A Day Downtown
Published: August 29, 2011
Locals like to piss and moan about the touristy Inner Harbor, but truth is there are a few reasons to brave the crowds and chain stores—the first one being the chain stores themselves. We love to patronize local businesses but sometimes you need—or desperately want—something from the big guys. The Gallery (200 E. Pratt St.,  332-4191, harborplace.com) is a compact urban mall, but it’s got a Gap, a Levis store, and a Victoria’s Secret, so it covers a lot of bases. Across Pratt Street, the Harborplace pavilions boast Urban Outfitters and H&M for your trendy clothes-buying pleasure.
The Inner Harbor also has some cultural sites worth checking out, and you don’t have to wait until your family is in from out of town to do it. The National Aquarium (501 E. Pratt St.,  576-3800, aqua.org, $19.95-$29.95) is honestly amazing (go on weekdays to avoid crowds and buy tickets online ahead of going if you can), and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African American History and Culture (830 E. Pratt St.,  263-1800, africanamericanculture.org) is an eye-opener. Over by Camden Yards, you’ll find Geppi’s Entertainment Museum (301 W. Camden St.,  625-7060, geppismuseum.com) filled with pop-culture goodness.
Nightlife at the Inner Harbor is dominated by the Power Plant Live plaza (Market Place and Water Street, powerplantlive.com). It’s got a number of serious clubs to fit a variety of tastes, and Rams Head Live (20 Market Place,  244-1131, ramsheadlive.com) for major music acts. By the ballpark, you’ll find a host of sports bars that fill up around games, including Pickles Pub (520 Washington Blvd.,  752-1784, picklespub.com) and Pratt Street Ale House (206 W. Pratt St.,  244-8900, prattstreetalehouse.com), which serve their own microbrews.
Across President Street from the Inner Harbor, you’ll find Little Italy and Harbor East. Little Italy is primarily known for its red-sauce-heavy restaurants, but it offers some other flavors worth nibbling on as well, like India Rasoi (411 S. High St.,  385-4900, india-rasoi.com), Max’s Empanadas (313 S. High St.,  547-7900, maxempanadas.com), and, just to the north, Attman’s Authentic New York Delicatessen (1019 E. Lombard St.,  563-2666, attmansdeli.com). When you are in the mood for Italian, we recommend Amicci’s (231 S. High St.,  528-1096, amiccis.com), Café Gia (410 S. High St.,  685-6727, cafegias.com), and the out-of-this-world desserts at Vaccaro’s (222 Albemarle St.,  685-4905, vaccarospastry.com).
Harbor East is the new kid in town, but has quickly become a destination for food and shopping. When you’re feeling fancy, try the Northern Italian fare at Cinghiale (822 Lancaster St.,  547-8282, cgeno.com) or the eclectic bites at wine bar/restaurant Vino Rosina (507 S. Exeter St.,  528-8600, vinorosina.com). Or you can just grab a bottle of wine from the knowledgable staff at Bin 604 (604 S. Exeter St.,  576-0444, bin604.com). For a casual dining experience, Bagby Pizza (1006 Fleet St.,  605-0444, bagbypizza.com) is good, or just snag groceries (and free samples) at Whole Foods (1001 Fleet St.,  528-1640, wholefoodsmarket.com). For shopping, South Moon Under (815 Aliceanna St.,  685-7820, southmoonunder.com) and Urban Chic (811 Aliceanna St.,  685-1601, urbanchiconline.com) offer cool clothes, and City Sports (809 Aliceanna St.,  837-4420, citysports.com) keeps your athletic wardrobe in shape. Finish your visit to Harbor East with a movie at the luxurious Landmark Theatre (645 S. President St., (410) 244-6609, landmarktheatres.com).
Strickly speaking, none of the above is actually downtown. According to the city’s official neighborhood map, downtown actually starts a few blocks north of the water. There are plenty of things to enjoy in this business-heavy neck of the woods. You’ll find Lexington Market (400 W. Lexington St.,  685-6169, lexingtonmarket.com), Baltimore’s oldest public market, and a treasure trove of sandwich shops, bakeries, and cheap eats. For a truly Baltimore experience, get one of the fabulous crab cakes at Faidley Seafood (203 N. Paca St.,  727-4898). The Baltimore Farmers’ Market (Saratoga Street between Holliday and Gay streets under the Jones Falls Expressway Viaduct) turns the area under an overpass into a wonderland of locally sourced food from April through December. For a fancy night out, B&O American Brasserie (2 N. Charles St.,  692-6172, bandorestaurant.com) is well worth the splurge.
As for nightlife, downtown proper offers two distinct varieties: live music and strip clubs. See punk bands at the Sidebar (218 E. Lexington St.,  659-4130, sidebartavern.com), hip-hop at 5 Seasons (830 Guilford Ave.,  625-9787, the5seasons.com), and a little bit of everything at Sonar (407 E. Saratoga St.,  783-7888, sonarbaltimore.com). For strip clubs, look no further than “the Block” (East Baltimore Street between Commerce and Gay streets)—it’s loaded with ’em. See, a trip downtown isn’t just for when the parents are visiting.
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