Ultimate Baltimore 2011: Best of the City results

Ultimate Baltimore 2011: Best of the City results

Before "The Wire" made Baltimore the cultural proxy for dysfunctional locales, John Waters' sense of the absurd put our often-incorrigible and provincially original burg on the map with movies such as "Hairspray," "Polyester" and "Serial Mom."

Waters' ability to capture what's unique about Baltimore is likely the reason he got the nod from b readers as the Ultimate Baltimore celebrity. After all, Waters' quick-witted persona and equal-opportunity satire have provided just what this dystopian paradise needs on occasion -- a good, self-effacing laugh.

This is not to say that Waters isn't a fan of "The Wire." Truth is, he loves it.

"The fact 'The Wire' is an image that is celebrated all over the world -- isn't that great in a way?" says Waters, noting that his films, along with the work of "Wire" creator David Simon and "Diner" director Barry Levinson, have delivered an indelible image of the city that is authentic and absurd.

"I think Baltimore has always had a sense of humor; embracing it and being proud of 'The Wire' is in a way ironic."

The funny thing is, in his own idiosyncratic way, Waters is Baltimore's biggest booster, at least as he extols the city's most alluring quality in both his movies and other ventures: a penchant for embracing eccentricity sans the pretense. 

"Everywhere I go around the world, someone comes over to me and says, 'I'm from Baltimore,' as if it's some sort of secret society." That's why Waters says living in Baltimore has become hip and desirable, a place for those inspired by his work and others' to delve into the same laboratory of the absurd that birthed its signature cinema.

"I know people who are moving from New York to Baltimore," he said. "We've got edge, baby!"

Waters just took his one-man standup comedy show to the U.S. Conference of Mayors. For his next project, Waters says that, along with touring to push his successful book "Role Models," he's been seeking financing for his next movie "Fruitcake," described by him as a "terribly wonderful children's Christmas movie, John Waters-style."

"I had two meetings this past week," he says of the effort to fund it. "But $4 to $5 million-budget independent movies are extinct."

BEST MUSEUM: American Visionary Art Museum
Speaking of eccentrics, is there a place that better celebrates the perspective of the peculiar outsider than the American Visionary Art Museum?

A one-of-a-kind compendium of unscripted art cultivated without art-school pretense, the hipster-friendly museum is a must-see destination for visitors who want to soak up Baltimore's more irreverent attractions.

"There really isn't any place like it," said the museum's communications director, Pete Hilsee. 

The museum offers a hyper-real sensory experience that would make the late Andy Warhol feel contrived. And don't forget the gift shop filled with so many intriguing trinkets it's the veritable Walmart of irony. 800 Key Highway, Federal Hill


BEST PARK: Patterson Park
It's not just Baltimore residents who understand how cool Patterson Park is. Ask Travel & Leisure magazine, which named it the country's fourth-best public open space. 

The park offers a swimming pool, playgrounds, a ball field, an ice rink, and, of course, a big contiguous front yard to a wide swath of downtown neighborhoods.

It also sports iconic landmarks like the famous Pagoda, a totally rebuilt Victorian-style replica of the Buddhist variety. And don't forget the boat lake, which was rehabbed by the city in 2003 and now provides a cool backdrop for contemplating whether our urban waters still run deep.

BEST STRIP CLUB: The Gentlemen's Gold Club
If live reggae music and erotic lap dances sound like an intriguing, albeit unusual, combination, then enjoy the city's Gentlemen's Gold Club.

The imposing adult entertainment complex off Pulaski Highway no doubt embodies b readers' penchant for the atypical.

Along with an extensive line-up of female dancers who descend a grand staircase onto a main stage that seems to go on forever, the club also hosts a male revue on Fridays right next door that is the favored destination for bachelorette parties.

Hometown legendary reggae band Jah Works and rockers Fools & Horses take the stage with the dancers on the weekends in a mixed-media spectacle. 5801 Pulaski Highway

BEST ENTERTAINMENT VENUE: Illusions Magic Bar & Lounge
Let's face it: A bar is a bar is a bar, unless it's called Illusions.

At least that's what b readers decided when they selected the magic-infused nightspot as the Ultimate Baltimore watering hole.

Maybe it's the 47-foot cherry wood bar and chandeliers that give the feel of a 1920s speakeasy? Or perhaps it's the live entertainment that includes magic, comedy juggling and Spencer Horsman wriggling out of a straitjacket just in time to mix a drink?

"Even David Copperfield had to stop by and catch a performance," says Horsman, co-owner with his father Ken, a former Ringling Bros. clown. 1025 S. Charles St., Federal Hill