Where to go when the parents come to town

THE BALTIMORE SUN

With a three-day weekend approaching, there is always a possibility that Mom and Dad might come for a quick visit. Such an event will trigger a frenzy of preparation -- stuffing unpaid bills under the bed, disinfecting the bathroom, repairing a puncture in the air mattress.

And, while these efforts are usually rewarded by one or more scrumptious dinners at swank Baltimore restaurants, you still need to plan an itinerary.

Here are our suggestions for parent-friendly activities for that critical time between meals.

Shoot a few games of pool. This is a nice way to work up an appetite. Parents are often eager to see how their offspring spend some time. We're sure you have some favorite places, but here are ours:

The Hippo, 1 E. Eager St. Call 410-547-0069. Monday nights they have free pool. On other nights, a game costs $1.

Jerry's, 1453 Light St. (in Federal Hill, just across the street from the Bicycle). The bar doesn't have a name on the door, but it is worth finding because beers are $1.50 and a game of pool is 50 cents.

Visit Edgar Allan Poe's grave. Show off the literary history of Charm City and visit the grave of our famous writer. The grave is (now) clearly marked in a tiny graveyard at Westminster Hall. The church is at 509 W. Fayette St. Call 410-706-2072. To bone up on Poe lore, visit Baltimore's Poe Society Web site at www.eapoe.org.

If you're really ambitious, you could pair this with a trip to the home of H.L. Mencken. His house is at 1524 Hollins St. Visit www.mencken.org or www.menckenhouse.org.

See a patriotic movie at Fort McHenry. The grounds are nice too, but if it's cold and blustery, skip the walk and head straight for the heated main building near the park entrance. Every day starting at 9 a.m., the Park Service shows a delightful film that recaps the salient points about the Battle of Baltimore. There is a bit of a twist at the end, and don't be ashamed if you cry. A lot of people do.

We'd be remiss not to point out that the film is also a handy launching point for a larger discussion about the merits of Baltimore over Washington.

The film is 15 minutes long and plays every 20 minutes. The last showing is at 4 p.m. The fort is open to visitors every day from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. unless the British attack again. It is at 2400 E. Fort Ave. Call 410-962-4290.

Explore the Baltimore Conservatory and Botanic Gardens. It just re-opened. The city and state put millions of dollars into the soaring glass structure, which is filled with exotic plants. We're particularly looking forward to walking around in it when Druid Hill Park is coated with snow.

The conservatory is in Druid Hill Park, near McCulloh Street and Gwynns Falls Parkway. Call 410-396-0008. Hours are 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays.

Peek in Mount Vernon windows. Architecturally, Mount Vernon Square deserves to be explored. (We would say that even if we didn't happen to live there.) While snooping, be sure to glance in the Agora Inc. windows -- particularly those at 14 W. Mount Vernon Place and 105 W. Monument St.

Also, get a look at the Engineers' Club at the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion, which is fabulous. It is at 11 W. Mount Vernon Place.

Finally, stop at George Peabody Library, one of the finest library spaces in America. It is at 1 E. Mount Vernon Place. Viewing times are 10 a.m.-10:15 a.m. Tuesdays-Saturdays; 3 p.m.-3:15 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays. A bit restrictive, but it is a working library, and it is always possible to look through the glass door at the columns and tiers of balconies if you miss the 15-minute viewing window.

Bet at Pimlico. You don't have to bet much, and you probably shouldn't (the last thing you want to do is suggest to Mom and Dad that you have disposable income), but a few hours at the venerable race course will show off some local texture. But act quickly; the horses will be moved to the Laurel Race Track after the race on Monday. The track is at 5201 Park Heights Ave. Call 410-542-9400 or visit www.pim lico.com.

Matinee at the Charles or the Senator. These great (and often warring) independent movie theaters should be shown off not only to the parent but to any out-of-towner. So what if the Charles is not full of people? Or if the Senator's announcer insists on using the phrase "e-mailings list"? Mom and Dad will think it's quaint.

The Charles is at 1711 N. Charles St. Call 410-727-FILM or visit www.thecharles.com. The Senator is at 5904 York Road. Call 410-435-8338 or visit www.senator.com.

Top of the World. We like going to the top of things. Particularly when there is no restaurant at the top. (There is a well-known inverse relationship between the quality of food and the height at which it is served.) From this vantage point, you can see the Inner Harbor plus about 20 miles.

Admission is $5 for adults. It is on the 27th floor of Baltimore's World Trade Center at 401 E. Pratt St. Call 410-837-8439.

For club events, see Page 30.

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