Girlz in Baltimore: Visiting the City With Woman Friends
By Beth D'Addono
Most tourists discover Baltimore's shiny side.They flock to the Inner Harbor with its world class aquarium and upscale mall shopping. Theyfeast on crabs in respectable restaurants and tour the harbor on spiffy white pleasure cruisers.
But there's another side to Baltimore that lurks in the shadows.
Not as freshly painted, more off the beaten track, Baltimore can be weird. Rent any John Waters movie for an inside track -- Waters, the director of such gems is "Pink Flamingos" and "Hairspray" is a Baltimore native, and often sets his movies in his hometown. Waters' Baltimore may not be picture perfect, but it gets under your skin all the same.
There were four of us on the trail -- four women out for a seamy good time. We found it on St. Patty's Day weekend in the city that invented form stone -- poured concrete molded into stone-like shapes and used to cover the facades of houses. It isn't pretty. But then again, we weren't after pretty. Here are a few of the stops we made. You probably know a few more. Baltimore is just that kind of town.
Aliens and more At AVAM
AVAM, the American Visionary Art Museum, was conceived as a platform for untaught artists whose vision of the world compels them to create art, often in a compulsive manner. Driven by a fire within, these artists are housewives, farmers, homeless people, mental patients. Their visions, divine, profane, emotional, are intensely personal and profoundly moving. One recent exhibit, "We Are Not Alone: Angels and Other Aliens,'' showcased the work of 90 artists, all obsessed with aliens in some fashion. The work included pitchfork wielding devils, sexually charged angels, E.T. alien abductors. One couple painted their firsthand experience with probes and spaceships. Another artist discovered beautific angels while in a 19th century lunatic asylum. What's so fascinating about this museum is that the artist's stories are told -- and most of these people are totally out there Artist Oscar Levant once said ³There is a thin line between genius and insanity and I've managed to erase it.² He isn't alone -- the artists of AVAM have all crossed the line. The Art of War and Peace is on exhibit through Sept. 1, followed by High on Life, Transcending Addiction, October 6, 2002- September 1, 2002, 800 Key Highway, Baltimore's Inner Harbor, 410-244-1900. avam.org
The Baltimore Tattoo Museum
Body art is treated with reverence at this Fell's Point tattoo house, where, if you're inspired, you can get yourself a tattoo in a side room or pierce a part of your anatomy. Designs range from the gruesome to the Gothic -- but where the tattoos are etched is sometimes more interesting than what they portray. Eastern & Bond Sts., Fell's Point, 410-522-5800.
And don't miss the Museum of Industry, a journey back in time to Baltimore's Industrial Age, 1415 Key Highway, 410-727-4808 and the National Museum of Dentistry, open wide and think of the torture scene in Marathon Man, 515 W. Lombard St., 410-706-8290.
And When You Get Hungry, There's... Cross Street Market
I love to visit farmer's markets, but there's a disturbing trend afoot. Somebody is cleaning them up. Some cities actually have the nerve to renovate old markets and do silly things like install skylights, spiffy tile floors and smart cafes. I say bah humbug. I'll take the Cross Street Market over those sterile upstarts any day.
A long shambling space full of produce counters, delis and specialty food stands, Cross Street Market may be the best place for people watching in town. We grazed on sushi, crab cakes and a corned beef sandwich in honor of St. Pat. The beer was green, the floor was concrete and the prices were reasonable. We were happy. South Charles and Cross Sts. 410-396-9049
Although Martick's is consistently chosen as one of the top restaurants in the city by Baltimore Magazine, don't hold that against it. The restaurant was having an off night when we visited -- everyone must have been in Fell's Point at the bars for St. Patty's Day. We were the only customers, joined by two more people later in the evening. Located in a less than savory neighborhood, Martick's is housed in a former 1920's Speakeasy, complete with boarded up doors and windows and a bell that you have to ring to gain admission.
Maurice Martick, the chef/owner, greeted us at the door in an offhanded manner, and disappeared into the kitchen after we placed our order with Cliff, the restaurant's lone waiter. Although the sign on the building proclaims French cuisine, the menu was a mish mash of influences, including Italian, Persian and Moroccan. A friend's sweet potato soup was grand, a seafood pasta was tasty, chicken Marsala was confused with tomato sauce and my steak was overcooked and drowned in mustard sauce overkill.Consistency may not be the kitchen's forte, but the place is funky enough to keep on your list. 214 W. Mulberry St. 410-752-5155
Since we were staying in Fell's Point at the Admiral Fell Inn, Jimmy's was a natural choice for breakfast. This neighborhood landmark is the unofficial hang-out for local politicians and any film crew that's in town -- the TV cops from the late ³Homicide² had their own booth in the front. What makes Jimmy's great is that it's the real thing -- a luncheonette with a cast of local characters, and good food at great prices. The morning special -- eggs, home fries, bacon, sausage or scrapple was priced at $3.95 Fuel up and go -- there's bound to be somebody waiting for your table. 801 S. Broadway, 410-327-3273.
The Paper Moon Diner
Toy Story on acid. That about sums up the decor of this 24-hour diner, known for its oversized burgers and sprout-festooned sandwiches on sunflower seed bread. Barbie dolls, whole and in parts, are everywhere -- hanging from the ceiling fan, climbing the walls, perched jauntily on overhead shelves. Action figures, plastic toys, stuffed animals are everywhere -- all looking like they've seen better days. But that's the charm of this offbeat place, there's nothing remotely ordinary about it. Check it out at 227 W. 29th St. 410-889-4444.