ArtScape is the nation’s largest free outdoor three day arts festival, held in the heart of mid-town Baltimore. We have no idea how many free out door art festivals there are in the country. It’s also not obvious how you would charge an entrance fee to something like this spread out all over the streets of the city. Nevertheless, Baltimore grabbed the crown according to the mayor, and gets behind this art carnival each July. It’s an extravaganza of art, music, fried food and massive amounts of diverse people.
We decided to do ArtScape as residents, Bolton Hill style. Back in the day when Baltimore was the premier sea port and Francis Scott Key had finished penning a little number called the Star Spangled Banner, Captains of Industry built their mansions on the hill overlooking the city. Today many massive brown stones remain and the community sits centered in the arts district of Baltimore with the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall and Maryland Institute College of Art around the corner.
With 350,000 people converging on 1 square mile of creative energy and traffic jams, we wanted immersion and we found it by renting a basement apartment for two nights using our favorite app, AirBnB. Rachel let us use her residence as though it were our own including two cats that came and went as they pleased and a valuable parking space behind the house.
We arrived Friday afternoon, checked in with Rachel and made a beeline to The Brewer’s Art just 1/2 mile away. Closed and disappointed, we had 1 hour to kill before the doors opened at 4pm so we walked N. Charles Street into Mount Vernon past the iconic Belevedere Hotel and Hippo night club until we reached the square, home to the Washington Monument, Peabody Conservatory and stately homes of a bygone era.
The Peabody library makes you want to become a scholar and spend your days wandering among the shelves. It has a soaring ceiling with an ornate glass roof and large oak tables in the center of the room. One block to the west is the Engineer’s Club which occupies a former stately mansion. Apparently you do not have to be an engineer, locomotive or otherwise, to join as it was voted best wedding venue in 2013. A half mile stroll back to the Brewer’s Art, our timing was impeccable, as others were also waiting for the bewitching hour to meet the Belgian beauties Ozzy and the Resurrection.
Brewer’s Art is the largest beer brewer in the city, with highly rated taste and drink-ability. Ozzy Ozbourne hasn’t taken to them using his name, fist and bat imagery however, issuing a cease and desist order earlier this year. Apparently the Brewers aren’t phased as we picked up a 6 pack of this hearty 7.8% ABV for $10 and headed down to ArtScape for the Kelly Bell Band on the mainstage.
One of the highlights of ArtScape are the four stages of entertainment ranging from aerial acrobatics to rockabilly to blues and jazz. Formed as a back-up band for Bo Diddley, The Kelly Bell Band is a hometown favorite, calling themselves “PhatBlues,” which we call toe tapping, head bobbin, arms in the air, down and funky happiness! Eric was into it with his 6 pack web glasses.
Opening night is the best time to check out the vendors and their creative offerings as the crowds have not yet descended and you can actually get into every booth and talk to the artist. After wandering off our own personal OzzyFest, we retired to Linden Green, just a short walk from the action.
Rachel has a sweet set-up in Bolton Hill. Her home is dead center, in a gated community of townhouses built in the 1960s when mansions were being demolished because no one could afford the upkeep of these stately properties. We think she lives in the perfect downtown space, in a quiet and accessible oasis where you can walk or take public transportation to attractions all over the city. We especially enjoyed her membership to the Bolton Hill Tennis and Swim Club, where we rallied with the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall just behind us early Saturday morning. We highly recommend her on AirBnB – she is The Elegant Apartment in MidTown Baltimore
After a hard-hitting workout, we cleaned up and walked a mile to Baltimore’s Wold Famous Lexington Market. Baltimore is famous for its cross-street markets and Lexinton is the largest and most famous If you are looking for a made-for-tourist, gee this is a great reproduction of the 1782 original market, then this is not the place for you. It’s full of fish mongers, cake bakers, hog butchers, and food joints. It’s not dirty, but its not exactly clean either. The floors, walls and ceilings are original to the construction more than a hundred years ago. Folks come to the market to get great, authentic food for not too much cash and eat it standing up at a bar. We did just that grabbing a world famous Faidley lump crab cake sandwich and a sweet tea. A lot of places claim to make the best crab cake. Faidley’s is our favorite.
After devouring the colossal crab cake, we topped it off with a famous Bergers Cookie – a shortbread cake cookie with a sludge of fudge. Yea, hon!
Looking for a reason to walk it off, we headed further away from ArtScape and moved on to the Bromo Seltzer Clock Tower. Before Alkaseltzer there was Bromoseltzer. Emerson, the guy who invented the famous hangover remedy in the cobalt blue bottle made a fortune selling it, and built the highest structure in Baltimore at the time to advertise his product. The building/tower is now converted to artist studios and sits much the same as when it was built. We rode a 1911 Otis elevator up to the 15th floor and then scaled a ships ladder into the clock tower.
Four white glass dials, each a foot in diameter larger than Big Ben, tell the time driven by a Seth Thomas pendulum mechanism. The clock hands stopped four months ago when the curator noticed them jumping around. The plan now is to bring in a Seth Thomas repair expert for around 3 million and get it working again. After our tour, they are ten bucks closer to their goal. It amazed us that we could just walk in and around the clock mechanism in its original glory.
Speaking of walking, we were piling on the miles on our history tour of the westside and a stroll up N. Charles Street where we would stop for the obligatory vacation tradition – a haircut for Eric.
This stop was at the Baltimore Barber Lounge where Eric didn’t have to pick from a picture, instead he said kinda short and the barber took it from there while I literally lounged in a comfy chair, watched sports and arranged our dinner date with old friends David S and Marta for an italian feast at Sammy’s later that night.
Perfectly coiffed, we headed back to ArtScape to finish the sites while winding our way through crowds of meanderers, checking out things like cockroach art cars, riding a bike to make your own spin art and trying on designer jewelry shaped like dead babies. Ew.
Nothing is complete without standing in Ostrich Festival style food lines in search of the butterfly potatoes with hot cheese topping. You’d think lunch was enough, but the lure of deep fried food is intoxicating!
With 6 miles behind us we wrapped up the night with family style dinner at Sammy’s, voted Baltimore’s Best Italian Restaurant in 2013 by the City Paper offered another food extravaganza with calamari, sausage with peppers and a big salad. Enough, but why stop there? The handmade pasta course of penne vodka and pappardelle bolognese followed by the meat course of veal marsala and chicken and crab alfredo put us in a food coma so we had the sugar rush of tiramisu, cannoli and cheesecake to snap us out for a waddling walk home. Does anyone feel sick?
Sunday morning we rolled out of bed, packed up and headed for our favorite farmers market under the downtown Jones Falls Expressway of I-83. It’s been about 5 years since we’ve moved away but the comfort of this expanded market made us feel at home again. As if we didn’t eat enough the day before, we stuffed our insulated tote with farm to table tomatoes, patty pan squash, cukes, mint, arugula, watermelon, blackberries, blueberries to atone for our food sins of saturday. While we were there we had the best tamale ever from Carumbas followed by the best falafel ever from Face to Farm.
Back on the road, with ArtScape and food frenzy behind us, we stopped at our favorite recycling store, Second Chance and picked up a brass shelving unit that we really don’t need, but it was pretty, a great deal and fit in the car so why not? We also stopped at a new place – Housewerks.
Jammed with architectural salvage both inside and out, we saw lots of things we wanted, but the prices were way too high for our liking. We won’t be re-visiting this spot anytime soon!
It seems to us that ArtScape is a once every five years event. We won’t, however, let this stop us from visiting MidTown Baltimore and getting our Ozzy on a little more often!