Look, when you think about Baltimore, chances are, you think about The Wire. We’re not blaming you; yes, it really is a phenomenally well-crafted show, the harbinger of the golden age of television, yadda yadda. And the truth is, Baltimore has pretty high crime (more murders than Detroit last year!), but there’s so much more to the city than all that. Baltimore manages to maintain this tricky, sweet-and-spicy balancing act of high/low culture that gives it a flavor stronger than Old Bay, and makes it unique in the US.
The American Visionary Art Museum, dedicated to outsider art and self-taught artists, is among the finest in the world, and has earned a lot of critical praise for its profoundly innovative shows that connect with just about anyone, from museum curmudgeons to regular gallery hoppers. Plus, they host the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race, which is… a sight to behold, to say the least.
There are reasons that John Waters keeps apartments in far-flung cities, but primarily resides here: this place is full of gritty glamour. Food carts serve up crabcakes on the street here the way other cities sling hot dogs. The football team is named after a goddamn poem, and still wins Super Bowls. Baltimore’s neighborhoods each have their own distinct character — as well as their own allelotype of rats — from Pigtown (excuse me, “Washington Village”) to Hampden. The artists haven’t gotten priced out yet, so the city’s creativity is still fomenting.
Bear with me for a moment: if the cities of the mid-atlantic seaboard were high school classmates, DC is the high-strung, overachieving, type-A dean’s list student, while Baltimore is the smart, irreverent kid doodling in the back of the room, the one who their teacher secretly likes more and thinks will be more interesting later in life.
And the food, guys. Seriously, the food. People seem to think that Baltimore’s only food idea is to “put some Old Bay on it,” but when it comes to high-end dining, the city can compete with anyone. Restaurants like Woodberry Kitchen are consistently recognized as worthwhile destination dining, and locals all know that if you want cheap, delicious, steamed seafood, all you need to do is visit Cross Street Market. And you have to try the beers here: Stillwater’s saisons are insane, and brews by local brew heroes like Union, DuClaw, and Heavy Seas are making waves nationally.