Spattered with murals, it’s hard to turn a corner in Baltimore without coming face to face with a unique piece of art. The city’s reputation for its off-beat arts scene is evident on almost every block. A short drive out of New York, Charm City hosts a unique cultural scene that bursts with energy. Lively merchants are creating new businesses that showcase the unique flavor of this sometimes under-appreciated east coast gem.
New Yorkers are fairly notorious for being non-drivers—relying on the subway and cabs for getting around the crowded city. But for long-distance road trips that benefit from plenty of stops along the way, like ours to Baltimore, the Audi owned Silvercar offers a seamless rental experience, in a car you wished was yours. With several locations in Manhattan and Brooklyn, Silvercar makes pick-up and drop-off easy; we got our Audi A4 at BK’s McCarren Hotel & Pool. All drivers need to do is download the Silvercar app, reserve a car (you’ll need a time and day in mind) and select your level of coverage.
When you’re ready to pick it up, head to your car’s location and scan the QR code. The car will unlock, the trunk pops open and you’re ready for adventure. Each time you use Silvercar, you get a fully loaded Audi A4 or Q5—and no extra charges, no queues, no bargaining and the fuel cost is always fair (based on the nearby prices). It’s a seamless system that had us on our way to Baltimore—via some super-fun places—in no time.
Just under three hours from New York, Bolete in Bethlehem, PA is a bright and airy spot to take a break and have a snack. With a focus on seasonal and fresh produce, the menu changes often—but the caliber of the produce and dishes remains consistent. Housed in a historical Stagecoach Inn, Bolete feels like a step back in time and is an experience not to be rushed. We recommend trying the carrot soup (with ginger, leeks, black sesame and lime) or any breakfast that comes with Bolete sourdough, and also their house-made fries.
With roots in comics and activism, Atomic Books has become a unique spot in Baltimore’s vibrant Hampden neighborhood. Featuring zines, comics, art books and non fiction, Atomic hosts a diverse collection of reading materials and curiosities. The store is also where legendary filmmaker and Baltimore native John Waters has received his fan mail for 20 years. Since we had some time before we could check in to our hotel, after browsing their treasures, we hung out in the small lounge and bar in the back of the store.
Sagamore Pendry Baltimore
In the lively neighborhood of Fell’s Point, the Sagamore Pendry is a new breed of boutique hotel for the city. After remaining vacant for over 10 years, the building (built in 1914) was purchased and renovated by Under Armour CEO and Maryland native Kevin Plank. With cozy beds, views of the harbor and surrounding industrial-style buildings, Sagamore Pendry is also located within walking distance of plenty of restaurants and stores. Decked out with luxury finishes and amenities; the hotel includes three restaurants and goes to the effort of featuring local brands throughout.
The American Visionary Art Museum
Wake up fresh for a visit at the American Visionary Art Museum, which celebrates the work of pioneering and intuitive artists. Like many buildings in Baltimore, AVAM is housed in former industrial buildings—one being a historic whiskey warehouse. The museum boasts work in a variety of media and scales, including a 38-foot-wide cast metal bird-nest by local artist David Hess that serves as the balcony. The Tall Sculpture Barn is a large-scale space featuring a life-size chess board with angels and aliens by artist Lyle Estill as well as large-scale painted panels by outsider artist William Thomas Thompson.
If you haven’t started getting art fatigue, head over to Graffiti Alley, where Baltimore’s support of art—specifically untrained artists and public works—is perhaps best showcased. Since 2005, this alley has been a legal graffiti spot in the thriving arts district. The vibrancy of the ever-changing work has created a hot spot for local street artists, photographers and spectators alike. Located near the corner of Howard St and West 19 1/2 St, it’s a colorful and photogenic spot.
After a day of exploring, head to Brewer Hill’s Gnocco for a Mediterranean-inspired dinner. Chef Brian Lanvin and general manager Sam White based the menu and experience on their travels together through Italy and Spain and, while the menu is limited, each dish is nuanced and showcase unique ingredient combinations. Nosh on antipasti (including the polenta-crusted oysters) or dig in to a big plate of pasta to fuel your trip back to New York.
On the trip back, the West Collection in Oaks, PA provides a break from the road with over 1200 works of contemporary art. Collectors Paige and Al West have fostered a unique repertoire by engaging with artists and the public. The by-appointment-only collection has been accruing works since 1996 and includes pieces from Alex Da Corte, Frieke Janssens and Donald Judd.
Pendry, Gnocco and West Collection images courtesy of respective venues, all other by Cool Hunting