A Day in Federal Hill
Published: August 29, 2011
A day in Federal Hill is all about boutiques, booze, and food—basically the ingredients for an excellent weekend. The neighborhood’s main commercial area is centered on Cross Street between South Charles and Light streets and continues a few blocks north and south. Parking is at a premium and the zoning is strictly enforced. The Charm City Circulator will take you there for free, but it stops running at 9 p.m. weekdays and midnight on Fridays and Saturdays, so if you plan to make a night of it, bring cab fare.
And chances are, you’re going to Federal Hill for the nightlife. This is one of those Baltimore neighborhoods where you can’t throw a Big Boyz Bail Bonds pen without hitting a bar. The Stalking Horse (26 E. Cross St.,  244-6722, stalkinghorsefederalhill.com) has Red Bull-vodka slushies, and, along with MaGerk’s (1061 S. Charles St.,  576-9230, magerks.com) and Mad River (1110 S. Charles St.,  727-2333, madriverbaltimore.com), attracts a crowd that is serious about partying. More conservative types and those who want to party like a Yale-era George W. spend their nights at Ropewalk Tavern (1209 S. Charles St.,  727-1298, ropewalktavern.com). Ryleigh’s Oyster (36 E. Cross St.,  539-2093, ryleighs.com) offers excellent oysters and food as well as catering to the bar-crawl crowd. Metropolitan Coffeehouse and Wine Bar (902 S. Charles St.,  234-0235, metrobalto.com ) offers a more grown-up version of nightlife with wine and craft beers. Beer aficionados hit Pub Dog (20 E. Cross St.,  727-6077, pubdog.net) for its superior house microbrews. Sporty types congregate at Mother’s Federal Hill Grille (1113 S. Charles St.,  244-8686, mothersgrille.com). Live music rules at the 8X10 (10 E. Cross St.,  625-2000, the8x10.com)—expect rock and jam bands. Illusions (1025 S. Charles St.,  727-5811, illusionsmagicbar.com) is owned by a magician, who performs on Friday and Saturday nights. Nevin’s (31-33 E. Cross St.,  468-4078) offers killer karaoke in a friendly dive bar, and Mums (1132 S. Hanover St.,  547-7415) is the perfect place for those who otherwise would not be caught dead in Federal Hill. And south of the main strip, Don’t Know Tavern (1453 Light St.,  539-0231, dontknowtavern.com) and No Idea Tavern (1649 S. Hanover St.,  685-4332, noideatavern.com) are ideal places for a night of plausible deniability.
On the off chance you’re in Federal Hill to do something other than drink, there’s also some good shopping. Whimsy (1033 S. Charles St.,  234-0204, whimsyboutique.com) sells feminine and flirty clothes, and the home-goods store upstairs, Curiosity, feels like a time warp to the Victorian era. American Apparel (1125 Light St.,  244-7260, americanapparel.net) proffers not-so-basic basics. The jewelry by local artisan Alexandra Webb (1028 S. Charles St.,  244-5144, alexandrawebbjewelry.com) is lovely and intricate yet bold enough to make a statement. Doggie Style (1130 Light St.,  347-7575, doggiestyle2.com) has everything you need to spoil your pet rotten. Alliance Comics (904 Light St.,  685-0021, alliancecomicsonline.com) does the same for your inner comic-book nerd, and Book Escape (805 Light St.,  504-1902, thebookescape.com) is one of the nicer used-bookstores in the city.
Cross Street Market (Cross Street between Light and South Charles streets) is one of the neighborhood’s main landmarks. Inside you’ll find produce, meat, and seafood to buy and use in your home cooking or sandwiches and wings, sushi, and a raw bar for satisfying your hunger on the spot. There are plenty of worthy restaurants in Federal Hill too. Matsuri (1105 S. Charles St.,  752-8561, matsuri.us) and Kiku (1017 Light St.,  468-4468, kikusushirestaurant.com) offer sumptuous sushi. Thai Arroy (1019 Light St.,  385-8587, thaiarroy.com) has a line out the door on weekends for a reason. Abbey Burger Bistro (1041 Marshall St.,  453-9698, abbeyburgerbistro.com) takes the hamburger to a whole different level. Spoons Coffee Café and Coffee Roasting Co. (24 E. Cross St.,  539-8395, spoonscoffeecafe.com) is a place to grab a relaxed cup of joe. Byblos (1033 Light St.,  209-2495) has Middle Eastern fare that’s a big hit with the vegan crowd. The burritos at Elvis (1022 Light St.,  244-8817) will do you right, as will the crêpes and tacos at Ruben’s (1043 S. Charles St.,  223-2808, rubenscrepes.vpweb.com), which is conveniently open until 3 a.m. on Friday and Saturday nights for your post-last-call needs. Your sweet tooth will be satisfied by Beach Bums (1038 Light St.,  528-8300) ice cream or the fro-yo at almost antiseptically sleek Afters Cafe (1001 S. Charles St.,  939-5284, afters-cafe.com). For a special night out (say, when parents are paying) hit up Corks (1026 S. Charles St.,  752-3810, corksrestaurant.com) or Bluegrass (1500 S. Hanover St.,  244-5101, bluegrasstavern.com).
Don’t forget about the park. The big grassy mound you can see from the other side of the harbor is the neighorhood’s namesake, Federal Hill. And in its shadow is one of the city’s best museums. American Visionary Art Museum (800 Key Highway,  244-1900, avam.org) is dedicated to displaying outsider art—amazing works by untrained artists. You’re bound to see something there you’ve never imagined.
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