The Gilded Age Lives On
Discovering Old Baltimore * Relaxing in shady, bench-filled parks * Admiring fine art
For those who think Baltimore remains a gritty industrial port city, they haven’t been to the Mount Vernon neighborhood. Just a mile up from the Inner Harbor, this manicured quarter is filled with gilded-era mansions, a treasure-filled museum, and a funky hotel with hints of the past around every corner. This is where Old Baltimore began, where Revolutionary War hero John Eager Howard’s family donated land in 1815 for the nation’s first Washington Monument—the same that still rises above the neighborhood. You can come to Baltimore for an Orioles game, or stroll around the Inner Harbor. But this is where you come for a dose of culture and tree-shaded relaxation. You’d never guess you’re in B’more.
[stay] Hotel Revival Baltimore
Built on the original site of the Garretts’ mansion (of B&O Railroad fame), the stately Hotel Revival Baltimore is done up in fun, tasteful, mod-Americana style. Even though her husband was a train baron, Mary Elizabeth Garrett was a women’s rights pioneer, and her bold spirit emanates throughout. From north-facing rooms, you can see the Washington Monument far below. The buzzing rooftop bar is a great place for a cocktail—and to watch the sun set over the glittering city.
[eat] Bluebird Cocktail Room
Honestly, there aren’t a lot of fine-dining restaurants in the Mount Vernon neighborhood. You’ll find a good lunch at Dooby’s, a casual Korean bowl eatery; and the Mount Vernon Marketplace, where stalls purvey everything from charcuterie to BBQ. And The Brewer’s Art gets good reviews. I’m going to recommend hopping into an Uber and dining in the Hampden neighborhood, where you’ll find the totally unexpected Bluebird Cocktail Room. Feeling every bit like a speakeasy, this tucked-away bar follows a literary theme. I had the Ms. Havisham, for example, a rhubarb twist on the pisco sour. The name comes from a Charles Bukowski poem: “There’s a bluebird in my heart that wants to get out, but I pour whiskey on him.” And as much as it’s about the cocktails, the food menu is just as creative and fresh and seasonal. This is the sort of place you’ll want to pull up a chair and stay awhile.
[fun] Appreciate fine art
Henry Walters was an early Mount Vernon resident who loved to collect art from around the world. He built this beautiful Georgian structure specifically as a private gallery for his friends. Lucky for us, today the Walters Art Museum is open to everyone—for free. You’ll see 55 centuries of art and artifacts here, from medieval armor to art nouveau jewelry to Egyptian mummies. When I visited, I caught an exquisite exhibition showcasing Fabergé, including two glittering eggs from Walters’ collection.
[fun] Time travel to the Gilded Age
As we’ve said, the Mount Vernon neighborhood was settled early on, and it has the prestigious old buildings to prove it. An easy stroll is the way to take it all in. The neighborhood’s centerpiece is the Washington Monument, the nation’s first major public monument dedicated to George. Designed by Robert Mills and built between 1815 and 1829, the graceful Doric marble column still proudly rises 200 feet above the square today, open for business. Climb to the top for views of B’more at your feet. From there, the city’s elite developed the square with elegant townhouses and churches, some of which you can visit today. The most breathtaking is probably the George Peabody Library,which, anyone who has seen Sleepless in Seattle or Washington Square, might recognize. Peabody started as a grocer’s apprentice and rose up to become a visionary philanthropist, giving this gorgeous space to the city. It also includes a music academy and cultural center (you can often catch free student performances).
If you really want to surround yourself in Gilded Age glamour, try to get into the Engineers Club, housed in the Garrett-Jacobs Mansion, right on the square. It’s a special events venue now, though if you ask the receptionist kindly, they might let you take a peek around (concerts, house tours, and other events are sometimes scheduled as well, offering a way to get in—check out their website). The hardwood spiral staircase is gorgeous, and there are Tiffany stained-glass windows throughout, along with crystal sconces and chandeliers, and a beautifully restored pipe organ. It’s really something to see.