What do you think of when someone mentions Baltimore? Inner Harbor? (sure.) The crab cakes? (duh!) The Wire? (probably.) I’m going to tell you about a little pocket of the city you shouldn’t miss during your visit to Charm City: Hampden, Hon. I’ve made a guide to Hampden, Baltimore’s quirkiest neighborhood, which also happens to be my home.
Guide to Hampden: Some History
Before I get into my guide to Hampden, Baltimore I wanted to start you with a little history. Hampden is an enclave north of downtown that was originally built around the mills along the Jones Falls and millworkers that settled there. You can see evidence of this today in the old mills that have been restored into local businesses.
In the 90s it began to undergo a transformation when artists started moving in, making the neighborhood their own. Eventually, 36th Street, known to locals as “The Avenue” or simply “The Ave” filled with restaurants, hip boutiques, and thrift shops.
Today Hampden is known as Baltimore’s hipster haven and center of kitsch, where there’s always something fun going on and something delicious to eat.
What is this “Hon” Thing?
“Hon” is short for “Honey” and is an affectionate term made Balti-famous by the working-class women of the 1960s. A stereotypical Hon has the beehive hairdo, cats eye glasses and bright attention-grabbing clothing (think: Hairspray).
Hampden embraces this kitschy image and even pays homage in an annual HonFest every June, where women dress up in full “Hon” regalia and celebrate all that makes the neighborhood unique.
Honorable mention goes to the plastic Pink Flamingo: Hampden’s unofficial mascot.
First on the agenda in my guide to Hampden? Eating of course. This is a tough one because there are just so many good options! It’s really hard to go wrong, but I’ve listed some of my favorites below, categorized by meal.
Gertrudes | 10 Art Museum Dr, Baltimore, MD 21218 (Inside the Baltimore Museum of Art)
Open for also for dinner but brunch at Gertrude’s is a real delight! Beautifully set within the museum, the menu focuses on farm to table ingredients and local Chesapeake flavors. If you go during the spring or summer definitely try to sit outside where you’ll have a nice view of the BMA sculpture garden.
Chuck’s Trading Post | 1506 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211
Chuck’s is a unique and casual spot – part grocery/general store and part restaurant/bar. Brunch delights like creative skillets and colossal pancakes are served in cast iron pans. A real local gem.
Golden West Cafe | 1105 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211
A kitschy neighborhood staple where your wait for a table on the weekend will most definitely be a long one. Once seated though you’ll have a multitude of tasty options to chose from. The restaurant prides itself on “Southwestern comfort food” and it also has a large amount of vegan/vegetarian options. Come hungry!
Artifact | 1500 Union Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211
This aesthetically pleasing coffee shop/cafe is close to the Woodberry light rail and worth the extra walking. Featuring local baked goods, sandwiches, salads and a full coffee bar, it’s a great spot to have a cozy lunch.
Grano Pasta Bar | 1031 W 36th St Baltimore MD 21211
Once featured on Guy Fieri’s Diners Drive-ins & Dives, Grano is my favorite restaurant in the neighborhood which is why it tops my list on the guide to Hampden. Super simple menu (pick your pasta, pick your sauce…voila), quaint interior and friendly staff, you can’t go wrong. Oh, did I mention it’s BYOB? Yep! So grab a bottle of your favorite vino and your date or friend and enjoy it. Just be prepared, for interior dining most tables are only for 2 people, there is one table for 4 and it’s first come/first serve. They’ve added more outdoor seating for warmer months for bigger parties.
Dylan’s Oyster Cellar | 3601 Chestnut Avenue Baltimore, MD 21211
“Oysters & Booze” is what this restaurant is all about with it’s sustainably sourced seafood and creative craft cocktails. The menu is small but mighty, obviously heavy on the seafood but they do feature a burger. I go for the small bites (the anchovy on baguette bite is my favorite!) and oysters of course.
Birrotecca | 1520 Clipper Rd, Baltimore, MD 21211
Rustic Italian with local ingredients, Birrotecca is housed in an old stone mill and has a cozy festive vibe. The food is phenomenal from it’s interesting pizzas to unique plates of pasta and everything in between. They also have quite a variety of craft cocktails and a HUGE wine and beer list.
Clavel* | 225 W 23rd St, Baltimore, MD 21211
Okay so this restaurant is not technically in Hampden, it’s in the sister neighborhood of Remington. I know, I know, this is a guide to HAMPDEN.
But since it’s so close and SO good, here it is. Clavel is a “family-owned Taqueria & Mezcaleria serving food deeply rooted in Sinaloan ritual.” It’s interior is sophisticated industrial chic and its margaritas are the best I’ve ever had (and I’ve had a few). It’s INSANELY popular with a no reservation policy so always expect a wait. My trick is to go for happy hour during the week (5-7) and enjoy $4 off margs and queso fundido.
The Charmery | 801 W 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211
If you do one thing in Hampden, make sure you stop at The Charmery. Their ice cream is handcrafted from “super-premium” ingredients and is quite frankly delicious. They have their staple flavors (Old Bay Caramel anyone?) and then they switch it up with weekly and seasonal flavors. Some are somewhat standard and some are SUPER out there like Ritz Cracker. Either way, you’ll be able to find something that you love, and they let you sample as many as you want before making your final decision. During summer expect a line that wraps around the block.
Quality Snowballs (Seasonal) | 1014 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211
Quality Snowballs was new last year and features TONS of variations on the Baltimore classic dessert: the snowball (shaved ice with toppings.) You can do a regular snowball with syrup or a more involved snowball with a variety of toppings. Some examples include Cinnamon Bun & Salted Caramel Shortbread. Only open in Spring and Summer.
There’s also no shortage of watering holes in Hampden, and many of the places I’ve mentioned already have excellent cocktails and wine lists. There are a few places I’d recommend especially for the drinks though, and I’ll share them below:
Bluebird Cocktail Room | 3600 Hickory Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211
I’m obsessed with the interior of Bluebird – like a gorgeous library where you can talk, drink and eat. Their cocktail menu changes seasonally and always has a literary theme to its drinks. Expect to pay between $12-18 for a cocktail but it’s all part of the decadent experience. They also serve food and lite bites if you feel like nibbling.
De Kleine Duivel | 3602 Hickory Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211
Below the Bluebird, this unassuming Beer Hall with a nice atmosphere serves only Belgian beer from an extensive list. They also have a nice selection of wine and often have events such as live music or discussions.
WC Harlan* | 400 W 23rd St, Baltimore, Maryland 21211
Another Remington Gem from the same owner of Clavel, WC Harlan is a unique speakeasy in a rowhouse with a door simply marked “Enter” in chalk. The Victorian decor is right out of Edgar Allen Poe’s era, giving it a cozy and spooky vibe. A great spot to grab a craft cocktail while you’re waiting for your table at Clavel.
Clothing & Gifts
Next on my guide to Hampden, Baltimore? Shopping! Don’t come to Hampden with an empty wallet, that’s for sure. From home decor to clothing, to vintage finds, this neighborhood is a great spot to shop for yourself or for gifts.
Trohv | 921 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211
Your first stop if you need to buy an amazing gift – Trohv is a curated selection of home decor, stationery, housewares, books, art, bath, and beauty…the list goes on. There are two floors filled with unique merchandise, a lot of it locally made. But be prepared to drop some serious cash.
Brightside Boutique | 915 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211
A store with attitude – in the best possible way! Women-owned and one of several locations in the area, Brightside has a great selection of on-trend fashion (for men and women), accessories, cards, jewelry, and gifts. The store just makes you happier when you walk inside and I consider reason enough to check it out.
Double Dutch | 1021 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211
Another unique boutique with brightly colored pieces & accessories, they also sell locally made beauty products, apparel, and stationary. There is a small vintage section as well alongside the new items.
In Watermelon Sugar | 3555 Chestnut Ave # 1, Baltimore, MD 21211
Another favorite spot for gifts, this store has a beautiful inventory of high-end bath and beauty products, books, candles, stationery and kids items. During the holidays they stock up on gorgeous decor and ornaments which they display in the most beautiful way.
Milk & Ice Vintage | 833 W 36th St, Baltimore, MD 21211
One of several vintage shops on the Ave but this one I think has a particularly curated and special stock of clothes that they merchandise really well. They also have a small amount of other (non-clothing) vintage items for sale.
Food & Beverage
The Wine Source | 3601 Elm Ave, Baltimore, MD 21211
I’d be remiss if I left out the glorious Wine Source from my guide to Hampden. Not just a wine store, it’s stocked with a wonderful selection of beer, liquor, cheese, gourmet foods, locally baked bread and of course wine from all over the world. There’s also a tasting bar where you can sit and have a beverage and the staff is super helpful. A great spot to pick up a bottle to bring with you to BYOB Grano (see above).
Annual Events in Hampden
As mentioned above, HonFest occurs every June and pays homage to the neighborhood and city’s “Hon” culture. The Avenue is blocked off with food and craft vendors and 3 stages of live music as well as a “Hon Pageant”. Expect to see lots of beehive hairdos and feather boas.
A smaller version of HonFest, this one takes place in September. The Avenue is still filled with vendors and live music but the main show here it the “Toilet Bowl Race” (I told you Hampden was quirky!) where locals craft “racecars” out of toilets and compete in a dash down Chestnut Avenue. If you don’t believe me, check it out!
Miracle on 34th Street
Starting the weekend after Thanksgiving, the houses on Hampden’s 34th Street between Chestnut and Keswick are fully decked out in lights and holiday displays. It’s a magical spot (although I admit as a resident the extra cars during this time make parking pretty difficult). It’s certainly something to see during the holiday season. On New Year’s Eve, the whole neighborhood + visitors gather for a mini ball drop which signifies the end of the lights.
Hampden is located north of downtown Baltimore. You can get there from downtown by hopping on Interstate 83 and taking exit 8: Falls Road. This will bring you right to The Avenue (36th Street). If you’re traveling by light rail, exit at the Woodberry Station which will leave you a 10-15 minute walk from the Avenue. If you’re taking the train down from New York or up from DC, Penn Station is also only a 5 minute Uber Ride from The Avenue.
Whether you’re a local who’s never been or a first time Baltimore visitor, I really hope you’ll consider heading to Hampden to experience its unique culture and amazing eats, drinks, and shops. I hope this guide to Hampden helps you plan your visit.
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