BEST REASON TO LIVE IN BALTIMORE
Right? Face it, we live in a tough city, and people not from here tend to assume you spend your time dodging bullets while stepping over nodded-out heroin addicts on your way to fighting muggers on the Light Rail to go meet up for a drink with Kima and Bunk. OK, that may have happened to you, that's not the point. Alls we're saying is, you might as well get some benefit from Baltimore's rep, so hey, when you travel anywhere in This Great Land of Ours, remember, you're from Baltimore, use it. Disclaimer: Offer probably not valid in Detroit.
BEST REASON TO LEAVE BALTIMORE
OK, so this Reason to Leave Baltimore has been a primary reason to leave Baltimore for a couple decades and, in that time, thousands of people who loved Baltimore City have, in fact, left it for the leafy, miserable expanse of The Counties at the first sign of small people living in their house. But for a few years there, city schools CEO Dr. Andres Alonso was talking a big game about insisting on excellence in city schools, giving parents more choices, shutting down the failures, and giving educators with great ideas the chance to run with them. People who hadn't considered staying in the city with the little people were sorta thinking about it. But now, Alonso's gone, and North Avenue finds itself tangled in its familiar web of far-fetched plans (Transform Baltimore), petty disputes (Tisha Edwards versus detractors), and general mismanagement.
Entrepreneur, musician, baker, and irrepressible bon vivant Rodney Henry has recently been repping Baltimore via his skills as Dangerously Delicious Pies' master pie man on the Food Network television show Food Network Star. He didn't win, he placed second, but isn't winning usually the kiss of death on a reality show? Congrats, Rodney! What's important is people all around the country got to see a guy from Baltimore who didn't have a depressing story to report, because all Rodney Henry wants to do is rock with his band the Glenmont Popes, make some crazy-good pies to pimp at one of the Dangerously Delicious stores in Baltimore, D.C., or Detroit, and maybe have a little whiskey. We can't think of anybody better equipped to serve as good will, good eats, and good times ambassador of Charm City.
We love Mount Vernon, home of City Paper HQ, and like every other year, we are tempted to give it the nod here. But one of the great things about Baltimore is the cheap rent, which allows interesting people to do interesting things without working all the time. Seton Hill is sort of like Mount Vernon West, except instead of Mount Vernon's four little parks, you have the big, brick-walled St. Mary's Park, and you know you can't afford one of the big MV mansions, but you can get one of the small little alley houses in Seton Hill. The neighborhood was once Baltimore's French Quarter—betcha didn't know we had one of those— founded by refugees from the Haitian and French revolutions, and has the classic architecture and annual French Festival (Oct. 19 this year, with rounds of Petanque and a toddler tour de France) to prove it.
BEST UP-AND-COMING NEIGHBORHOOD
Bounded by Howard Street to the east, the Jones Falls to the west, 21st Street to the south, and Wyman Park Drive to the north, this tiny precinct situated to the immediate west of Charles Village and south of Hampden is playing out like a real-life version of the city-building simulator game SimCity. Where once was an old tire shop now sits the future home of Single Carrot Theatre and a Spike Gjerde-run butcher shop. Up the street on Remington Avenue, $35 million is set to be pumped into a project that transforms three whole blocks into new apartments and retail. A former used car lot has changed hands, going from a Walmart to not a Walmart to back to a Walmart, but there's little doubt something will happen there. Much, if not all, of the development is being led by Seawall, a group that has shown a good track record (see: Union Mill and Miller's Square). Even with all the big plans, Remington is still far from being gentrify-y and douchey, with down-home places like the Dizz, Long John's Pub, and Sterling's being worth a visit.
BALTIMORE LIVING HALL OF FAME
John Waters is, at press time, the all-time greatest motherfucking Baltimorean ever. Over the years, he's won plenty of Best of Baltimore awards, including "Best Local Eccentric" and "Best Role Model," and inspired others, like "Best Bar That John Waters Goes To" and "Best Thing Everyone Says About Every Bar: John Waters Goes There." He embodies everything we love about the city, lovingly yet honestly: He is classy and trashy, brilliant and vulgar, hated and beloved, queer and . . . well, queer. He is a champion of the eccentric and the weirdo, he stands up for what is singular and strange in the world. And he's still going strong—he spent last summer hitchhiking around the country (and will publish his adventures next year). We have grown up with him over the last 36 years, and he has defined so much of what is alt about our alt-weekly.
BEST THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD
North Charles Street Between East Biddle and East Preston streets
We know that the corner of East Preston and North Charles is supposed to be Washington, D.C. on House of Cards, but come on, we don’t have to make that whole stretch of the east side of Charles Street with Starbucks, Chipotle, Subway, and Potbelly actually feel like D.C. with nothing but corporate-owned businesses. Buy local!
BEST AREA IN NEED OF REVITALIZATION
Even here in Baltimore, in the backwash of the housing bubble, real estate seems to be churning again, and mixed-use developer schemes such as Harbor East, and more Harbor East, are—with the unwitting assistance of your tax dollars—sprawling and crawling along, a block at a time, toward arguably developed-enough-already Fells Point. On Pennsylvania Avenue ("The Avenue"), the Royal Theatre has been frozen into a marquee and a monument, a symbol, with the hope of a brick-by-brick rebuild. Unless the efforts of the Pennsylvania Avenue Redevelopment Collaborative (PARC), the Baltimore Development Corporation's "Baltimore Main Streets," and community groups like Todd Marcus' (see "Best Do-Gooder") are joined by an entity like Hopkins, MICA, or University of Maryland BioPark buying property to expand their empires, it looks like we'll be living in the "Two Baltimores" era for some time to come.
Completed in 1998, this quietly stately bust to 19th-century philosopher poet/revolutionary José Martí is one of the more recent monuments in a city that has erected them since the early 19th century, but it's a sincere reminder of the ongoing transformative power of Baltimore's immigrants. Martí was Cuban by birth, but he recognized that the many people of Latin America had more in common with each other despite whatever differences geopolitical nationalisms try to foster. Over the past two decades, Latin-American immigrants have settled in and transformed Upper Fells Point into a thriving community, and the pedestal of the bust—spearheaded by the late Dr. Louis Queral and Jose Herrera, Cubans who each immigrated to Baltimore in the 1950s—includes soil samples from 21 different Latin-American countries.
BEST OVERLOOKED LANDMARK
610 George St.
One of Baltimore’s many fascinating, oft-forgotten stories is that of Elizabeth Clarissa Lange, a Haitian woman born in the late 1700s who eventually settled in Baltimore, where she ran a school in her home. That school became the St. Frances Academy Baltimore School for Colored Girls in 1828, and in 1829 Lange, along with three other women of African descent, became nuns. Later that year, Sister Mary Elizabeth Lange helped found the Oblate Sisters of Providence, which, after Pope Gregory XVI’s 1831 approval, became the first Roman Catholic order for women of African descent. A monument to this pioneer stands in Perkins Spring Square Park, near where she first started the Oblate Sisters.
3000 Falls Road, (410) 327-3200, millno1.com
For so many years, Fallsway was just an alt route to get from Hampden to Station North, or vice versa. Along the way, it was impossible not to notice the huge stone and brick structures that once housed functioning mills, which used the once-mighty Jones Falls as a power source and until recently stood unused or underused, and which was even more recently fenced off for development. All the construction that’s been going on is finally about to pay off, with a truly gorgeous mixed-use facility—mostly residential, with some office and two retail (restaurant) spaces, and even an environmental lab available for use by local schools. All this on what is probably Baltimore’s last untouched waterfront real estate, overlooking a particularly wild-looking section of the Jones Falls. Seriously, it’s almost like being in the middle of a state park. The best part about this development, in the midst of a veritable development boom in Baltimore? Reuse of an existing structure—sadly a real rarity in this city. The developer, Terra Nova Ventures LLC, and architecture team Alexander Design Studio, have managed to successfully wrangle an enormous rehab project, even using existing materials, like original lumber and hardware in interior trim along the hallways and in residential-unit kitchens. Kudos.
BEST STATE PARK
2813 Jerusalem Road, Kingsville, (410) 592-2897, dnr.state.md.us
From its Hereford Area adjacent to Prettyboy Reservoir to its Hammerman Area at the mouth of the Gunpowder River, the Gunpowder Falls State Park’s more-than-18,000 acres and 120 miles of trails—including the 21-mile Torrey C. Brown rail-trail extending up to the Pennsylvania border—cover a massive part of central Maryland. Fly-fishing devotees and tubers flock to it, thanks to the frigid, clean water coming from the bottom-release dam at Prettyboy, while history buffs and wildflower and bird enthusiasts can find plenty of quarry for their interests. The more active set—mountain bikers, horseback riders, cross-country skiers, and paddlers—can ride, glide, and gunkhole to their hearts’ content. From tide marshes to steep, rocky terrain, this giant park offers more to do outdoors than any other place near Mobtown.
BEST TINY PARK
711 Eastern Ave.
Wanna witness the power of a clever architect? Then trot down to Pierce’s Park, located by Pier 6. Somehow these landscape wizards and artists managed to convert what was a sad swath of cement padding into a whimsical garden that offers an amazing break from the trudge around the Inner Harbor. How they managed to cram so much stuff into what can’t be 2 acres still boggles the mind. First there’s the grass, and the burns and the tunnel constructed from growing plants, and the fencing that doubles as a rather sophisticated vibe-o-phone in three octaves. The park’s signature piece is a brushed-steel tunnel in the shape of a giant elbow pasta. But the true miracle is that the park is always in motion with kids, tourists, and locals starving for some grass. Pierce’s Park proves why green space plays such a key part in any economic plan.
1000 Lakeside Dr., (410) 887-4156, baltimorecountymd.gov
When Robert E. Lee Memorial Park reopened its 415 acres in 2011, after two years and $6 million in renovations, the fact that it was no longer operated by its owner—the City of Baltimore—brought many benefits. Among them was that the new operator, Baltimore County, no longer required a $100 permit for paddling on Lake Roland, which had only been allowed between April and November. Now, kayakers and canoeists can launch whenever they like, free of charge. The watery terrain is somewhat limited in scope, since sediment buildup has been reclaiming the lake’s open waters for decades now, but by following its meandering tributaries upstream until your craft scrapes bottom, you can make the most of a visit. The water’s not the cleanest—it’s mostly suburban runoff, high in fecal coliform—but hey, it’s cleaner than the harbor and still close to the city.
BEST PLACE TO SEE WILDLIFE
Don't tell Ted Nugent about Mount Washington. On any given morning, you're as likely to espy a 10-point buck chowing down on someone's carefully tended plant beds as are to you see a Prius pulling into the Whole Foods parking lot. But the wild kingdom doesn't stop with Bambi and friends. Other critters spotted in Baltimore's leafiest 'hood include vultures, ducks, raccoons, opossums, owls, chickens, coyotes, snakes, and turtles. The neighborhood listserv regularly buzzes with postings about sightings of "Black-crowned Night Herons," "mysterious moths," and unidentified creatures slithering out of the sewers. While Mount Washington will never be Duck Dynasty, it's still an awesome place to set up a bird blind; you never know what you'll spot.
BEST ENVIRONMENTAL AROMA
2701 Loch Raven Road, (410) 235-4477
Got stink? Damn. We love real milk as much as any cereal junkie, but the smell from the Cloverland Dairy on a hot afternoon makes us want to choose soy forever. The best way to describe this acrid odor is spoiled milk and shit. Really. No hyperbole here. The scent of spoil smacks you in the face as soon as you turn the corner at Loch Raven and 25th Street. We’re not sure if it’s toxic or if the EPA needs to suit up and step in, but it reeks worse than the Essex shit plant (no, it’s not in Dundak) on a humid July day. At least they have golden eggs to placate you. We feel for the workers at the Oneida Envelope factory across the street. Bet they haven’t had a glass of milk in a long time.
It was long, hard road for the former Bethlehem Steel plant in Sparrows Point. After being sold numerous times to various national and international companies since Bethlehem Steel's bankruptcy in 2002, NuCor, a North Carolina-based firm finally switched off the ovens for good at the 123-year-old plant, sending about 2,000 employees into the unemployment lines. And there it sits a year later. While slated for dismantling, the plant looks out over the Patapsco River like a rusty iron giant being quietly soothed by creeping green hands of Mother Nature. Baltimore County executive Kevin Kamenetz has said "jobs will return to the site," but no one knows when. Until then, we have to feel the pang of sorrow knowing that the lights of the plant's tower will never be seen from the Key Bridge again.
Federal Hill residents are finally fed up with the neighborhoodwide shit show of hammered-drunk yuppies that flood their streets every weekend, and this past year, they finally drew a line in the sand. The plan was for a new beer garden near Cross Street Market that would have added another 300 barstools and chairs for patrons to drink themselves into oblivion. From an economic standpoint, the new beer garden seemed like a good idea. That is, until you take into account the amount of vomit, urine, and girls sitting curbside screaming and crying into their cellphones that would surely be added to the landscape of one of our city's oldest neighborhoods. The public outcry and a unanimous vote by the City Council to stop the project sealed the fate for the would-be beer garden, marking a small victory in the fight against drunk assholes. But alas, it is only a drop in the bucket!
Todd Marcus is a great clarinet player, composer, and band leader, bringing joy with each show or recording. But he has been working away with equal passion on improving the Sandtown neighborhood, which was once the home to the Royal Theatre and the Sphinx Club, monuments to Baltimore's great, historic jazz culture, with partners Elder C.W. Harris and Newborn Holistic Ministries Inc. Through the creation of green space, murals, and the renovation of half-a-dozen formerly vacant properties, they have transformed the 1900 and 2000 blocks of Pennsylvania Avenue, while their Jubilee Arts program offers art, dance, and writing classes to community members, and Martha's Place offers help to women who are either homeless or struggling with addiction. Marcus' organizing recognizes the importance of the arts for social change, and he puts his money—or rather his sweat—where his mouth is, providing exactly the kind of synthesis between cultural and social programs that the city could use more of.
BEST USE OF HIPPIES
3510 Ash St., (410) 575-4233, baltimorefreefarm.org
As anyone who read T.C. Boyle’s Drop City, a novel about the perils of hippiedom—or grew up on a commune, for that matter—can tell you, the collectivist dreams of free-spirited beatniks can often come falling down in a bruising hail of naivete, bad decisions, and poor health. Not so the Baltimore Free Farm, a group that has reclaimed a series of empty lots in Hampden and converted them to an arable plot that, with collective will and toil, produces a cornucopia of crops. No naivete here: The group has worked closely with the City of Baltimore and the Parks and People Foundation to sagely pursue a solid plan. Nor bad decisions: Right now, they’re raising money on Indiegogo to purchase the deeds to two more empty lots. And definitely not poor health: Fresh produce, plus extensive community engagement makes for sound bodies and minds.
BEST HOMEFRONT HEROS
BEST NEW HOPE
The city school system gets a lot of guff, and if we're being honest, much of it is deserved. But let's take a minute to reflect on the positive, shall we? The Baltimore Design School, the first school of its kind to cater to middle and high school students, opened a sparkling new $27 million facility in the heart of Station North to kick off the school year. Among its many amenities, the building features large classrooms and the latest equipment for students studying architecture, fashion, and graphic design. While plenty of questions still remain about the city's 10-year, $1 billion plan to modernize the decrepit facilities throughout the education system, we look to the Design School as a reason to believe.
At Nacho Mama's and Mama's on the Half Shell, starting in March, Scunny had his own Boh. National Bohemian made the commemorative cans to honor the memory of Patrick "Scunny" McCusker, who died last year in an Ocean City bicycle accident. They feature his name and the words "Oh Boy What a Guy!" Proceeds from their sale benefit McCusker's favorite charity, the Believe in Tomorrow Children's Foundation, for which he paddled across the bay in a kayak, twice. Many remember McCusker as the kind of man who would try to help anyone, anywhere. After he died, City Paper got a call from a woman who was on the beach two days before the accident. Her son was pulled from the water injured, and Scunny—then a stranger to her—rushed to help. "Nobody else on the beach moved to help us," Aphrodite Alourdas said. "I shook his hand and said, 'Thank you so much for your kindness.'" Here's to you, man.
BEST BAD BUSINESSMAN
Everyone on planet earth knows who Ray Lewis is. A legend in the world of professional football, two-time Super Bowl guy and all that. But do you remember Ray Lewis' Full Moon BBQ in Canton? Probably not—it wasn't open for long. How about MVP Lanes in Hunt Valley? In 2009 there was a groundbreaking ceremony with press coverage for the proposed bowling and sports-entertainment destination that was going to employ over 100 people. Six months later it was boarded up and left for dead amid tales of unpaid contractors and 1.1 million dollars owed to this guy and that guy. Lewis is probably among the best defensive players ever in the NFL, but he's definitely one of the worst businessmen in Baltimore.
Admittedly, there's not a big pool of Baltimore City Republicans to choose from (our gay Republican neighbor had to vote for Pugh), but Carol Ott is really a Republican, and really cool. "I'm not one of those Tea Party people," she told us. "I don't know them." When we wrote about Wall Hunters, where she brings her Slumlord Watch website together with street artists, she asked, "What better and what more Republican idea than supporting sort of a rogue effort to bring attention to a government-led problem? Baltimore is not going to be fixed by our government or by recognized organized associations. It's going to be fixed by people who get fed up one day and decide there's a better way to do things, there's a better conversation, there's a better everything." If she ran for mayor, there might, for once, be a meaningful general election in Baltimore.
BEST BUILDING IN NEED OF A POWER-WASHING
417 E. Fayette St., 410-396-3237, baltimorehousing.org
OK, we get that running a city and offering lots of services for citizens, etc., costs a ton of money, but do we really have to have the civic equivalent of Pig-Pen standing out in such striking fashion? Situated just across War Memorial Plaza from the regal cupola of City Hall, the Charles L. Benton Jr. Building’s tan surface is covered in some sort of black dust, looking like it went to play in the dirt with its friends after working a shift as a chimney sweep. There’s some sort of cruel irony in the bureaucratic arm of the government that’s in charge of helping secure living space for people in need being headquartered in a building that looks like absolute crap. Shouldn’t you get your own house in order?
If you've ever watched the evening news, chances are you've seen it as some city flack or Mayor SRB goes "blah-blah-blah" into a microphone. Said microphone is attached to this dark-gray plastic thing with an inlaid speaker and a logo of the City of Baltimore slapped on the front. Yup, THAT is the public face the city chooses to put forward. Not a lectern, not a traditional wooden podium, not a dais—this thing, which looks like it was assembled from the parts of ravaged tailgate coolers left for dead in the parking lots of M&T Bank Stadium on game day. We can agree that there are plenty of better ways for the city to spend its money, and we certainly hope they go to those first. But if we want to consider ourselves world-class, we should look to the old saying, "look the part, be the part."
BEST WAY TO COMPLAIN ABOUT PROPERTY TAXES
If you live in Baltimore City, you will pay a 2.248 percent tax this year on any property you own, unless you're a cheat, a fraud, or a renter, in which case your landlords will just jack up your rent because TRICKLE-DOWN SCREW YOU. So, how to complain about how high your property taxes are relative to your neighbors'? BmoreMapped.com, the product of one Ryan Smith, a biomedical engineering Ph.D. candidate at Johns Hopkins University. Online and interactive, it pulls property-tax payment data straight from a dataset kept on the city's open data website and lays it on top of a map of the city. Search by address, hover your mouse cursor over your neighbor's house, and boom—that's how little they pay compared to you. Don't invite them to your parties.
Sure, we love center fielder Adam Jones and his defensive prowess and power at the plate. And yeah, we love the way J.J. Hardy provides stability at the cornerstone of the defense while hitting lots of long balls at a premium position. But is there any way this couldn't go to Chris Davis? The gargantuan first baseman is in the midst of what would be a guaranteed MVP season in any year where Detroit Tigers third baseman Miguel Cabrera isn't chasing his second-consecutive Triple Crown. Pretty much the only way Cabrera doesn't get it is Davis, who has (as of press time) clubbed 50 home runs to go along with a .296 batting average and 129 RBI. Not only that, Davis has transformed himself from a defensive liability in 2012 to a great glove man in 2013. Even if the O's fall short of the playoffs, there's no way they would have gotten this far without Crush.
If you're the kind of insane person who subjects yourself to sports talk radio for more than a half-hour at a time (and really, what the hell are you doing with your life, man?), then you know the deep love-hate relationship Baltimore has had with its quarterback. Christ, the debate over whether or not Joe Flacco is "elite," as if that is in any way quantifiable, raged on for weeks. None of this seemed to bother Joe Cool, who balled the fuck out during the Ravens' historic playoff run and brought a Lombardi Trophy back to Baltimore on Ray Lewis' last ride, earning a fat contract as a result. We're hoping for more big things in the 2013 season, even with a gutted receiving corps. In short: Suck it, haters.
BEST PROFESSIONAL KISS-ASS
We thank our lucky stars we don't have a cheerleading hillbilly buffoon like Ken "Hawk" Harrelson (sorry, ChiSox fans) calling our games, but holy hell, we are sick of the sunshine and rainbows emanating from the ass of Orioles play-by-play man Jim Hunter. The longtime announcer manages to squeeze every. little. positive. detail. out of a game situation—even when, or perhaps especially when, it seems unwarranted—while simultaneously having his nose jammed up the sphincter of Orioles owner Peter Angelos. Golly gee, that was a great double play to end the second inning for the O's because at least the top of the order will be up in the bottom of the third. Sure, we like hearing some positive statistics about the Birds and rooting for them to do well, but get that bent-over-backwards company-man shit out of the booth.
We looked at the lovely totals and it's clear, Joe Angel is the Best Sportscaster. If we could write the way Joe Angel talks, we wouldn't be writing Best Ofs, we'd be too busy dusting our Nobel Prizes. How do you spell the way that man talks? Angel turns the simple sentence "And the Orioles are in the WIN column" into a moment of perfect beauty. The Bogotá, Colombia, native rolls consonants we didn't know you could roll and makes reading the lineup an act of artistic expression. When he sends off home runs with his signature "Hasta la vista pelota!," we want to go with them, 'cause it sounds like they're headed somewhere nice.
Down by seven on their own 30-yard line with just 42 seconds to go, things did not look good for the Ravens. But Joe Flacco, in the midst of one of the finest playoff runs in the history of the NFL, dropped back on the muddy Mile High field, a thin, three-man Broncos' rush somehow managed to get pressure, but Joe Cool, who was absolute zero that day, stepped up in the pocket and uncorked a cannon shot down the right sideline. The ferociously fast Jacoby Jones had pierced the Denver D and was standing all alone, 50 yards downfield, waiting at the other end of that Ravens rainbow. Jones made the catch and finished off the 70-yard play so far ahead of the Denver secondary he could have danced it in. The Ravens went on to win in OT on a Justin Tucker field goal, but Flacco to Jones was not just the best play of 2013, it was the best Ravens play ever.
BEST PLACE TO GET SHIT ON
205 W. Read St.
When we pass under the awning of the venerable gay bar, we do so with trepidation, knowing that at any second, a great, foul plop of bird excrement could land square on our shoulder, or worse, our hair. We’ve seen others pause at the corner of the street or next to nearby Jay’s on Read and consider the sidewalk before them, narrowing their eyes and swallowing before steeling themselves for the shit-splattered passage. According to a bartender at the Drinkery, an upstairs neighbor daily refreshes the selection of sidewalk birdseed, attracting gaggles and gaggles of flying rats aka pigeons. There is no defense for the aerial onslaught other than to cross the street or speed-walk through the danger zone. Best of luck.
BEST HOMEBREW CLUB
You couldn’t wish for a better-organized club than Baltibrew, the four-year-old collective of homebrewers who meet on the regular, every third Thursday of the month, at Nepenthe, to talk malt, hops, yeast, and the delicious product that the trinity produces when added to water. Baltibrew keeps minutes and posts them on their well-maintained website. It has a bank account and three elected officials. But the professionalism doesn’t mean they aren’t salt-of-the-earth, fun-loving beer drinkers like you and us. Each member is urged to bring a beer (or six) to each meeting, they have brew days (sure to result in day-drinking over a kettle), and they stage Chilibrew, a chili- and beer-centric festival now in its seventh incarnation (on Oct. 18 at 2640 Space), which raises funds for the likes of Bikemore and the Station North Tool Library.