Hotel RL Baltimore: Hip and Fun

The lobby area of the RL Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland, showing their VW bus used to transport guests around the city. Max Hartshorne photos.
The lobby area of the RL Hotel in Baltimore, Maryland, showing their VW bus used to transport guests around the city. Max Hartshorne photos.

Hotel RL Baltimore: A hotel built for Millennials on the Inner Harbor

King room with trundle bed at the Hotel RL Baltimore.
King room with trundle Murphy bed at the Hotel RL Baltimore. This is a great feature if you’re visiting with kids.

By Max Hartshorne
GoNOMAD Editor

The RL hotel that opened in August 2015 in downtown Baltimore wasn’t designed with Baby Boomers in mind.

No, according to General Manager Bob Pottberg, this new hotel was designed for a special target audience–the many millennials who are taking over the world and who travel to hip new destinations–like Baltimore, Maryland!

Charm City: Baltimore

I visited The Charm City back in April when I was on an assignment in nearby Annapolis. I liked what I saw in a short visit, and was happy to return, again via Amtrak from New England, to tour this hotel and get to know the city a little better.

Like many cities that were once considered sad and scary, Baltimore, despite some of the bad press that resulted from police brutality incidents, is a wonderful vacation destination and is full of great reasons to visit. Plus, and this is the best part, the people who live in Baltimore love it and many would not want to live anywhere else. It’s the Charm City, and it’s having a resurgence.

Common space at Hotel RL is plentiful and comfortable.
Common space at Hotel RL is plentiful and comfortable.

You see the pride when local tour guide Paul Allen talks about the city’s many firsts–first municipal electric light system, first metropolitan sewer system, and especially, the city’s rich history dating back to Colonial times.

“Baltimore was the richest city in the US in the early 1900s,” he told us, as we toured the pretty neighborhood across the water from the Inner Harbor, Fells Point.

Research and Athletic Apparel

Today, the city’s wealth is no longer in shipping and coal, but in medical research and athletic wear.

Famous sports clothing manufacturer Under Armour is located in a converted factory complex right on the Inner Harbor. It was founded by a local man, Kevin Plank, who continues to donate to many local causes and is renovating a waterside building that was once the customs house in Fells Point.

A Hotel Built for the Young

We enjoyed some live music in the Hotel RL’s lobby, and it’s a nightly event here. There is a stage with lighting and video equipment that allows these nightly performances to be viewed on the TVs in every room of the hotel. Not only music, but poetry, talks about politics, and other events are staged here, it’s a key part of the hotel’s strategy to create what Pottberg describes as ‘the fourth room.

“You have work, you have your home and cafes, and we want our hotel lobby to be a place where people can relax and unwind, and enjoy shows like this.”

The performer, who calls her band Reverie, doubles as one of the baristas in the lobby cafe at the Hotel RL. The chain, a division of Red Lion Hotels, has its own food truck, and doling out their free Victrola branded coffee and snacks has been a key part of their marketing efforts.

At the National Aquarium's crab tank, it's a hands-on experience.
At the National Aquarium’s crab tank, it’s a hands-on experience.

Some of the other aspects that reflect their tilt toward Millennials are the check-in that does away with the typical front desk.

You enter and find a kiosk, and you can get your key from the machine, or better–you can use your smartphone as your key!

The hotel has 130 rooms and can fit 100 in their conference area. Best of all, it’s only two blocks from the bustling Inner Harbor, which is the treasure of the city.

Their food truck that dispenses their excellent Victrola coffee and there’s a friendly, Washington State vibe in the hotel. The Red Lion is headquartered in Spokane.

A Diverse Staff

When the hotel was gearing up for their opening, they put out a call for “interesting people.” GM Bob Pottberg explained that “it was their attitude, not their experience that mattered the most to us.” Their goal wasn’t to simply hire people with hotel and food and beverage experience, but instead, they wanted to collect people with a passion for what they were doing.

Bo brooks crab feast in Baltimore.
Bo brooks crab feast in Baltimore.

The city of Baltimore is similar to what’s going on in Pittsburgh PA.

It’s an old city, that has changed over to be driven more by medical research and tourism and is full of students and other young people who thrive in a city with good public transportation, livable apartments, and proximity to the water and easy escapes to Washington DC or New York City.

They’re both very easy since Amtrak’s trains run through the city’s Union Station.

We toured the city in a trolley to soak in some of the historic highlights, which abound.

One of these is Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key wrote the poem about the attack on the fort by the British in 1812, which became the Star-Spangled Banner. Broad lawns right on the water are what you can find here, along with the fort, and it’s served by the city’s extensive water taxi system.

Baltimore has a Museum of Public Works, commemorating the first municipal sewer built here and there is also a preserved Presidential Railroad station where Lincoln’s body was taken after he was assassinated. Today the small building in the shadows of modern high rises is a Civil War Museum.

An Unusual Museum to Say the Least

A collection of Pez dispensers at the American visionary Art Museum.
A collection of Pez dispensers at the American visionary Art Museum.

I enjoyed touring the eclectic American Visionary Art Museum, just across the inner harbor on Federal Hill. This glittery museum, housed in two large former bayside warehouses, is unlike any museum I’ve ever seen.

It’s designed to showcase “outsiders” and people who don’t fit the mold as traditional artists. Some of the exhibits are quite unusual–like a local man’s impressive collection of hundreds of Pez dispensers and a wall of art and commentary all about farts.

Upcoming exhibits include a tribute to hope, titled “The Big Hope Show.” This will be work from 25 artists who have suffered traumas of different kinds, and its title is a nod to the hope that the city needs right now. But it’s a tricky question, just how safe is it in Baltimore? Some people find it humorous, like the bumper sticker on a car I saw outside the museum that read “Baltimore…More than Just Murders.”

Up close with a grouper in Baltimore's National Aquarium.
Up close with a grouper in Baltimore’s National Aquarium.

How Safe is the City?

On my two separate visits to the city, I never felt unsafe and was surrounded by other tourists and friendly locals wherever I went.

Many people told me, however, to be more cautious in the neighborhoods to the west of the Inner Harbor. Still, like so many cities, Baltimore has its problems but most of these issues don’t affect visitors.

If you stay in the main tourist areas, you are not likely to be a crime victim.

On our city tour, we took in beautiful neighborhoods like Fells Point and Little Italy where the once run-down row houses are now prized as residences for the up and coming. There is also a wealth of monuments and free art museums like the Walters Art Museum and a huge tower featuring a toga-wearing George Washington that was erected on the 100th anniversary of his death.

This neighborhood is aptly named Mount Vernon and for anyone who likes seeing beautiful architecture, it’s a must-see.

AJ Jensema, of Charm City Food Tours, shows off his city's food at Fells Point.
AJ Jensema, of Charm City Food Tours, shows off his city’s food at Fells Point.

If you are visiting Baltimore with your family, another must-see stop is the National Aquarium, located right on the Inner Harbor. This collection of 16,000 species of fish and crustaceans is fascinating, and you can get up close and personal with dozens of sharks, manta rays and touch crabs and other animals in shallow pens.

Feeding time is especially interesting when they put a special flag into the water that the fish are trained to understand as the sign of coming food.

A Charm City Food Tour

Another great way to experience Baltimore is to join one of Charm City Food Tour’s nightly excursions. We joined a young man who had recently moved to Baltimore, AJ Jensema, as he took us through the cobblestones of Fells Point to some interesting food destinations. The company runs foodie tours to Fells Point, Mount Vernon, Little Italy and Federal Hill. He’s a perfect example of the many 20-somethings who are finding their home in Baltimore.

We started at a small Polish restaurant called Ze Mean Bean Cafe, to sample some eastern European beers and pirogies, and then made separate stops that included One-Eyed Mike’s, a bar dedicated to Grand Marnier. In this bar, patrons join a club and buy their own bottles of this French liquor, and they invite friends to imbibe from their own private stock.

The tour includes plenty of food, (these little tastes really add up!) plus wine, beer and cocktails for all who imbibe. We ended up enjoying tapas at a marble-covered common table at Tapas Adela, everyone sated and informed about everything we might have wanted to know about the Charm City.

Get in touch with Hotel RL Baltimore
207 East Redwood St.
Baltimore, MD 21202

A great breakfast can be had in the hotel, and if you want something different, walk 50 feet down Redwood Street to Werner’s, 231 Redwood St. This old fashioned diner was the setting for several House of Cards and The Wire scenes and they serve grits. Cheap eats and a fun old-time atmosphere. A great place for a quick lunch is Pot Belly Sandwich shop, 621 East Pratt Street, on the harbor. Good sandwiches, salads, and soups.


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