Baltimore Pride kicked off Saturday at a new location and with new drinking rules leaving some longtime revelers like Damian Hatchett feeling a little nostalgic for the old days when he said the event was much livelier.
The state's largest annual celebration of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community moved this year from the heart of Mount Vernon farther north to the Mid-Town Belvedere neighborhood, which many people associate with Artscape. Alcohol consumption was confined to two "beer gardens" blocked off by fences. In past years, people drank outside on the streets.
Hatchett said the new rules dampened the free-spirited vibe of the event.
"It changes the dynamic," said the 28-year-old, who sells alarms for a living. "Last year people were tailgating and drinking and hanging out in the neighborhood. Now it feels way too organized."
The changes came after some in the neighborhood complained the festival had become too rowdy and had outgrown the several blocks where it once took place. Some residents and business owners grumbled about underage drinking and trash-strewn streets.
City officials were trying to crack down on alcohol consumption and had told the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender Community Center of Baltimore, which organizes the event, to fence in the entire perimeter where it took place or create the beer gardens.
The group, also known as GLCCB, chose the beer gardens, putting the festival in line with other pride celebrations throughout the country, including in neighboring Washington.
GLCCB Executive Director Kelly Neel said that it may take some people some time to get used to the changes, but that in the long run moving the festival was the best decision.
"Sometimes change is good and although some people may be shocked by the changes this year, hopefully they will eventually accept them," she said.
By midday Saturday, long lines formed inside the gardens, which were free to enter but sold beer, alcohol and food. There were no seats and some people said they felt awkward just standing around. But others said they liked being away from the bigger crowds.
Marcus Switzer, who came to the event with his boyfriend, Andrew Ansel, said it was just as fun drinking in the gardens as anywhere else.
"It matters more who you are with than where you are," he said.
Others said Pride wasn't meant to be a drunken party, but a way to advance LGBT issues.
The owners and operators of the gay and lesbian bar Grand Central had fought the move of the festival and said many of their customers partied at their establishment rather than celebrate a few blocks away. Baltimore's gay night life scene centers on the East Eager and North Charles intersection, where Grand Central and another popular bar, the Hippo, are located.
"This is the heart of the gay community and where they have been doing it all these years," said operations manager Bob Little. "This is where it should have stayed."
Gino Cardinale, owner of City Cafe on Cathedral Street, complained in the past that organizers had lost control of the event. He said people not associated with the event would have unruly tailgates on side streets and alleys. But he said the event this year was well-organized and orderly.
" I think they have made a great move and it has been wonderful so far today," Cardinale said. "Everybody I talked to said they are having a good time."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said the changes could be revisited and evaluated after the festival is over.
The second day of the festival will also be held in Mid-Town Belvedere rather than in Druid Park, as in previous years.
She and others said the important thing was that people were celebrating the LGBT community.