A recent trip to Baltimore gave me a better appreciation of the city and expanded my opinion of its metro area as a dynamic weekend getaway. My husband and I had previously stayed in the city’s fabulous and walkable Mount Vernon neighborhood — which, as the city’s gayborhood, is well worth an afternoon or more — but this time we opted to stay on the waterfront in always-hopping Fell’s Pointe.
Baltimore Sagamore Pendry
We chose to stay at the Baltimore Sagamore Pendry (above), a luxury boutique chain that was new to me…and what a lovely discovery. The property is built right onto the city’s historic Recreation Pier, which dates to 1914, making for an ideal location. Our oversized suite had a large patio facing the water, as well as the outdoor infinity pool. Sunrises were stunning from our patio, and the city lights each evening were dramatic and romantic.
Sunrise from the hotel room balcony
There are 128 rooms and suites, and ours featured warm woods, gorgeous textiles, and a modern, refined style. The hotel’s restaurant did not disappoint for an early breakfast, and the gorgeously appointed lounge was hopping every night we were there. The entire property feels like the “it place” to be in town, and it was perfectly situated for our city exploring. Steps from the front door, you’ll find myriad shops, bars, and restaurants.
Three museums, three experiences
Baltimore has a great variety of museums, and we enjoyed three that were each unique and worthwhile. The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA, below) has an intriguing current exhibition, “A Modern Influence: Henri Matisse, Etta Cone, and Baltimore.” The exhibition traces Cone’s 43-year friendship with Matisse while she collected many of his drawings and works. Cone even brought the artist to her hometown of Baltimore in 1930, and she and her sister eventually collected more than 700 of Matisse’s works; a majority of them were eventually bequeathed to the BMA. It was interesting to see so many of the artist’s study sketches for his eventual masterpieces, how he played with more and less detail as he worked with the subjects.
There has been much speculation about the Cone sisters’ sexual orientation over the years, but we have no definitive answer — and surely, society in the early 1900s likely affected what the sisters even thought was possible. But their collection, much of which centered on sketches of reclining female nudes, certainly has pushed some to draw their own conclusions.
On December 12, the BMA will open two new permanent facilities, the highly anticipated Ruth R. Marder Center for Matisse Studies and the Nancy Dorman and Stanley Mazaroff Center for the Study of Prints, Drawings and Photographs.
Closer into the heart of the city, the iconic shape of the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of African American History & Culture beckons to visitors. The three-level museum is full of one-of-a-kind exhibits that chronicle the 400 years of African Americans in Maryland. Exhibits range from an understanding of slavery through specific documents and artifacts to insightful looks at African Americans’ local history as viewed through politics, industry, the arts, military, sports, and media.
The American Visionary Art Museum is a quirky part of Baltimore that was practically built on the energy of one woman, the delightful Rebecca Hoffberger, who serves as the museum’s Director, and is nearing retirement. From statues of local icon Devine to an enormous outdoor mirrored egg (that looks like it could birth a drag queen at any moment), the museum is a delightful exploration of amateur American art across decades and regions. Two exhibits running currently are The Science and Mystery of Sleep and Hoffberger’s final collection, entitled Healing and the Art of Compassion (and the Lack Thereof!).
Get Shredded Vintage
Walking the Remington neighborhood
We spent a good part of our Saturday strolling around the Remington neighborhood, which is next to the BMA, Wyman Park, and Johns Hopkins University. The area is a popular one for artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs, and it’s quite walkable and easy to explore. Make sure to check out Greedy Reads, a local independent bookstore (the original location is in Fell’s Point). We wandered the aisles before making our purchases and found a lot of titles applicable to the LGBTQ community and social justice issues. Nearby, Get Shredded Vintage is a funky shop that breathes new life into old items, including some fantastic retro clothing.
R House photo by Devin Allen
R House, on W. 29th Street, is a chef-driven food hall with many delicious choices, from burgers to poke bowls to Creole cooking. There are 10 permanent stalls, space for pop ups (while we were there, one was a fish + chips restaurant), and a craft cocktail bar in the center. Make sure to save room for dessert at the hall’s Taharka Brothers Ice Cream stand. An employee at Greedy Reads had recommended the Honey Graham flavor to us, and it did not disappoint!
We also decided to check out Movement Lab, located on the 2nd floor about R House. This fitness and wellness facility has a great industrial vibe, with huge windows overlooking the street. A variety of classes are offered, including pole, yoga, and aerial. We tried the Aerial Foundations 101 Class, which was something new for both of us.
Author's husband prepares to do aerial workout
Our instructor, Megan, explained how to use the hammocks (also called aerial silks). Participants in our class represented a variety of skill levels, and Megan allowed everyone to go at their own pace. The hammocks at times served as virtual torture devices as we did pull-ups, leg work, and inverted balancing. But they also functioned as literal cocoons, as we occasionally immersed ourselves in them at Megan’s direction, slowly rocking or swinging to relax our bodies. It was a wonderful workout, and I’m eager to try it again!
Pamper yourself a little
Some pampering seemed in order, as well, so we explored the amazing spa and wellness facilities at the Art of Balance Wellness Spa, located near the Inner Harbor, an easy drive from our hotel. The spa, the brainchild of Dr. Nia Banks and Dr. Aderonke Omotade, includes valet parking and contains treatment rooms for laser treatments, body contouring, chemical peels, and more. The other half of the facility is a traditional spa, with a relaxing water feature, enormous outdoor courtyard, beautiful treatment rooms, and a salt therapy room.
The courtyard at Art of Balance
We opted for a short salt therapy session, followed by a 50-minute couples’ massage. The salt therapy is said to improve breathing and reduce inflammation and stress. Medical-grade salt is pulverized and injected into the air while you relax amidst backlit rose-hued salt block walls, a transcendent experience. Then we moved to the massage treatment room, where we enjoyed customized massages, based on our body’s specific pain points and the desired firmness. My therapist was excellent, precisely following my requests — focusing on my neck, shoulders, and calves with a Swedish-style medium firmness. Finishing with the spa’s signature cocktail, Prosecco with lavender, was the lovely ending to our spa adventure.
The author (left) and his husband enjoy the Art of Balance Wellness Spa
We’ve found Baltimore to be a great food destination over the years, even beyond the endless options of delicious crab appetizers and entrees. We enjoyed dinner at Cindy Lou’s Fish House, located in the Canopy by Hilton Baltimore Harbor Point, a few blocks from where we were staying. Cindy Lou’s is perched right on the water, with huge windows and some outdoor seating, as well.
Cindy Lou’s Fish House
This restaurant’s cocktail game is on point, and we were impressed by Winter in Oaxaca (a twist on a margarita using mezcal, so a smokier, sexier version) and Wolves’ Clothing, which incorporated the taste of cinnamon and apples to Johnnie Walker Black and more mezcal. Do try the fried green tomato appetizer, a small stack perfect for sharing. It had a fresh taste and was lighter than you’d think. That made us hungry for our entrees, a lobster po’ boy and pan roasted wild Atlantic salmon. Both were prepared to perfection. We noticed at least four gay couples in the restaurant while we were there and figured it must be a go-to romantic dinner place for queer couples, whether local or visiting.
The next evening, we snagged seats at the bar at the trendy and super busy Clavel, a taqueria and mezcaleria back in the Remington neighborhood. I started with the Mezcalina (because, why not … the liquor seemed to be following us!) and my husband enjoyed the Santa Sandia, which featured hints of watermelon and basil. Some of the favorites here include lamb tacos with barbacoa braised in Mexican coffee, not to mention the carnitas, fish, and shrimp tacos. The restaurant has become so popular that it also includes a second bar just down the street where patrons can wait for a table. After dinner, stop at nearby W.C. Harlan, a neighborhood speakeasy that feels like part English pub, part rich friend’s home.
Baltimore hosts a handful of drag brunches, and we decided that ending our weekend with one would be a fun way to say goodbye. We chose the Drag Brunch at The Manor, a swanky Victorian restaurant/ultra lounge, which featured five incredible divas from Baltimore, D.C., Atlanta, and Knoxville. Hosted by Evon Michelle — who was fantastic herself — we were impressed with the variety of performances, as well as the restaurant’s modern America cuisine. We enjoyed chicken & waffles, crab dip, fries, and of course mimosas … a perfect conclusion to a perfect weekend.
The author with Jalah Nicole