Sunday, September 26, 2004

Saw a book review in the Sunday Star today and thought people might enjoy it.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

Charm City

Very little point in updating this at all seeing as after three months I imagine both my readers have given up on me completely. However, after a very busy summer teaching and trying to get several projects back on track, I finally treated myself to a few days in Baltimore and thought I should report.

Charm City, as it is known, is one of the more underrated destinations in America (in my humble opinion). First off, it is the hometown of the ombibulous Mr. Mencken and so a good bit of time can be spent drinking with his ghost. The Mencken house is unfortunately closed, probably due to the fact that many Mencken fans go instead to his offices at the Baltimore Sun or, more likely, to the Owl bar at the Belvedere Hotel where Henry Louis and F. Scott Fitzgerald famously got drunk. The Owl Bar makes a pretty good bourbon sour -- i hadn't eaten enough that day to risk a martini -- but I witnessed a few being made and can fairly safely recommend them.

From there, a walk straight down Charles, will take you past the Baltimore Washington Monument and you can enjoy the sights in the lovely Mount Vernon neighborhood as you head towards Inner harbor. Good for a stroll through Inner harbor, which doesn't really have much in the way of culinary delights or fantastic beverages to recommend itself, although I highly recommend taking an afternoon to sit at the outdoor bar at J.Paul's to watch the boats and read a book, preferably the Vintage Mencken or Gina Mallet's Last Chance to Eat.

Once past Inner harbor, make your way down Light Street to Federal Hill, a fairly upscale neighborhood that's home to the Cross Street Market which has an excellent licensed raw bar. Nearby, you will find The Blue Agave, which has the best selection of tequilas I have ever seen -- even in Mexico. Actually there are more varieties of tequila in the United States than there are in Mexico right now, so that's not entirely surprising. We had a nice El Tesoro which isn't pictured on this website and a Blanco Corralejo which, frankly, we both thought was overrated and overpriced. The next day, at Cross Street Liquors, we picked up a bottle of the El Tesoro, a Don Eduardo Blanco and a Hussong's reposado. The Blue Agave also had an excellent Chile Relleno with Mole sauce and made one of the better Margaritas I've ever had in a restaurant.

We thought the most decent after dinner bar in the area was Thirsty Dog on Cross Street. I never asked my companion about the quality of the beer, but I can assure everybody that the quality of the Grand Marnier (they have about thirty bottles on display in the way of other booze) was very good. Dogs are welcome as patrons.

Why are there so many dog motifs, knicknacks and emblems in Baltimore? Well that's the very same question I asked the bartender at the Thirsty Dog. She couldn't say. I asked google. It said:

1886 - H. L. Mencken (1880-1956), newspaperman, book reviewer, and political commentator and writer, wrote:

"I devoured hot-dogs in Baltimore 'way back in 1886, and they were then very far from newfangled....The contained precisely the same rubber, indigestible pseudo-sausages that millions of Americans now eat, and they leaked the same flabby, puerile mustard. Their single point of difference lay in the fact that their covers were honest German Wecke made of wheat-flour baked to crispiness, and not the soggy rolls prevailing today, of ground acorns, plaster-of-Paris, flecks of bath-sponge, and atmospheric air all compact."

Now that's very interesting but not in any way shape or form an answer to my question. It's not just that there's entire stores in the tourist areas devoted to dogs in Baltimore, there's also bars like this, in what I consider one of the better drinking neighborhoods in America. Okay, people are going to say Chicago, but even Wicker Park has no real concentration of bars like Fell's Point in Baltimore. Boston? Not even close. I've never been to Seattle but I'd be shocked. San Francisco, sure, but you can only smoke in the dives or the high end places and there's a level of general pretension that doesn't exist in the Chesapeake Bay area. And then there's New York. Well, New York has better bars. Much better bars.

So if anybody knows the significance of dogs in Baltimore, please let me know.

That great drinking neighborhood is, of course, Fell's Point. I went to Canton too this time, in part because I hadn't really recognized John Waters in Fell's Point and thought his aesthetic would be more obvious in Canton. It wasn't. I had a decent enough time in a place called Speakeasy there but I'm going to have to go to Towson next time.

Fell's Point is not really famous for John Waters. If you're looking for literary ghosts, it's Edgar Allen Poe's you're looking for in Fell's Point, Baltimore. A lot of people don't realize it's Poe's town, despite the fact that the football team is called the Ravens and that they start celebrating Halloween in May.

You probably thought I wasn't ever going to mention crab, but of course I was getting to it. We passed up the famous Obryki's for Crabby Dick's whose name, unbelievably, actually makes people laugh.

I'm not going to tell you the name of my favorite bar in Fell's Point, because what I like about it is that it is actually a local bar and I seem to be one of the few tourists there, even when I take my water taxi from the door of my hotel almost right to its doorstep. What I will tell you is that if you have a chance to see a band called Patrick Alban and his twelve Cuban friends at the Cat's Eye pub or happen into The Horse You Rode In On, neither of them are it. But both are worth going to, as are the Full Moon Saloon and Bertha's Mussels. No, neither of those are my favorite bars either.

Well that's it for now. Apparently I had a lot pent up. If you're still interested, there's a little review in The Toronto Star I found last weekend I think people might enjoy. Writer had a nice touch I thought.