New Mount Vernon hotel offers authentic Baltimore experience

Hotel Indigo opens in authentic Baltimore neighborhood

The lobby furniture was arriving at the new Hotel Indigo, which is a very old and revered Mount Vernon neighborhood landmark. I stood by as the sofas and wing chairs arrived the day after the initial batch of guests had checked in. Could what I was seeing really be the old downtown YMCA? Could this be busy Franklin Street?

Fresh from a $14 million upgrade, the Indigo bears no resemblance to the old Y lobby, which I recall as having a solid and institutional appearance.

The new hotel indulges in an energetic, theatrical and bright look. The tone is dazzling white, with a bar and restaurant on the Charles Street side of the building. The section of the lobby at the corner of Cathedral Street contains an oversized fireplace and has been called the library.

Each of the bathrooms in its 162 rooms has a picture of the Bromo Seltzer Tower. Photo murals focusing on Baltimore are scattered throughout the building. It's obvious the designers had fun taking Baltimore motifs and incorporating them into the look of the place.

I toured some of the suites on the upper floors. The views from the windows afford a stunning urban panorama — from the old Hutzler's department store to City College in the distant northeast. A few of the rooms along Cathedral Street will have a loft-style arrangement on two levels.

The hotel should take its place nicely among some august neighbors — the Basilica of the Assumption, the central Enoch Pratt Free Library and the First Unitarian Church, as well as some of the finest 1840s rowhouses in Baltimore.

Here is a spot that isn't trying to be an Inner Harbor hotel; it's a place for people who want to be someplace else. That spot is the Mount Vernon neighborhood. It's a spot we in Baltimore love but take for granted. This spring, Mount Vernon has had two hotel openings; the Indigo and Calvert Street's The Ivy.

"Visitors who come here can walk to a number of options unique to Baltimore: very special restaurants, art and educational institutions," Shaffin Jetha, an owner and a Canton resident, told me as we walked through the Indigo's halls. "In the harbor, you have all the same restaurants you had in the place you left at your own home."

The YMCA, designed by architect Joseph Evans Sperry, was completed in 1908. It had a swimming pool, four duckpin bowling lanes, rooms for Bible study, an indoor running track and gym, plus hotel rooms. It contained a staggering 2,500 lockers. The place served its purpose — it also once housed the old Baltimore College of Commerce — and closed in 1981. It was then renovated and became a hotel school, with hotel rooms, as a division of Baltimore International College. That too closed.

The 1908 pool and gym apparently disappeared in an earlier renovation.

The hotel's manager is Jason Curtis, who has a second job — president of the Mount Vernon Belvedere Neighborhood Association. So if guests need an ambassador for the neighborhood, they have their concierge.

"For a long time, the Mount Vernon neighborhood deserved better hotel accommodations," Curtis said. "Now this spring, we have them."

The Baltimore-themed hotel offers the city a second Edgar Allan Poe meeting room. It is curiously just across Franklin Street from the grand 1933 Poe salon at the Enoch Pratt Free Library.

Baltimore hotels often reference landmarks in their decor. I think of the Marriott Waterfront's murals, or those in the Belvedere's John Eager Howard Room, or the array of paintings in the Lord Baltimore. But the Indigo offers an immersion in the city unlike an Inner Harbor version. The corner of Cathedral and Franklin offers an authentic Baltimore neighborhood at its door.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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