Locals Know Best: Baltimore
John Waters, arguably Baltimore’s most famous native son since Babe Ruth, said of his hometown: “You can look far and wide, but you'll never discover a stranger city with such extreme style. It's as if every eccentric in the South decided to move north, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay.” Indeed, between its creative eateries, vibrant public spaces, a multitude of free city-wide events, not to mention the historic sites, Baltimore has a character that’s very much its own. We connected to with Kathy Horning, who directs Artscape, the largest free art festival in the US, the Baltimore Book Festival, and more to learn more about the extravaganzas she oversees and get her guidance on where to eat, drink, explore, and just hang out in the city she calls home.
CULTURE! GET YOUR CULTURE HERE!
As Festivals Director for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts, Kathy knows a thing or two about making sure people get the most out of her hometown. A giant outdoor arts festival is as good a way as any to take in an all-embracing, all-at-once understanding of a city and its people. Artscape, which takes place every third weekend in July, is a three-day extravaganza that lays claim to being the largest free arts festival in the US. Over a 16-block stretch, there are visual art displays as well as dance shows, films, and even concerts with national headline performers. Best of all: everything is free. Same goes with the Baltimore Book Festival, which started in 1996 on the heels of Kurt Schmoke, the mayor of Baltimore in the eary 1990s, declaring Baltimore the City That Reads.
These are all well and good and exciting for anyone who loves the sunshine, but take heart, night owls, you get a festival all to yourself. Light City Baltimore, America’s first and largest international light festival, debuted in 2016 on the 200th anniversary of Baltimore becoming the first US city to illuminate its streets with gas lanterns. The event features 22 giant light art installations, 50 concerts and 150 performances, including plenty for kids.
But there’s plenty to do year-round too. Kathy says the American Visionary Art Museum, is not to be missed. One of those institutions that uniquely Baltimorean, it spotlights artwork created entirely by self-taught visionaries. Paintings and anything with a classical flavor don’t distract from the creative innovation on display in the exhibit spaces as well as in Sideshow the funky, off-beat gift shop. And if you're there in the summer, join the hundreds of locals who gather outside on Thursday nights for Flicks from the Hill, free movies projected on a giant screen outside the museum.
Food halls, those hip, sprawling spaces with food options galore, are popping up in all kinds of once-industrial spacious in American cities of all sizes, but Baltimore lays claim to the first. And Lexington Market, in the heart of the city, dates all the way back to the 1780s. The 101 vendors dish out everything from the classic crabcakes, peeled shrimp, and plenty of BBQ options, but there’s also Malaysian food, Cajun eats, and craft beer served in. “I’m a history geek and I love the juxtaposition of historical aspects with new contemporary things,” Kathy says. The hipster-meets-history vibe is unmissable.
Kathy describes R. House as a food hall for millennials, what with its strong focus on artisanal. Located in a former body shop in Remington, an artsy district, ten chefs occupy the vast space and it serves as an incubator before they go on to open their own restaurants. The craft cocktail bar in the center of the 350-seat marketspace is a lively and popular nighttime hangout.
Patterson Park is Baltimore’s answer to Central Park. The sprawling landscape in East Baltimore has views of the harbor and a history that spans 300 years. Head over in the warm weather and space is a constellation of people picnicking and laying out on blankets. There’s an Asian-style pagoda constructed in the Victorian era and in the summer it’s the site of a free concert series and family activities. Kathy also notes that there’s a large Latino population in East Baltimore and many families have homey mom’n’pop eateries in the area. “They don’t really have formal names,” she warns. “They’re just spots on the corner and I love their authenticity.”
Getting to the park—or anywhere in the city for that matter—is a breeze. Yes, Baltimore is very walkable, but there’s also the Charm City Circulator, a free public bus that gets you all around the city. Also, over the past year, the there’s been a big step up around town when it comes to bike infrastructure with the addition of central bike lanes in the business district and up by the college and university. Even out-of-towners can see easily the city on two wheels, what with Baltimore Bike Share, which was established in October 2016. But if you want another scenic route to the park, Kathy suggests the water taxi to the Fell's Point neighborhood. The main boulevard, Thames Street, is a cobblestone gaslight district that runs parallel to the water. It's home to about 50 bars and restaurants. It’s hard to choose, but Kathy recommends Barcocina, a nouveau Mexican spot with outdoor seating overlooking the water. And brewhounds, take note: Fell's Point's Max's Taphouse, which has over 100 taps and nearly 1000 beers in bottles, is regularly rated one of the top beer bars in the world. The neighborhood's streets are lined with funky indie shops, like The Sound Garden, a store with new and used CDs and vinyl, and Hats in the Belfry, a fancy milliner shop for hats of all styles. Other storefronts house antique stores, book stores, coffee shops.
THE REST IS HISTORY
Virginia, DC, and Massachusetts get lots of love from history buffs, but Maryland has an embarrassment of riches when it comes to sites imbued with historical and even literary significance. Edgar Allan Poe was famously born in Massachusetts, but he died at the young age of 40 in Baltimore and he’s buried at Westminster Cemetery, which is open daily. (Tours are offered.). His life is memorialized at the Edgar Allan Poe House, his home and workspace for about four years. It recently reopened after being shuttered many years, it gives you a close-up snapshot of the legendary writer. “The entire width of the house is maybe six feet across. You really get the sense of how miserable and cramped his living conditions were and insight as to why he created such macabre work. You can really put yourself in his shoes.”
A bit better known, perhaps, is Fort McHenry, where Francis Scott Key penned the Star Spangled Banner as he watched the British bombard the city during the Battle of Baltimore in 1814. To get there today you pass through the bucolic Locust Point, a peninsular neighborhood that’s been home to various immigrant communities over the past century and a half. But it was once the site of much more mayhem.
“Citizens branded together to stop the British navy. Had they succeeded, it’s regarded that they would have gone on to New York and the experiment of 13 colonies having democracy would have been crushed. It incredible—the citizens made bombs, tricked the British," she marvels. "It’s not something the city is particularly well known for, but it should be. I like to say ‘We’ve been stopping bullies since 1812.’”
Best Wine Destinations (and Wines!) for Spring
The balmy breezes of spring make us want to get out there and see the world more than ever, and some of our favorite destinations for relaxing, romantic weekend getaways happen to be beautiful wine regions. It got us thinking: What are the ideal spring wine country destinations? And, just as importantly if you share our taste for affordable reds and whites, what are some of spring's best bottlings and food-wine pairings? I had an inspiring conversation with Ian Broome, a member of the Court of Master Sommeliers, certified Level ll with the Wine and Spirits Education Trust, and beverage manager at JW Marriot Starr Pass Resort & Spa in Tucson, Arizona, to get his expert tips about the best wines, and wine destinations, for spring. Q: What U.S. wine regions are especially suited to spring travel?A: They are all great in the spring! The scenery is beautiful as things green up, and it's an especially good time to meet the winemakers because there is not nearly as much work going on at the wineries as there will be later in the summer and especially the fall. The warmer regions, like Napa, Paso Robles, Arizona, and eastern Washington have lovely weather in the spring (in summer, the heat in those regions can be a bit oppressive). Cooler coastal climates, like Anderson Valley and the Sonoma Coast, on the other hand, are great summer destinations to get away from the summer heat. Q: Are there wines you feel are particularly well-suited to spring weather?A: Vinho Verde has a lower alcohol content and a slight effervescence, which make it a great wine to sip outside as you enjoy the return of warmer weather. Q: Are there new bottlings in spring that should be enjoyed right away?A: Affordable Spanish and Portuguese white wines, such as Rias Baixas, Rueda, and the Vinho Verdes from last vintage, should all be hitting the shelves and are best to drink when they are "young." These wines are all values and display good, crisp acidity, light fruit characteristics, and versatility in pairing with lighter fare, perfect for spring. Q: What wine pairings are you especially fond of for spring produce like strawberries, ramps, asparagus, artichokes?A: I lean toward Sauvignon Blanc this time of year; the fresh, sometimes vegetal characteristics pair well with the tangy, lively flavors that fresh spring produce brings to the table.
Locals Know Best: Portland, Oregon
Portland, Oregon’s history is one of ship-building, grit, and organized crime. What a difference a century makes. Today, Portland is strongly associated with organic food, hipster eyewear, elaborate tattoos, craft beer, and artisanal everything. The dining scene is particularly alluring, offering loads of options from classical cooking to hyper-creative modern menus, not to mention the city is less than an hour from heart of Oregon’s wine country. To get a culinary insider’s tips on where to go and what to do around this city, we caught up with Cathy Whims, award-winning chef who owns a variety of restaurants, including Oven and Shaker, which is known for its wood-burning pizza oven, the modern Italian eatery Nostrana, and Hamlet, the newest entrant in her expanding empire which focuses on ham-heavy small plates, craft cocktails, and sherry. You’d think it’d be tough to find down-time when you oversee that many restaurants, but a retro steakhouse, a bird-watcher’s haven, and a visit to a Zumba class with an eccentric instructor are just a few of this long-time resident’s go-to’s. EAT YOUR HEART OUT If you can’t count on a chef with six James Beard Award nominations for dining recommendations, who can you count on? Cathy’s restaurant picks lean towards the classically-minded and Portland has them in spades. A personal favorite, she says, is Burrasca, a “super-classical” trattoria owned by a Tuscan. “Eating there is like being suddenly teleported to Florence in 1970,” she asserts, ticking off just a few of the “super-classical,” ultra-authentic offerings, like Fegatelli, pork liver wrapped in caul fat, homemade pasta and focaccia, an exclusively Tuscan wine list, and, when in season, squid stewed with greens. Clyde’s Prime Rib is another one of the city’s throwback eateries that comes to us heartily endorsed by her staff. A trip back to the 1950s, they regularly have live jazz and soul music and a happy hour where you can get a prime rib and martini for prices that are as throwback as the vibe. One of the things that defines Portland is its entrepreneurial culture, and that’s especially captured by the food purveyors. Cathy is particularly fond of Providore, a go-to for salami, cheeses and veggies. The store is actually a business within a business: it houses Fly’N’Fish Oyster Bar, a compact, casual joint with a small selection of wine and beer. Cathy describes as an “indie startup fish company,” which evolved from a small shack. THE GREAT OUTDOORS Much like Amsterdam, the preferred mode of transportation of many Portlandians is bicycle. Nike recently launched Biketown, a bike-sharing program with 100 stations around the city. To get a full sense of local life, you can get navigate your way around, hopping on and off brand new orange bikes every few blocks. As to be expected of a city surrounded by wilderness, Portland is a fitness mecca. One of Cathy’s preferred workouts is her Saturday morning Zumba at a spot called Center Space. “The instructor is unlike any other,” she says. “He’s trained in African dance and has actually led several African dance troupes, so he integrates that traditional dance aspect. Almost every Sunday Cathy laces up her sneakers and heads to Mt. Tabor Park, a city park centered around a non-active volcano where it’s easy to figure out a hike, she says. Right near it is Cheese Bar, which, in addition to incredible cheeses, offers wine and beer, salads, and meat boards. When she leaves the park, she usually picks up cheese for rest of the week. Another spot for glorious surrounds is Forest Park. Covering 5157 acres, it’s known as the biggest inner city park in the country. It features 80 miles of trails and an Audubon Society Sanctuary is situated within its borders. And for a quirky twist—something this city is good for—Forest Park is home to what’s recognized as the smallest park in the country. CULTURE CLUBS Whether you’re into music, art, or comedy, Cathy’s got tips for you. Music-lovers would do well to hit Mississippi Studios, a “neighborhood spot,” she says, that offers a packed calendar of live music, from singer/songwriters to indie rock to punk to electronica. And while you’re there, check out the adjacent Bar Bar for what Cathy declares some of the best cheeseburgers in town. All of her employees are regulars at the long-standing Alibi Tiki Lounge, a tacky-chic bar with lush leather booths, string lights, and a giant neon tiki sign outside, and, of course, tropical drinks. It’s perfect for rainy cold night, she said. Speaking of cocktails, the Living Room Theater, which shows first-run arthouse films, has a cocktail bar so you can order drinks and bites for the show. And if cocktails are indeed your interest, go across the street after the show (or before, of course) to the bustling Clyde Common, which Cathy deems “one of the funnest bar in Portland.” Its menu features elaborate drinks like barrel-aged cocktails. If that all seems too self-serious for you, Helium Comedy Club is a great bet. From emerging comics to well-known personalities (Cathy has caught Margaret Cho and David Attell) to open mic nights, laughs come fast and furious.
Locals Know Best: Cleveland
When you think of destinations for music-lovers, Nashville, Detroit, Kansas City, and Austin easily spring to mind. But you’d be remiss if you left Cleveland off that list. Home to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the city, a longtime industrial metropolis that suffered economic decline, devastating pollution, and population flight in the 1970s, is in the throes of a renaissance today. But its old-world character persists. Beyond the roster of tried and true tourist must-sees, like the world-class Cleveland Museum of Art, the shores of Lake Eire and, of course, the house made iconic by “A Christmas Story,” there’s a booming circuit of local restaurants and a vibrant indie arts scene to be explored. We caught up with Greg Harris, President and CEO of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, to give us the lowdown on this magnificent city with a resilient rock’n’roll soul. EAT YOUR HEART OUT Cleveland landmarks come in all shapes and sizes and, as it turns out, flavors. Having just celebrated its centennial, West Side Market is arguably something of a food museum, what with its abundance of traditional provisions (think: handmade sausages, cheese, spices and oils) sold alongside countless fruit purveyors and butchers. While locals stock up on groceries, Harris recommends you join the dependably long line for made-to-order crepes. Cleveland has its fair share of James Beard Award nominees and winners, but it also has a long and solid legacy of old-world ethnic fare, thanks to the many immigrant groups who made their way here when the city was a booming industrial center. In the 1950s, its strong Hungarian and Slovenian populations gave the city Sterle’s Country House, a mecca for Eastern European comfort food. Plus, in a nod to German heritage, polka bands often play. The classic chicken paprikash is Harris’s go-to here. The city’s Polish heritage is on display at Sokolowski’s, which has been family-run since 1923. They offer stuffed cabbage and roster of other standards that, Harris happily notes, you can smell from blocks away.READ: "Locals Know Best: Milwaukee" That Eastern European influence makes its way into the city’s signature barbecue, as evidenced at another one of Harris’s go-to, Mabel’s BBQ, a hip industrial-chic smokehouse with an extensive bourbon list. An old-world pride is also the cornerstone of the local-minded Butcher and Brewery, which Harris recommends for its house-cured meats. And no visit to a rock’n’roll city would be complete without knocking back a few in a classic dive bar. Cleveland’s most legendary is the Harbor Inn, a local institution that, Harris explains, used to the be gathering spot of merchant seamen. For those with more mondern inclinations, the Velvet Tango Room, a speakeasy-style cocktail den, is a must for craft cocktails. LONG LIVE ROCK When the President of the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame endorses a music club, you know it’s gotta be something special. Harris declares Beachland Ballroom “the finest live music venue in the city. I’ll even add in the country.” Its lineup regularly ranges from rockabilly to punk to Americana and plenty more. The club is the anchor of the Waterloo Arts District, where local businesses are open for a street-party-style walk-about the first Friday of each month. And then, of course, there’s the Hall of Fame, which is more than just a museum. Harris notes is mission: “to engage, teach, and inspire through the power of rock and roll,” and they're tenacious about that commitment. The museum is open 362 days/year and while music history is the spotlight of most exhibits, today’s talent comes to life in the busy concert schedule. They hosted 40 concerts on the pavilion in front of the museum, which was christened with a 80-foot-long “LONG LIVE ROCK” sign, dedicated in November. GET CULTURED Here’s an interesting tidbit: In 2006, Cuyahoga County approved a tax on cigarette that would fund Cuyahoga Arts and Culture, an organization that organizes and funds all sorts of programming for the community. “The county collects cigarette tax greater than most cities’ funding,” Harris notes. “It’s fueled a lot of great artists—large and small—through its various arts programs.” It’s a bit of an incubator for young talent, so make sure to check out what events are on when you’re in town. You never know—maybe someday in the future you can say, “I saw her when…”READ: "Locals Know Best: Charleston, South Carolina" Of course, when it comes to art, the Cleveland Museum of Art is a treasure trove of masterpieces, from Edgar Degas to Edward Hopper, but the city’s galleries should not be overlooked. Harris points to the burgeoning scene at Gordon Square Arts District, which was officially established in 2007 by the area’s theater and the local community development organization. Today, 78th Street Studios, which is set in an old automobile parts factory and dubs itself an “eclectic arts maze,” is one of the District’s anchors. On the third Friday of every month, from 5PM to 9PM, all the resident galleries and studios are open, pop-up shops, and food trucks are onsite, and visitors mingle. According to Harris, it’s “uniquely Cleveland.” In addition to revitalized theaters and an independent movie theater, there’s a broad range of bars and restaurants to choose from. One of Harris’s favorites is Spice, which offers creative updated southern fare made with local ingredients, much of which is grown in the on-site hoop house or the restaurant’s nearby farm. For something a bit more nostalgic, Happy Dog is, first and foremost, “a classic, untouched dive with hot dogs with any toppings,” he explains. It’s also a music venue featuring everything from punk to polka. And if that aforementioned nostalgia is your thing, check out the vintage video games in the basement. It may take you back to your early rock’n’roll memories. STAY Like so many other cities around the US, Cleveland has seen a remarkable hotel-building boom in the past two years, so much so, that Harris nearly guaratees that savvy travelers can find deals. One particularly cool new spot to check out is the Drury Plaza Hotel, retrofitted into an old Board of Education building. The $52 million project opened in April 2016. BEER HERE Everywhere you go in the USA these days, you can find local beer. Cleveland’s brewing scene is exceptionally attention-getting, what with several top-rate breweries located in lively areas of the city. Harris calls out Market Garden Brewery, located next to West Side Market. It’s known for its brewpub, which is open until 2.30AM and offers what Harris simply deems “terrific atmosphere.” A 35,000-square-foot production facility, complete with tours and a tasting room, recently opened next door. Harris also gives a nod to Great Lakes Brewing Company, which offers tours Fridays and Saturdays from 12PM to 8PM, and he's looking forward to getting acquainted with the new Platform Beer Company.
Deal of the day: Your NYC vacation at a price beyond compare
This is not a typo: you can stay in the heart of New York City for $229 per night Thursdays through Sundays this winter. That's a savings of over 50% off standard rates. We're not kidding. In fact, to make things even more unreal, the rates on select dates are as little as $189. The Westin New York at Times Square is going all out and offering luxury and convenience at an unprecedented price. And we mean Convenience with a capital "c." The Theater District, shopping galore, and subway lines that get you nearly anywhere in the five boroughs are all within a short walk from the hotel's front door. This Deal, which gets you a standard room, also includes a breakfast offering you gotta see to believe: start your day with a full breakfast for two for $1 at Foundry Kitchen and Bar, a welcoming spot adorned with all the fixings of a country kitchen. It's regularly $65 for you and a companion. We're not mathematicians here at Budget Travel, but it looks like that works out to nearly 100% savings. The hotel boasts a state-of-the-art 24-hour fitness center. It's true: like the city outside, it never sleeps. And the Westin hotels recently instituted a Gear Lending program, which offers New Balance workout clothes delivered right to your room for $5. So there you have it: Food, fitness, and a room smack in the middle of one of the greatest cities on Earth, at a price that leaves you plenty of coin to explore. For more information and to book, click here.