When I told a friend I was moving to Baltimore, the first thing he said was, "Great neighborhoods."
Then, he wistfully recalled the charms of the city and finished with a sigh. "I envy you."
Baltimore's neighborhoods are legendary, from the grandeur of the homes in Bolton Hill to the feisty maritime spirit of Fells Point.
One of the best ways for out-of-towners to get a feel for a Baltimore neighborhood is by staying in one of the city's bed and breakfasts.
But even if you live within the city limits, an overnight stay at a bed and breakfast makes a great, relatively inexpensive escape from home.
Think of what you'll save in airfare.
There are dozens of bed and breakfasts operating in Baltimore. They range from establishments with up to 11 rooms, to private )) homes with one or two rooms. Some are formal, some comfortably spare.
B&Bs; offer a more intimate experience than staying at the local motor inn. You are essentially a visitor in someone's home. If cable television and an ashtray are your idea of essential amenities, a bed and breakfast is probably not for you.
On the other hand, if you're looking for a quiet retreat, unique furnishings and a chance to rediscover a part of the city, Baltimore's bed and breakfasts can be a great in-town getaway. Following are accounts of stays at three B&Bs; in Baltimore:
Celie's Waterfront Bed and Breakfast
When Edward Fell bought a parcel of land on the Patapsco River more than 200 years ago, the Quaker shipbuilder set in motion a thriving waterfront community, first home to shipyards, now to dozens of restaurants, taverns and shops.
On cobblestoned Thames Street, Celie's Waterfront Bed and Breakfast is a new inn that was designed to fit into the historic milieu. The buzzer wasn't working when we visited, so Celie Ives herself, a tall, no-nonsense woman in a long down coat and hiking boots, padded briskly to the gate and let us in.
We walked down a narrow brick alleyway past a small garden and entered the inn's main door. A painting of Celie's great-great-great grandmother, a Virginia Quaker, hangs over the fireplace in the sitting room, where we checked in. After giving us her picks for places to eat in the neighborhood (among them: M. Gettier, Piccolo's and Foster's), Celie headed upstairs to our room with a vase of fresh flowers in hand.
It had just snowed when we visited, so we couldn't resist upgrading to one of the harbor rooms with a fireplace. Light streamed in through three long windows, warming the spare but spacious room.
Almost everything about it said "relax." The king-size bed with generous down comforter and flannel sheets. The roomy wicker chair and rocker in front of the fireplace. The enormous bath sheets. The deep whirlpool tub. I said to my husband, "I want to live like this."
We liked the thoughtful details, too. A clock radio next to the bed will play ocean waves to soothe you to sleep if the bar crowd gets too loud (we weren't bothered at all). An alcove holds a mini-refrigerator, small microwave, tiny coffee maker, coffee and tea. In the bathroom, there's a basket of cotton balls, cotton swabs and a disk of glycerin soap; in the closet, thick terry-cloth robes and a television.
We dragged ourselves away from the comforts of our room, first to the roof deck for a look at the water. In the warm months, when the potted flowers are in full bloom, this must be a great place to share a glass of wine at sunset, or breakfast in the morning.
We headed a few doors down to the Daily Grind, a funky urban coffeehouse, for a cafe latte, some classical music and a glimpse of Andre Braugher, a regular on the locally filmed TV show "Homicide." Next, we worked our way up Broadway, popping into antique shops, galleries and bookstores.
A U.S. destroyer was in port in the harbor so we climbed aboard for a quick tour. We had seen its gray hull from the window seat in our room. The young serviceman who was our guide told us that Baltimore was one of his favorite harbors -- mainly because so many bars are a stone's throw from deck.
The next morning, we compared notes with a couple on a weekend getaway from Washington over toast and homemade granola, while Celie brought out fruit compote and fresh-squeezed orange juice.
Back in our room, a framed cartoon amused us. A man, sunbathing in a tropical place, is on the phone with a friend.
"Hey, what can I say?" the caption reads. "It's not Baltimore, but ++ then what is?"
Mr. Mole's Bed and Breakfast
I don't know what I like more about Bolton Hill: the height of the ceilings in the grand Victorian homes here, or the neighborhood's proximity to the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, the Lyric Opera House and other sites in Baltimore's cultural district.
To get a taste of how the wealthy merchant class lived more than a century ago, we spent a night at Mr. Mole's Bed and Breakfast, an impeccably decorated, 1870s brick rowhouse run by Paul Bragaw and Collin Clarke.
We arrived late on a weeknight, having picked up our keys earlier in the day for a street-level suite called Mr. Mole's Room. When we entered the foyer area through the side door, it felt as though we had stepped into a page from an English children's classic.
In a sense, we had. Mr. Mole's is named for a character from Kenneth Grahame's "The Wind in the Willows" -- a mole with a penchant for spring-cleaning. A whimsical woodland theme sets the tone for the decor, from the vintage croquet set and giant concrete topiary outside our door, to the framed prints of birds hung on fat fabric ribbons.
Decorated in warm coral tones, the room is large and welcoming. There's a separate sitting area and a canopied bed covered in fine linens and a down comforter. The collection of antique teapots, the old volumes of books, the fresh flowers that match the color scheme -- every detail seems lovingly chosen and perfectly in sync.
There's lots of counter space in the bathroom, along with a basket of Caswell-Massey toiletries . . . even a yellow rubber duck. White terry-cloth robes hang in the walk-in closet. Next to the bed, there's a small box of chocolates and a welcome note sealed with wax.
Mr. Mole's is a good base of operations if you want to browse for antiques along Howard Street, or have tickets for the symphony or opera. You can leave your car parked in Mr. Mole's garage and walk to one of the restaurants in the area, such as Cusack's on Bolton Street, a good spot for lunch and a cappuccino, or Spike and Charlie's, conveniently located on Cathedral Street across from the Meyerhoff.
In the morning, a table was set for us in the breakfast room, which like the front and rear parlors, has a 14-foot ceiling, bright yellow walls and billowing madras plaid curtains. This home is an English-style designer's showplace.
Looking out the bay window, we downed hot coffee, homemade buttermilk bread, Amish meats and cheeses, moist coffeecake and an elegant poached pear in a bright puddle of strawberry coulis.
We weren't the only ones impressed. After folks from the Mobil Travel Guide visited, they awarded Mr. Mole's a four-star rating for 1995.
House by the Side of the Road
There is something so appealing about the village atmosphere of Federal Hill. Maybe it's having the Inner Harbor as your back yard. Or being able to get whatever you need on foot. Whatever it is, we got a taste of the charm of living in Federal Hill on an overnight stay at the House by the Side of the Road.
Two barking cocker spaniels greeted us from the concrete-paved back yard of an adjacent home as we approached 132 Birckhead St., a neatly maintained rowhouse.
We knew that Susan Belisle, the proprietor who lives next door, would be at work when we arrived late on a Friday afternoon, so we arranged to get the keys beforehand. After waving to a neighbor across the street, we walked up the marble steps and (( let ourselves in.
Guests at the House by the Side of the Road have the whole rowhouse to themselves. That doesn't mean there's lots of room. This is a tiny doll house sort of place -- not so much fancy as it is a bit fussy. Curtains are pulled to one side with tasseled satin rope. Dried flowers and bows are fastened to the corners of molding.
On the first floor, there's a parlor and full kitchen with a petite table for two. Upstairs is the main bedroom and a remodeled bath with a pedestal sink. Plus, there's Grandma's Attic, a small room that has a white iron daybed.
The main bedroom, done in a crisp blue and white color scheme, also is somewhat small -- or perhaps it just feels that way because of the queen-size wedding canopy bed that is the room's unmistakable centerpiece. It's fashioned of burnished gray metal, draped in lace and covered with pillows that are lacy and white, save for one burgundy satin heart.
The house is within easy walking distance of the Cross Street Market -- a great place for people-watching, especially when the happy-hour crowds line up at Nick's Inner Harbor Seafood. We walked half a block to sample the Edgar Allan stout and cherry wheat beers at Sisson's before dinner. Susan suggested eating at Bandaloops, but we were in the mood for sushi. In Federal Hill, you can satisfy almost every food craving, from Thai to Indian. If the weather's nice, take an after-dinner stroll down to the Inner Harbor.
In the morning, we ground some gourmet beans and enjoyed a cup of coffee in the kitchen while checking out old cooking implements displayed on the wall. A favorite was a spatula made out of what looked like chicken wire. Then, we crossed the shared private courtyard to Susan's house for breakfast, although she would have brought it to us on a tray if we preferred. We loved the specialty of the house: spicy gingerbread pancakes smeared with dark apple butter, chunky applesauce and slivered almonds, along with crisp bacon, cranberry juice and coffee. The pancakes were so good, we'd come back just to sample more, but soon we won't have to. Susan is in the process of marketing her pancake mixes under the name Angel Kisses.
SOME B&Bs; IN BALTIMORE
This is a partial list of bed and breakfasts in Baltimore. Not included are private residences whose owners don't advertise their services and B&Bs; whose rooms are available only through reservation services.
Bed and Breakfast on the Park, 1315 John St., (410) 523-0576. One suite with private bath and small kitchen, breakfast stocked in refrigerator, $85 double.
Mr. Mole's Bed and Breakfast, 1601 Bolton St., (410) 728-1179. Five rooms with private bath, Dutch-style breakfast, $95-$115 double.
House by the Side of the Road, 132 Birckhead St., (410) 539-0652. Entire rowhouse, full breakfast, $100 double, no credit cards.
The Little House, 212 Warren Ave., (410) 528-0231. Entire two-bedroom home, Continental breakfast, $125 double ($165 for both bedrooms), no credit cards.
Ann Street Bed and Breakfast, 804 S. Ann St., (410) 342-5883. Three rooms with private bath, full breakfast, $85-95 double, no credit cards.
Celie's Waterfront Bed and Breakfast, 1714 Thames St., (410) 522-2323. Seven rooms with private bath, Continental breakfast, double.
Eagles Mere Bed and Breakfast, 102 E. Montgomery St., (410) 332-1618. Two rooms with shared bath, Continental breakfast, $65 double, no credit cards.
The Paulus Gasthaus, 2406 Kentucky Ave., (410) 467-1688. Two rooms with private or shared bath, full breakfast, $75 double.
Union Square House Bed and Breakfast, 23 S. Stricker St., (410) 233-9064. Three rooms with private bath, full breakfast, $80-$115 double.
Amanda's Bed and Breakfast Reservation Service, (410) 225-0001. Represents properties in six states, including about 30 bed and breakfasts in Baltimore, $60 and up for doubles.
Bed and Breakfast of Maryland/The Traveller in Maryland Inc., (410) 269-6232. Represents properties throughout Maryland, including about eight bed and breakfasts in Baltimore; doubles range from $85-115.
The Maryland Bed and Breakfast Association is an inspection and marketing tool for quality country inns and bed and breakfasts. Not all places mentioned in this article are members of MBBA. For information about the association and a current brochure of members, write to the Maryland Bed and Breakfast Association, P.O. Box 23324, Baltimore, Md. 21203.