. While I’m excited to get to know a new place, I’m very sad to leave this one behind, so be sure to say hi for me!

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Rose is a 24-year-old Detroit native currently living in Boston, where she is working on her master's degree in musicology. Classical music, history, 1960s rock bands, cartoons, cats, Diet Coke, old movies and the Detroit Tigers are just a few of her favorite things. Besides Autostraddle, she works as a streaming reviewer for Anime New Network and has also written for Bitch and her own media-analysis blog. You should follow her on Twitter and Tumblr.

Rose has written 69 articles for us.

57 Comments

  1. Thumb up 2

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    Just moved out of Bmore (write a queer girl city guide for Austin somebody!! need to find queer shit!!!) and the queer girl city guide stokes my homesickness.

    showspace.tumblr.com is where all the diy/underground/weird shows are posted. that is where you will find the future islands in a parking lot on a friday night, for anyone not in the know.

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    My hometown!

    I was a private school girl, where does your mom teach? (smalltimore!)

    A couple personal notes from my experience (I can’t comment on bars or the like because I’m only 19 and I don’t have a fake and I didn’t need to because who does in high school?):
    -Holy Frijoles is SLOW. Like, slowest service I have ever endured.
    – I think the MTA is 1.65? I used to take it weekly to an after-school program at Centerstage, my line (61) was pretty reliable because it went through a lot of rich neighborhoods.
    – Donna’s isn’t a coffeeshop! The one in Charles Village might be more like one because it is tiny, but the one in Roland Park/Coldspring area is a fantastic full-service restaurant that is perfect for practically every occasion. There and the Helmand are my family’s go-to’s.
    – As for fancy pizza that isn’t Iggie’s….how could you leave out Joe Squared?!! The best. The best! and live music sometimes!

    Also, I’m a little surprised you didn’t address how stunningly segregated Baltimore is. I am not really knowledgeable enough to write about it, but it’s very very true and I think it’s an important thing to note in any kind of essay about Baltimore– no matter what your race, you will feel entirely out of place and a bit unwelcome in one area or another. And it sucks, but the “scary” areas are all within mostly black neighborhoods (also, a lot of white Baltimoreans act like all black neighborhoods are scary, but that’s…not accurate. that’s racism. good job Baltimore). So yeah, be prepared for that before you move or visit if you’re accustomed to a more diverse city (ie, basically any city. every city has some level of certain-ethnicity-only neighborhoods, but I can only think of 2-3 racially mixed neighborhoods in all of Baltimore).

    All that said, YAY BALTIMORE IS ON AUTOSTRADDLE YAY

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      super right about the racism thing. it’s hard to phrase it for this audience, because I know autostraddle writers are not into perpetuating racism. but in baltimore “unsafe” is code for “black”, and while I would not advise a visitor to go strolling through east baltimore at midnight, the patchwork segregation of the city is obvious, especially around for instance north ave and charles street, an area which has been heavily gentrified recently.

      as an example, the blocks between station north and charles village aren’t really “dangerous” although the people living in them are black on the whole. yeah every once in a while somebody gets mugged–or worse–there, but it’s more about the oblivious hopkins students in Charles village than it is about the people living between north ave and 30th street. all these neighborhoods that the fun kids like to go are pretty much lined up in a row, and while there might be blocks between that are quiet at night (homes not restaurants/bars/venues, and mostly black people living in those homes), it’s all okay. if you have to catch a cab, they’re frequent on these main roads and way cheap.

      and everyone should go to carma’s. and also chocolatea, off canterbury a block north of university, is a fantastic cafe –typical cafe fare but also tons of asian food on the menu, vegetarian options, and a billion drinks. like fancy hot chocolates full of stuff and also fancy tea.

      but for real makes me happy to see bmore here.

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        As I said, it was a rule of thumb I was told as a student at Peabody; I should probably have clarified that I knew plenty of people who went to concerts there and were fine as long as they were careful, and it’s not nearly as unsafe as some of the other areas I mentioned. It’s been gentrified a lot, as you said (and it’s unfortunate that “gentrification” seems to make people think an area is “safer”); from what I’ve heard, it’s more that one needs to be careful of the area further east of Charles Street (reaching into East Baltimore) than the North Ave./Charles St. intersection itself. For the record, I generally stayed out of the North Ave. area personally (if only because I never really had any reason for being there) except when I was working a job in Towson one year and I took the no. 11 bus which has several stops in that area, and the JHMI shuttle goes through it but doesn’t stop between Penn Station and 27th Street.

        Anyway, I definitely understand the issues with how our ideas about safe vs. unsafe are often informed by racial biases and stereotypes and I don’t want to be perpetuating that and so I’m sorry if I should have been more careful with that section. When I lived in Baltimore I tended to err on the safe side and not question the safety advice I was given (because the couple of times I have questioned my instincts because I was worried they might be based on stereotypes, it turned out my instincts were right and I narrowly escaped a bad situation) but maybe I should have.

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      My mom teaches at Bryn Mawr in the Upper School. Which school did you attend (if that’s not a creepy thing to ask)?

      As for your query about segregation, the reason I didn’t stress the segregation is probably because I’m from Detroit, which is one of the most racially segregated metropolitan areas in the U.S. (much more so than Baltimore) so by comparison Baltimore didn’t seem as segregated to me. But yeah, now that I’m living in Boston (which seems less segregated? I’ve only been here for a little less than a month) I can definitely see what you’re talking about with Baltimore.

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          Oh no it’s totally cool! It’s a good discussion to have, about how we define “safety” and how much of those markers are legit and how many are based on social biases. I think part of the problem is that “safe” areas vs. “unsafe” areas are always going to be subjective since it’s not like it’s the sort of thing people put in guidebooks or whatever.

          Also re: my mom I responded to your PM about it…

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      You’re right about the other Donna’s, the one in Cross Keys I think? I’ve been there and it’s a very fancy restaurant. The one in Charles Village and the one that used to be in Mt. Vernon before it burned down (for shame – it was right across the street from my apt. building and I’d go there all the time!) also have sit-down tables and you can get a full meal there, but they have a bit more of a coffee-shop vibe to them and I thought of those since I always went to those more frequently than I did to the one in Cross Keys.

      But definitely, the food is delicious too. I was always a huge fan of their lamb burgers and their mussels (though they’re not as delicious as Bertha’s)!

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      True and on the other hand, I feel like you can just do you in Baltimore. Dress how you want, talk how you want. Unlike parts of D.C. where you have to look and act a certain way, Baltimore is pretty laid back. You can be as much of an oddball as you want. There is a flock for everyone.

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    Would you please join us and keep us posted on any gay theatre going on in Baltimore?

    Gay Theatre on Yahoo Groups is a forum for those who present, create, or just enjoy gay-themed theatre in the world. It is a great resource for gay theatre information, a place to promote your work, writing, productions, to just talk about things you’ve seen, or to find out what might be happening in your neck of the woods, or a far away place that you may be traveling. We’re scouting for information and new members. Spread the word to your theatre friends. There is a calendar, and an e-list. And the best thing is, unlike FB, information doesn’t whiz by so fast you’ll miss it if you have hundreds of ‘friends’ who post about what they ate for lunch, or share more apps than actually talk.

    http://groups.yahoo.com/group/gaytheatre/

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    YAY- WE’VE BEEN WAITING FOR THIS ONE!!!!!!!! COME HERE, QUEERS! MICA is a the town’s queer mecca, being an arts school. The femme conference was held here right near one world cafe, just the other week! ALSO-You forgot Read Street Books! It is the best place for used and new queer lady friendly books- Lesbian owned and often overlooked, you can get a yummy mocha made by the owner- they even used to attract all the ladies in town for their weekly l- word watching parties.

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    This is an amazing city guide! So in depth. Awesome work Rose! I have to say I’m very interested to come see it now, although I’ve actually been a fan since watching The Wire.

    And let me say that The Wire never made me think it is a crime ridden cesspool, just that parts of it are. Which is probably true, but then that hardly makes it unique.

    Also boy do I love that show! Sorry, I have to say that whenever it gets mentioned. It’s not something I can control.

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    Just a note about one of the places I recommended for crabs: Ocean Pride actually will ship crab cakes and I think steamed hard-shell crabs as well to other parts of the U.S.! I mean, it’s expensive, but it’s a good idea for an occasional nice dinner if you’re stuck in some area of the country (like my hometown, Detroit) where the crabs are not as good! My family used to do this all the time when we still lived in MI.

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    Thank you for doing this write up. I’m so fucking sick of The Wire comparison. Baltimore is no worse than any other major city. There are safe parts and dangerous parts. I actually stopped watching Anthony Bourdain after that botched up job he did on the Baltimore episode of No Reservations. Baltimore is like my little brother. I talk smack about it because I’m from here but I will defend it’s honor against anyone else who says anything about it.

    Also, also, also. Any Native American Indian queer folk (I use all three ’cause I’m still not sure what the correct term is) rise on up. There is a population of NAI living in Baltimore. Who knew?

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      Honestly, as a Motown native I always wondered why there weren’t more crime shows about Detroit. (There was that attempt to do one with Detroit 187 but I heard it was mostly crappy and inauthentic, which I guess is kind of to be expected when they use California’s murder code for a show that takes place in Michigan…) Detroit’s dangerous reputation is far more deserved than Baltimore’s.

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        Baltimore’s bad reputation is amplified because it’s surrounded by massively wealthy suburban and rural areas. I find that the ones who talk most about baltimore being such an awful dangerous place are older people who have since moved away from communities like locust point and only have contact with their past through the news and entitled suburban kids. When I lived in harford county as a teenager, my peers literally thought I was insane for going to shows at sonar and rams head. I was reminded constantly that I was “going to get shot”

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          Detroit’s pretty similar, tbh. At least before the auto industry collapse hit and completely totaled (car pun intended) the southeast Michigan economy, a lot of the surrounding suburbs (especially in eastern Oakland County and in the Grosse Pointe area) were among some of the wealthiest areas in the country. And I’d say the fear that suburbanites in Detroit have of the city is much higher than in Baltimore – I remember that on class trips to the Detroit Institute of Art or to a Tigers game (both the DIA and Comerica Park are located in downtown Detroit), there were people who’d start freaking out about the second we crossed 8 Mile. One girl even started CRYING once. My parents were always seen as unusual and “putting their kids at risk” because they’d occasionally take us on trips to (the safer parts of) the city. My mom wanted me to grow up with a connection to the city of Detroit, not to be another typical sheltered suburbanite.

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          See also: Carroll County. Mostly the middle-age to older adults. The kids didn’t worry about going to the concerts and clubs.

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        I work an inconsistent schedule, so I haven’t really made plans yet. So far the only set thing is going out early Sunday afternoon until Sunday night bar hopping in canton. From what I’ve heard about canton I don’t really know if I’ll be into it, but who knows. I have 0 queer friends, so I guess I’ll have to venture out mostly on my own for that kind of scene.

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          I’ve never spent much time in Canton (I think the longest amt. of time I spent there was when I took the GRE at a testing center there last November) so I can’t help you there, but have fun!

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    Also wait how could you not mention Paper Moon?!?!!?

    You guys, Paper Moon. Paper Moon is this crazy diner where everything is covered in vintage schticky toys and stuff. And the food is great. It’s a little overpriced and the service is crummy but it’s worth a visit for the ambiance and the fries.

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        Hot mess how?

        Their service is consistently terrible because they have this weird system where you don’t have one person in charge of your shit, it’s just a team effort of whoever’s around, which leads to a lot of terribleness. I have literally no idea why they don’t switch to a more normal system.

        But the fries. And the chocolate torte. And the other day I had a sandwich with no fewer than 3 fried things on it (2 chicken tenders, an onion ring, and bacon. With cheddar, lettuce, tomato, and a little bit of magic mustardy sauce). So.

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          It was a hot ass mess where the service was terrible but I still had a great time eating the fries. I also had the chocolate torte and my sister said I cried because of some dyke drama. The hot ass mess was mostly me amplified by the unconventional waiting system.

          STILL GO…MAYBE NOT DRUNK…DURING THE DAY :D!

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      Oh my God, I never went there but I was totally planning to mention it because all my friends who have gone say it is AWESOME. It’s totally on my list of “things I need to do when I visit my parents there over the holidays.”

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    I went to a Tegan and Sara concert in B-more and it was gay and awesome. I only punched a person ONCE (in the arm) for referencing b-more negatively to The Wire in a racist/classist/generally fucked-up way, so this place is cool. Also. also. also MICA has a lot of cute girls in ALHs, seriously. Aaaand I had the best “stranger/vagabond artist conversation” of my life there.

    I <3 B-more, granted I'm from a snobby DC suburb.

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    you can see ace of cakes from paper moon, it is right around the corner. every time i eat there i wonder if they will pop in. paper moon has the Greatest Apple Pie. perfect place to go with your family. and it is near hampden which has bars and charles village/BMA to see some art so it’s all good.

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    also if any queer women in balt are looking for some good queer analytical friends, I have a bunch of friends who run a feminist reading group. super radical, closed to cismen, real smart people who even do actions sometimes. PM me if you want a link for their info!

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    Maryland blue crabs, yes.

    Once I went to a crab buffet place in Baltimore and ate 9 entire crabs. I started to feel really, really ill, and I blamed it on run-of-the-mill gluttony. Went back to my hotel and discovered I was covered in hives all the way from mid-thigh to forehead. It was a very swollen way to discover an allergy.

    Still love crabs. They are difficult and messy to eat, but they are so tasty, crabs are not on my “too difficult and messy to eat for the amount of gustatory pleasure” list.

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    What ever happened to Guerrilla Gay Bar? They did Max’s in Fell’s Point once, which is beer mecca. I cannot stress this enough. Over 100 beers…on draft. Hundreds more in bottles (maybe 1200-1400). They should pay me for this :-)

    Also, is ladies tea on the first sunday still a thing at the hippo?

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    THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR THIS.
    Also, if you love pizza (as I do), there’s this adorable little pizza place in Fells Point called Brick Oven Pizza (right by the vagabond theatre) where they will put just about anything you can imagine on a pizza. I usually just go for pepperoni and crab meat, but they have all sorts of vegetables, seafood, etc.
    Also, there’s Maxies in Charles village which is a cute little pizza place which I believe also has a bar where lots of the college kids hang out, there’s Charles Village Pub (which has half price munchies on Monday nights) and I believe there’s also a shop in the area (I unfortunately never got the chance to check it out) with quite unique ice cream flavors).
    My favorite pizza place might actually be Tony’s on Wise Ave in Dundalk, however. Just a little place, carryout only, but it’s good pizza.
    The Recher Theatre in Towson is also a pretty decent music venue, and the Towson area also has a lot of restaurants and the mall and whatnot.

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    MY HOME!!! I live in Hampden and love it!! I’m at Golden West far too much but I can’t stay away from the sweet potato fries….

    Also, on the second Saturday of every month there is a really fun event at Grand Central called Rehab… it’s out of control (21+ though… sorry!!)
    That is an absolute must-attend for me. I’ll cancel on almost anything to make it.
    There is usually a facebook event for it every month and if you friend “She Page” you’ll get an invite to help you remember.

    Only downside, the bars close at 2am (what??)

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    I tried to post before, but I’m not sure what happened. If you get this comment twice, feel free to delete one.

    The Senator Theatre is closed, perhaps permanently.

    Will it ever reopen? The Baltimore Development Corporation and their chosen new operators say yes, but the current target date for reopening is Spring of 2013. This is the latest in a series of moving target reopening dates that keep getting pushed back.

    Meanwhile, the renovation project that’s going on there is facing serious problems, as well as future challenges that the operators seem not to foresee. As a result, the historic theatre’s status right now is that it’s very much endangered.

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    I love all of these, and I never knew how queer Baltimore could be. I used to live nearby and never took advantage!

    Someone needs to do an Austin, TX queer guide1 My partner and I are thinking about a move there.

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    Also, the Patterson Park neighborhood is full of queers, mostly because it’s one of those transitional areas. The park itself is great for checking out cute athletic girls doing sporty things or cute non-athletic girls walking their cute dogs. There’s a great wine bar off the park (Linwood & Fayette, I think) called Bistro Rx and I always see tons of lesbians there. They’re slightly pricy but the food is really good and the ambience is nice as well. Also, when it’s warm, you can sit outside with your dog, which is nice too.
    Now I have a question: Has anyone ever been to Port in the Storm? I heard it was a gay-bar but I don’t know anyone who has actually been there…

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