By By Jennifer Siciliano Shayne and Tracy Williams
|Special to SunSpot|
Aug 12, 2003 | 12:00 AM
Fells Point is an historic nugget that's an amalgam of cultures, lifestyles and generations. At any given hour of the day, visitors will see skateboarding teenagers doing death-defying stunts, strolling lovebirds admiring the yachts and tugboats on the waterfront, dog-owners taking their best friends for walks, parents pushing strollers and chasing after their toddlers, or loners blissfully tossing bread to flocks of seagulls and pigeons.
It's a good neighborhood for ambling aimlessly, shopping-til-dropping or sweet-talking a date, and although it continues to change as the face of the city changes, it maintains the historical aspects that set it apart from any other hip city spot.
Tugboats are a common sight on the waterfront in Fells Point. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)
The neighborhood, like those surrounding it, is in transition as homebuyers snap up older rowhouses and renovate them. The mix of old and new homes and homeowners is bringing new life -- and several different economic levels -- to the area.
While it still serves as a destination for bachelorette parties and babe-cruising frat boys, the area offers more than just an opportunity to drink. Although the bars are plentiful, the shopping and eating options offer more diversions. The modern stores and eateries are tucked into rowhouses hundreds of years old, with the wood floors, cornices and odd nooks that characterize Baltimore structures. Cobblestone streets let visitors know that this isn't some fly-by-night, hamlet-come-lately -- it's a neighborhood rich with history and culture.
Baltimore's Fells Point area was named for William Fell, who originally purchased the land, and his son Edward Fell, who plotted the layout of the village in 1763. Technically, this would label the area Fell's Point, but since we're talking about more than one Fells person, the "powers that be" apparently opted to drop the apostrophe. Built on the shoreline of the Chesapeake, Fells Point served as a major maritime port during both the War for Independence and the War of 1812 and has seen the construction of several famous ships. In addition to birthing the USS Constellation and the USS Enterprise (two of the first ships built for the U.S. Navy), the first designs for schooners were built in Fells Point. The design was so closely linked to the area that the schooners eventually became known as "Baltimore clippers."
Fells Point's waterfront location also made it one of the major ports for immigration until the mid-19th century. This turned Fells Point into one of the more ethnically diverse areas of Baltimore -- a fact made apparent by the multitudinous cuisine options available in the area.
Thames Street in Fells Point shows off the cobblestone the neighborhood is known for. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)
, a 10-minute walk from the heart of Fells Point, primarily grew out of its immigrant population. And Baltimore's growing Latino community has made a number of sustenance-related contributions to the Fells Point area, including the , a dinner and dancing establishment on Broadway; , a small, unconventional eatery nearby; and , a grocery store and restaurant on Eastern Avenue.
The addition of on Eastern Avenue makes it unacceptable to hit the Safeway when you're in need of fresh flour tortillas. Head into this tiny shop to spend a mere $1.50 on a giant stack.
is the center of the neighborhood, and it's a great place to lounge and nibble a pretzel or sip a limeade. Just off the square are dozens of eateries and shops for every taste and temperament. Square mainstay serves the best in greasy-spoon dining, and it's not unusual to see slightly inebriated locals at the counter shoulder-to-shoulder with area office workers. Recall diner scenes from the Baltimore-based TV show, "Homicide," and enjoy an entire meal for less than the price of a coffee and pastry at your favorite chain java joint. Diners can order anything from pancakes to burgers, and then enjoy their meal while people-watching or reading the paper.
On Aliceanna Street, boasts a cheap, greasy, to-die-for breakfast. Sure, you could get the basic gigantic breakfast, but try the huevos rancheros for something new. Or, pay homage to Maryland's own side-scuttling bottom-feeder, and have a Maryland Crab Benedict, with eggs, hollandaise and crab meat on an English muffin.
Patrons sit out front of Jimmy's Restaurant, known for its affordable food and diner-like atmospher and menu. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)
If you're looking for classier cuisine, , also on Aliceanna, wins points for swankiness. The menu features things that are "encrusted," and the prices on the menu are listed without dollar signs. Sit by the window and gaze at the historic neighborhood. Bring a date here to score some points of your own.
For visitors with a Gatsby complex there's , a restaurant and scotch bar on Aliceanna. While the menu is strictly "lite fare" (sandwiches and appetizers), you're not there for the grub. You're there for the good stuff: More than 120 single-malt scotches.
For dinner away from the norm, walk like an Egyptian to . Right on the square, the bold yellow restaurant serves schwarmas, kabobs and "pitawiches," as well as salads, pizzas and pasta. As an added bonus, many dishes are vegetarian and even vegan.
Looking for music? Head to . This bar offers live music almost every night, a good beer selection and munchies ranging from seafood to burgers.
Another local haunt for live bands is rock, funk and punk mainstay . Cram into the tiny upstairs with hundreds of your closest friends and see everything from no-name local acts to popular bands just passing through.
, home of the green "Eat Bertha's Mussels" bumper-sticker, has live music as well. The featured acts are usually smaller -- often Celtic -- bands. Order some of those famous mussels, or a pound or two of their Old Bay-covered steamed shrimp and rock out with a Guinness.
Bertha's is famous for its bumper stickers as well as its mussels. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)
Other local live-music venues include , and . Spend the evening bar-hopping for live bands, or just see how many you can hit before the cops find you teetering dangerously close to the edge of Brown's Wharf.
For recorded music, has one of the best selections in town. The store, which sells new and used music, videos and vinyl, outgrew its original space and expanded to include the building next door. Lovers of all music genres aren't looking hard enough if they can't find something they like at what is arguably one of the best record stores in the city. There's also a pretty impressive collection of obscure stuff, smaller labels and hard-to-find music. Short on cash? Sell your unwanted CDs here (you'll get more if you trade them for store credit, though). Along with its nearby rival (aimed at the punk and hardcore fan), Sound Garden makes Fells Point the destination for music lovers seeking alternatives to mainstream acts.
With all of the new homes -- and new homeowners -- the neighborhood furniture stores and home goods peddlers are doing brisk business. Across the street from Sound Garden, is helping to furnish the area's newer townhomes. Looking for a cheap, hip way to dress up your house? Try a new set of hand-painted drawer pulls. Looking for a pricey accessory for wowing dinner guests? Get a snazzy new bedroom set or an immense wine bottle rack. There's something for every price range.
Stepping into on the square is like poking around in your grandmother's attic, if your grandmother happened to be a world-traveling adventurer (think "Aunt Jenny" from The Brady Bunch"). Intricate antique trunks, tables and chairs abound for the collector, but smaller, less expensive items are tucked in-between. Candles, dinnerware, incense and beaded pillows can be bought for a song (maybe a song and a half).
And Fells Point has plenty of little specialty shops, for window-shopping or great gift ideas.
Need something to wear? Cool clothes, body jewelry and candles can be found at . Hippies can peruse the racks of batik-dyed skirts and tanks, while club kids scrounge for little black dresses, tube tops and hip-huggers. Prices are fair and the staff is friendly and helpful.
For adorable T-shirts and panties flaunting Hello Kitty and '70s-era characters, as well as glittery plastic baubles, be sure to skip into . The store is so cute, you'll wish you were either hip enough to wear the fun gear or you knew someone you could surprise with a funky little purse, beach towel or notebook.
A customer checks out sunglasses and clothes, just a few of the funky and hip items available at Trixie's Palace. (Photo by Jessica M. Garrett, Special to SunSpot)
On the other side of the trend spectrum, those in search of vinyl, steel-toed shoes, buckle-bedecked plaid skirts and a little bit of hardcore attitude should slink into the lair. The store also has a reputation for being one of the more reputable piercing places in town.
For the still innocent ones who haven't hit their dark and angry stage, there is Grrreat Bears and Childhood Delights, a children's store that carries a colossal collection of Beanie Babies and other stuffed animals, as well as a number of children's toys aimed at exercising their minds instead of their parent's wallets. Logic puzzles, beginner chess sets, and surreptitiously educational books (ranging from relatively straightforward activity books to the classic Encyclopedia Brown brainteasers) make this a good place to shop for a kid you want to turn out right.
Another store for kids of all ages is , a tiny shop with thinking toys, kites and puzzles. It also has a resident massive sock monkey. He is reason enough to go there, but the collection of toys for young and old will keep you browsing long after you recover from said monkey's sticker shock.
All this shopping might be making you thirsty, so you'd better wet your whistle at . This local hangout serves coffee and various baked goods, and has smushy chairs and ample table space for chatting or reading. Have an iced chai and gossip with a long-lost friend, or nurse a black coffee and read poetry in the corner. The choice is yours, and the brew is good.
Although Fells Point continues to change as new residents and shops move into the neighborhood, its ability to reflect the times while preserving its history is part of what makes this Baltimore locale worth a visit.