What is it about Baltimore? Is it those white marble stoops that grace the countless row houses in the city? Is it the "fork and knife" -- the giant antennas that you can see from miles away on TV Hill? Is it the scent of Old Bay permeating the air? The infamous Domino's Sugar sign? The cobblestone streets of Fell's Point? The unique sound of Bmore Club?
Wait, surely all of this can't exist in "Bawlmer, Murderland"?!
Wake me up when the masses say something new for a change.
I grew up in this city that continues to house a secret appreciation for history and diversity. And yet most people still consider it as the backdrop of "The Wire," "Homicide" and, if you know your scenery, most of "House of Cards." Anyone who was born and raised here takes an innate pride in Baltimore -- an overlooked mecca of talent, history and its own culture -- and actually cares a lot more about its present and future than the average outsider/blowhard does. Face it: There's a whole lot more to the city than the age-old tales of murder rates and heroin addicts.
Here are just eight reasons why Baltimore still shines on as a mid-Atlantic gem, because -- as everyone from here knows -- why be less when you can Bmore?
Baseball isn't just a pastime here, it's a lifestyle.
It's all thanks to Cal. It has always been thanks to Cal -- at least since my existence. The Ripken family embodies Baltimore sports in a nutshell. The family hails from upper Maryland and I can credit Cal Ripken for many memorable seasons when I knew the entire O's team and paid $13 for decent seats. So, how 'bout dem O's?
Our team hasn't procured a World Series win since 1983, but that hasn't stopped us fans from rallying around them. When Camden Yards replaced the iconic Memorial Stadium, we hailed it as one of the country's most beautiful baseball stadiums, if not the most emblematic stadium. I dare anyone to find a prettier venue for America's classic pastime.
We have one of the largest and longest-running food markets in the world.
My grandmother told me that she would head to Lexington Market frequently to get a secret variety of spices with which she used to make her secret "baked yet fried" chicken recipe. I went there as a kid in my school choir on a few field trips and gorged on food.
Today, it continues to represent the cultural multitude of what makes Baltimore a damn tasty city. You want crab cakes? Done. Fried chicken? Done. Oysters? Done. Huge deli sandwiches? Of course. Lexington Market continues to serve locals and tourists alike with its huge variety of seafood, meats and classic fried dishes.
From cookies to crab, there's homestyle goodness in every bite.
I'm not sure if people imagine a smorgasbord of food when they think of Baltimore -- but they should. Restaurants that have been around for over 50 years dot our landscape and still beckon old and newcomers alike. And of course, there are Baltimore's signature treats:
- Berger Cookies have put smiles on people's faces for over a century, thanks to the cake-like body and fudge topping of the cookie. Nothing compares.
- The roast beef sandwiches at Camden Yards are sinfully smoky and juicy, and if you have not experienced Boog's pit beef, get thee to a Birdland Grill stat.
- Cake a la crab. What's it to you? Those who despise these broiled or fried versions need not apply, although there are several yummy alternatives to what Baltimore does best. However, what Bmore loves doing is sitting around a table covered in newspapers, holding a knife or a mallet and opening crabs while drinking Natty Boh. Which leads me to my next point...
Our beer was hipster before hipsters even existed.
Some people refer to this beer as a two-dollar "can of piss," but I beg to differ. Between National Bohemian Beer's history, and inevitably what it stands for -- a literal beacon of light in the neighborhood of Brewer's Hill -- Natty Boh has all the characteristics of a solid hometown beer. It symbolizes Baltimore to the core: simplistic and nostalgic all rolled into one and at a price that can't be beat. This was hipster beer before hipsters even existed.
We have housed some of America's most literary geniuses, but no one more important than the poet responsible for our football mascot.
On a more historical note, Edgar Allan Poe, who brooded and traipsed through life in darkness and romanticized gore, made Baltimore his home for years until his death. For decades, an admirer would leave a bottle of cognac and roses on Edgar Allan Poe's gravestone, but sadly, it seems that admirer is no more.
For our city's size, our classical, modern and avant-garde arts scene can take on the best.
One screen. One theater. One complex. A structure that has withstood the test of time, the last of a great age is Baltimore's Senator Theater. As a kid, I saw so many movies there I lost count. While the Senator is an old-time theater (and now has more than one screen), the Charles Theater in downtown Baltimore draws in countless people for its independent and foreign films. Couple that with newer additions to the city like the Windup Space and other music haunts and you have quite the dynamic scene.
Also, let's not forget an array of museums and institutions like the zany American Visionary Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, the classic Walters Art Gallery, the Baltimore Museum of Industry and the renowned Peabody Institute.
Sidenote: If you are ever in the city during the summer, it boasts the country's largest free arts festival, Artscape.
Whatever side you live on, the neighborhoods are what make this city a community.
"East side" or "West side" is what I heard in school, even though I was from the north section of the city. Each side of Baltimore is a microcosm in itself -- all very different but yet united under the city name. Little Korea, or Koreatown (yes, there are still some Korean restaurants left), and Little Italy permeate the central part of the city, while Greektown lies east, closer to the ports. Based on waves of immigration into the city in the 20th century, these neighborhoods, like many others, continue to contribute to Baltimore's charm and culture. They aren't nearly promoted like the neighborhoods in New York or San Francisco, but that's alright. You'll get it when you come visit, hon.
We still take pride in big hair and boas, thanks to a director who revered old-school Baltimore on film.
Thanks to the hilarious and oh-so-naughty filmmaker John Waters, Baltimore got thrown on the map as the city of big hair and even bigger attitude. Embraced every year by Baltimore, the Hon Fest is held in the quintessential Hampden neighborhood, and for a split second, you'd think you were on the set of "Hairspray." Beehive hairdos reminiscent of the classic film, leopard tights, sunglasses and feather boas are some of the required apparel to fit in at this iconic annual festival. You can't go wrong when you feel like a true hon.
Of course, I couldn't encapsulate everything within this post. Even though I left Baltimore almost a decade ago to fulfill a dream of moving to New York, I always go home and visit because that's just what it is... my home, and a home to hundreds of thousands of other Baltimoreans.
Welcome to the real Baltimore.
This is dedicated to everyone from Brooklyn and Cherry Hill, to those in Gwynn Oak and Mt. Washington, from Waverly, Guilford, and Montebello, to Fells Point, Canton, Federal Hill -- and everyone in between.