Highlandtown (Note: Highlandtown is not pronouncedHIGH-landtown. Locals know it's "Hollantown," hon.) ispossibly the quintessential Baltimore neighborhood. It is characterized by those magnificentmarble stoops (ideal for sitting in the summer),Formstone-covered rowhouses and corner bars (filledwith locals playing Keno and drinking Natty Boh). Its shopping district isa mix of hip, new stores and old boutiquesand fix-it shops packed with history.

While some parts of Highlandtown may seem frozen intime, the area is experiencing a home-buyingrenaissance, serving as a lower-cost alternative toits trendy neighbors, Canton and Fells Point.

The area currently known as Highlandtown was established in1866, when Union troops abandoned what was then knownas Snake Hill. An Irish immigrant, Thomas McGuinness,staked his claim, designating streets and creating avillage. Gradually businesses moved into the area --mostly breweries and butchers -- and the firstsettlersthere were primarily German Catholics. The first actof public relations came in 1870, when the citizenryof Snake Hill decided the name wasn't doing much forthe village's image.

They ditched the reptilian language for the moreappropriate Highland Town (the area offered a fabulous view of the city).

A fire department sprang up on what is now NorthConkling Street in 1873, and the first police officerwas appointed in 1875. Also, the former buildingof the National Brewing Company, purveyors of NationalBohemian beer, still stands on O'Donnell Street, inBrewer's Hill.

By 1888, Canton and Highlandtown had a combinedpopulation of more than 2,700 residents. At thispoint, the city line ended at East Avenue, and cityofficials tried to extend the city's boundaries toinclude the area. Highlandtown and Canton residents,wanting none of that, introduced a bill to annexthemselves and create their own municipality. Themeasure was voted down by the Baltimore City Council,and, in 1918, the city's limits were officially extendedto their current boundaries, including Highlandtownand Canton.

Even today the boundaries are blurred between the twoneighborhoods. While many consider the easternboundary to be Haven Street, the northern boundary is sometimesBaltimore Street, sometimes Pulaski Highway.Similarly, the western boundary sometimes extends toClinton Street, and sometimes includes all of. Southern boundaries vary; depending onthe real estate agent, parts of Highlandtown aboveEastern Avenue are considered North Canton (propertiesthere cost a bit more than Highlandtown -- expensivesemantics, really), although Highlandtown residentsabove Eastern are pretty adamant they're not living inCanton.

What many can agree on is Highlandtown's upsurge inpopularity and stability.The area was once considered a scary place to be aloneat night, but residents arereclaiming it, piece by piece. Where Baltimore Streetwas once home to drug dealers and prostitutes, increased police presence anda neighborhood watch have helped to make the areasafer. Similarly, Patterson Park, which saw a declinein the late 1970s, has had community and city help inrenovating the area and making it a great place to playball, walk the dog or have a picnic. It also featuresa great vantage point for watching fireworks.Properly situated, onlookers can see the Inner Harborfireworks display, as well as the display in Dundalk.

While Patterson Park is sometimes included in theboundaries and sometimes not, Highlandtown residentscertainly take advantage of Baltimore's "bestbackyard." The Mimi DiPietro Ice Skating Rink (dubbed"the MimiDome" by locals) features indoor skating, or,for those who find the ice too hard, a lovely indoorfire and hot chocolate. On the other side of the parkis the Pagoda, built in 1891. The magnificent oddityfell into disrepair due to lack of maintenance and asurplus of vandalism, and it closed in 1951. It wascompletely restored, intricately painted and reopenedin 2002, and is now open Sundays, from May through October.

All this restoration has led the classic grayFormstone enclave of Highlandtown into a housing boom,and streets are slowly giving way to rehabbedand renovated homes, with brick fronts restored. Whilemany homes can still be purchased for approximately $70,000,some renovated beauties with hot tubs, refinishedhardwood floors and rooftop decks are cracking the $200,000 mark. With its close proximityto Patterson Park, Highlandtown is considered primereal estate, helped along by the Patterson ParkCommunity Development Corporation.Residents are diverse: white- and blue-collar workers,older people and young families, with a wide varietyof ethnic and religious backgrounds.

It's not unusual to find people who grew up down theblock from their current homes, or several generationson one street, lending a sense of continuity andstability to the neighborhood.

In addition to homes being comparatively cheap, theneighborhood's proximity to the Inner Harbor, FellsPoint and Canton, as well as I-95 and 895, makes itclose enough to skip town for the weekendwithout having to navigate Inner Harbor traffic.

But why leave? Highlandtown has draws of its own.Eastern Avenue cuts right through the middle ofHighlandtown, serving as a main drag and shoppingdistrict, as well as an easy route downtown (take a $6cab ride to the Inner Harbor, and avoid having to parkyour car for an Orioles game). Although upscaleboutiques are making their way into the mix, many shops havebeen in place for decades.

While a Home Depot certainly has its place in aneighborhood with lots to renovate, Bolewicki'sAppliance Center is a great place to get washers,dryers and other appliances, and Bagdon's Vacuum Salesand Service offers sales, repairs, parts and accessories.Both shops have been around for decades.

While restoring your rowhouse, you may discover thestained-glass transom that's supposed to be above thefront door is long gone. Head to Atlantic StainedGlass for custom-made stained glass, or to haveexisting pieces repaired. Or, learn to do it yourselfin one of Atlantic's classes.

Love to cook? Or, more importantly, love to eat?Santoni's is another area mainstay, offeringinexpensive, fresh groceries since 1930. It evenoffers a shop-at-home service, so you can call or faxyour order and have it delivered right to your door.

on Gough Streethas exotic ingredients so you can prove your prowessas a gourmand, or you can just skip the pretense andorder something from the deli. Lasagna is thespecialty, but there's plenty to satisfy even thepickiest of appetites.

Highlandtown has several formidable pizza places, butlocals will argue that none compare to . The tiny, bright restaurant on Eastern Avenuehas delicious Italian dishes, but you're there for thepizza. The traditional pie has a chewy deep-dishcrust, smothered with fresh tomatoes and a blend ofthree cheeses. The crab pizza, surely a Baltimoreexclusive, is a sauceless pizza piled with lump craband onions, with a generous helping of Old Bay forseasoning. Eat in or carry out, either way you won'tbe disappointed.

Haussner's, the legendary German restaurant and homeof the giant twine-ball and other oddities, closed in1999, but the building still stands. It now houses AMoveable Feast, a nonprofit organization that preparesand deliversmeals for homebound people living with AIDS.

While it doesn't actually sell food, The RestaurantSupply Store on Conkling Street is drool-worthy in itsown right. Professional-quality appliances and gadgetsand cooking necessities are available for purchase byrestaurateurs and home chefs alike.

The old Grand Theater was demolished to make wayfor the Southeast Anchor Library (estimated to befinished in mid-2006) but bookworms canalso head to the Enoch Pratt Library HighlandtownBranch on Eastern Avenue.

reopened in 2003 and housesthe Baltimore Creative Alliance. The venue hostsplays, concerts and art shows, adding a healthy doseof creativity to the area.

After the show, grab some java. Head to on the corner of East and Eastern avenues, or, on the corner of Eastern Avenue and Milton Street.High Grounds is a great place to grab a paper and amuffin on your way to work, and Patterson Perk, offthe south side of Patterson Park, has indoor andoutdoor seating, and a fabulous view. Added bonus forpet people: It's dog-friendly, so when you're walking the poochyou can grab a latte.

Once you're properly juiced and cultured, it's time toawaken your inner wild child. Head to Doc's fortobacco products and, um, tobacco accessories. Get alldolled up in leather and vinyl, lace and satin withfashions from Firefly, Fashions for Exstacy orBarbarian Cycles.

Want to be the prettiest bride (or nattiest groom)this side of Pulaski Highway? Eastern Avenue issometimes referred to informally as "bridal row." has gowns for the bride, tiny frillyfrocks for the flower girl and all manner offormalwear for bridesmaids, mothers-of-the-bride orprom queens. Don't let the mannequins scare you (somehave no hair, others are missing limbs) -- the fashionsinside will satisfy modern brides looking for a sleekstatement, as well as poofy-skirted Cinderella gownsfor more traditional brides.

Don't forget to make your appointment at Phyllis' HairDesign for the big day. With its white brick andscripty-fonted sign, the salon looks like it'sstraight out of an "I Love Lucy" episode, evoking1950sglamour and Ladies Who Lunch. You'll be the belle ofthe ball.

And don't worry, grooms, you won't be left out.Elegant Touch Tuxedos will fit you for a penguin suit,as will Tuxedo Zone. Both stores are on EasternAvenue.

The recent additions, shops and residents alike, meshwell with the old standbys. The neighborhood has seen people and stores move inand out, but with generations of families still livinghere, and new families putting down roots every day,the feeling of community remains intact.

Yuppies, octogenarian retirees or tradesmen,Highlandtown residents still look out for each other,they still get into fights over parking spots when itsnows, and they can still be seen sitting on the stoopin the summertime, waiting for the ice cream man andspying on all the neighbors, who are spying on them.Copyright © 2017, The Baltimore Sun