Parents of young children have some good dining options in Baltimore. Clementine on Harford Road has a popular play area. Golden West Cafe has long been a favorite stop for the toddler set.
But a new cafe in Hampden, located in the old New System Bakery spot on Chestnut Avenue, has taken kid friendly a step further. Play Cafe Baltimore, which opened in early June, was created expressly as a daytime refuge for parents with young children.
The owners are Kathy Schott and Ryan Sterner, two Hampden residents who each have toddlers of their own. (They are married, but not to each other.) The idea for a cafe that doubles as a play space was inspired by similar cafes that Schott had seen in Europe, especially in Iceland, where she has spent time visiting her husband's family.
"I came up with the idea to open the Play Cafe Baltimore two winters ago after a particularly long and cold winter stuck inside with a baby," Schott said. "Places like what we are offering are all over Europe."
Schott developed her play cafe idea for a few years before bringing it up last December to Sterner, a veteran of Baltimore cafes and bars, including Holy Frijoles, where he was general manager.
Sterner said that one third of the cafe's interior is devoted to the play area, which is visible from every seat in the dining room. The area is stocked with the usual Legos, Bristle Blocks, Mr. Potato Head, coloring supplies and books. But it also comes equipped with a puppet theater, dress-up supplies and a train table and a race-car table, complete with a Matchbox race track.
"We absolutely think about durability and wash-ability," Schott said. "We get new toys all the time and rotate to keep things fresh and fun."
Sterner said that he doesn't want Play Cafe to be thought of, or used as, as day-care center, especially not a drop-off center. Parents have to supervise their own children. "We are a cafe that offers a play area," Sterner said.
Open daily for breakfast and lunch, the cafe offers a coffeehouse menu of sandwiches, salads and breakfast food like waffles, yogurt, pastries and bagels. For children, there are "TV dinner trays," with choices like hummus, graham crackers, yogurt and Nutella.
Even with the play area, adults without kids should feel welcome, Sterner said, noting that a group of eight women who worked at Johns Hopkins had just come into the cafe for lunch.
There are rules for the play area -- roughhousing is not allowed, and neither are screaming and fighting. There is a one-hour time limit in the area when it's full. And, to keep Play Cafe from turning into a day-care center, there is a minimum purchase of $5 per adult.