I spent the first 19 years of my life in Fells Point on the diversely populated 500 block of South Ann Street. At the time, there was a smattering of elderly Polish and Ukrainian immigrants living there, several families from Puerto Rico, and a good handful of folks who had moved up from West Virginia to find jobs. Some of them had their own homes, but the majority lived in a large multi-family dwelling with shared bathrooms and kitchens in the middle of the block. There were also a couple of random businesses: a tank cleaning company, a furniture warehouse, a florist, and a used appliance store. There was also a bar into which I’d occasionally wander for a bag of peanuts or chips. One of my classmates lived upstairs, so it didn’t seem particularly odd for a 4th grader to be in there. At least not to me.
Thirty years later, the block has changed quite a lot. I can’t vouch for the ethnic makeup of the residents, but I would imagine that it’s still pretty diverse. The florist is still on the corner, and the bar is still next door. Only now it’s Peter’s Inn, and it’s better known for its food than anything. You might find tuna poké or halibut with black lentils and celery root on the menu at Bud and Karin Tiffany’s unapologetically-quirky restaurant, but you won’t find wings or other typical bar food. Or, I’m betting, 25-cent bags of peanuts.
Continue walking down Ann toward Thames and you’ll pass now-retired Maryland Senator Barbara Mikulski’s old house, a former branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library (now Education Based Latino Outreach), and what was once St Stanislaus Kostka Church and grade school. The church is currently a gym (with stained glass windows intact), and there are some cute rowhomes where the rectory and school used to be–signs that Fells Point is definitely a neighborhood that has been changing over time to meet the needs of its residents.
Once you get to Thames Street, that’s where the fun begins. The north side of the 1700 block of Thames is pretty much wall-to-wall bars and restaurants. There’s the Point in Fells, the venerable Cat’s Eye Pub, the Thames Street Oyster House, Riptide by the Bay, the Waterfront Hotel (which appeared in the NBC series, Homicide: Life on the Streets as the bar owned by Detectives Munch, Bayliss, and Lewis), and my favorites, Kooper’s Tavern and Slainte. While the word “sláinte” is a Gaelic toast to one’s health, this predominately Irish pub serves up the best gumbo in Baltimore. I know you don’t believe me, so you’ll just have to go and try for yourself. If you’re not into soccer (it’s “religion” at Slainte) or Irish grub, go next door to Kooper’s and get yourself one of their sizeable burgers, like the lamb with feta.
Just around the corner and across the street, on Broadway, is 8Ball Meatball. As the name suggests, they specialize in meatballs, but they also have square Detroit-style pizzas. While that might seem to be an odd thing to tout, there’s not really a Baltimore-style pizza. Yet. And while balls are the draw at 8Ball, I’m a fan of the bar area. It’s attractive, and I’ve had some mighty fine specialty cocktails there. Still more booze and balls can be found at Sticky Rice, near the corner of Broadway and Aliceanna. The place looks like a bar and it smells like a bar, so therefore it must be a bar. They have 15+ brews on tap, including local microbrews, tasty Charm City Meadworks mead, and cheapy Natty Boh, and their bottled beer collection includes a couple varieties of not-so-local Asahi, Hitachino Nest, and Kirin among more familiar brands. Why? Because Sticky Rice is also a sushi restaurant with some damn inventive rolls and whatnot. Try the “Drawn-n-Buttered” monster roll stuffed with crunchy shrimp, crab, and cucumber and served with melted garlic butter. Because you and I both know that garlic butter + seafood is a match made in heaven. Oh yeah, and those balls I mentioned several sentences back are tofu skin pockets overstuffed with veg and/or seafood, tempura fried, and topped with various sauces and garnishes.
Needless to say, the places mentioned above weren’t around in the years I lived in Fells Point. The Cat’s Eye Pub was open, but they’ve always been known more for their live music than anything. But there are plenty of other bars with good food (if you like a nosh with your drink) and restaurants with great bars (if you need something to wash down your eats) in Fells Point. Just walk around and you can’t miss them.
Minxeats Baltimore food blogger and Co-author of the new book, Maryland’s Chesapeake: How the Bay and its Bounty Shaped a Cuisine, plus Food Lovers’ Guide to Baltimore, and Baltimore Chef’s Table.
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