If the last time you visited Fells Point was to go barhopping back in the Bush era (George Herbert Walker, that is), it’s time you paid another visit to Baltimore’s most historic neighborhood. Oh, sure, some of those seedy bars remain, but many have been replaced by upscale watering holes serving $12 cocktails and restaurants dishing out salumi and duck confit.
Now with the arrival of the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore, a harborside hotel that opened in the long-abandoned Recreation Pier building, Fells Point’s days as a trashy adult playground seem as quaint as a military invasion of Panama.
Witness all the luxury apartments and townhouses, occupied by empty-nesters, that have sprung up along the streets surrounding Broadway and Thames, or the seemingly endless renovations to the northern Broadway Market Pavilion, one of two old municipal market buildings in the area. Broadway Square—the brick area just north of the waterfront and once the favored haunt of panhandlers and buskers of questionable talent—is also getting a $3-million facelift.
Luckily, what made Fells Point so damn charming remains: its Belgian-block streets, Colonial-era homes, and nary a chain store in sight. Plus, the waterfront, with its views of boat traffic on the harbor, is as pretty as ever.
It’s not Disneyland yet. Fells Point has retained an undeniable grit, but these days you’re likely to encounter nearly as many families wandering along its historic streets as you are drunken revelers at night.
Along the Way
A Half Hour In
Search for wildfowl and other critters on a hiking trail at the Patuxent Research Refuge (230 Bald Eagle Dr., Laurel; 301-497-5770), a 12,000-plus-acre wildlife preserve.
Less Than 45 Minutes In
Hunting for vintage bargains more your thing? Visit the Antique Center at Historic Savage Mill (8600 Foundry St., Savage; 410-880-0918).
Less Than an Hour In
Live Hotel & Casino (7002 Arundel Mills Cir., Hanover; 443-842-7000) has all the traditional casino games, more than half a dozen restaurants, and entertainment.
If you’re hungry before you hit Fells Point, stop by G&M Restaurant (804 N. Hammonds Ferry Rd., Linthicum Heights; 410-636-1777), a five-minute detour off the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, for its softball-size crabcakes, always contenders for the best of Baltimore.
What to Do
To learn about the neighborhood’s seafaring past, stop by the Fells Point Visitor Center (1724 Thames St.; 410-675-6750) and its small museum of local lore. History buffs would also appreciate the Fells Point Wicked History Pub Tour (877-293-1571), a walking tour recalling the days when privateers, sailors, and ladies of the night ruled the streets.
One of the best ways to see Fells Point—and to arrive from the Inner Harbor—is via water taxi. Boats dock at stops throughout the waterfront. Kids will love donning an eye patch and firing water cannons as part of an Urban Pirates boat adventure (410-327-8378), which departs from the Ann Street Pier.
Where to Shop
The Sound Garden (1616 Thames St.; 410-563-9011) regularly gets named one of the best record shops in the country, and it also hosts live performances.
Next door, the colorful tiles on the facade of a building mark the entrance to mosaicist Loring Cornish’s gallery, How Great Thou Art (1622 Thames St.; 443-622-2869). The funky artwork is worth a look, as is the chance to meet the affable Cornish.
Freesia (1643 Thames St.; 410-732-0039) accommodates the more “mature” fashion senses of those aforementioned empty-nesters who have relocated from the burbs. Owner Cathy Sidlowski stocks her shop with stylish goods from designers such as Joseph Ribkoff and jewelry by Zenzii.
What to Eat
Thames Street Oyster House (1728 Thames St.; 443-449-7726) boasts one of the most varied raw bars in town. Seafood dishes showcase both New England (lobster rolls, clam chowder) and the Mid-Atlantic (crabcakes, blue-catfish sandwiches).
Reflecting Upper Fells Point’s growing Latino population, tiny Tortilleria Sinaloa (1716 Eastern Ave.; 410-276-3741) makes authentic tortillas for its tacos, which the bilingual staff stuffs with everything from barbecue beef to beef tongue.
Regulars know to arrive early for dinner at Peter’s Inn (504 S. Ann St.; 410-675-7313), which doesn’t take reservations and often fills quickly. The neighborhood favorite—and former biker bar—has a changing chalkboard menu, ranging from seared-duck-breast salad to bouillabaisse, plus walls packed with knickknacks, photos, and a swordfish tangled in twinkling lights.
Where to Stay
The development company overseen by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank gets credit for redeveloping the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore hotel (1715 Thames St.; 443-552-1400; from $279), a 1914 Beaux Arts building that once hosted dances for the neighborhood’s immigrants. Sitting by the pool overlooking the water or eating $48 rib eyes in its Rec Pier Chop House, it’s hard to recognize the building for its most famous incarnation, the police station in TV’s Homicide.
The Inn at Henderson’s Wharf (1000 Fell St.; 410-522-7777; rooms from $189) is another hotel in a repurposed building, in this case an old tobacco factory. It’s also on the water, but in a quieter setting, a couple of blocks removed from the heart of the neighborhood’s action.
This article appears in the September 2017 issue of Washingtonian.