A Day in Federal Hill
Published: August 16, 2010
Federal Hill is named after that big squared-off green mound you can see from the harbor. The hilltop is a nice park to hang out in, and it’s also got some pretty serious historic A as cannons on the hill were once pointed toward the city during the Civil War to keep Baltimore from seceding from the Union.
The American Visionary Art Museum (800 Key Highway,  244-1900, avam.org) is a must for any Federal Hill sojourn, easily one of the coolest and most unique museums in the city (Great Blacks in Wax is up there too, and is well worth searching out). The museum features works from outsider artists whose bios are often as exciting as their work. And the museum gift shop is a treasure trove of old-school toys and oddities.
But what most people think of when it comes to Federal Hill is the area around Cross Street Market, which is filled with bars, restaurants, and shops. The neighborhood hosts a couple of big festivals each year, but it’s always hopping. On the first Thursday of every month, the local boutiques have deals. Whimsy (1033 S. Charles St.,  234-0204, whimsyboutique.com) and babe. (910 S. Charles St.,  244-5114, babeaboutique.com) are two of our favorites for women’s clothes. American Apparel (1125 Light St.,  244-7260, americanapparel.net) has also taken up residence here. Alliance Comics (904 Light St.,  685-0021, alliancecomicsonline.com) boasts an impressive collection, and Book Escape (805 Light St.,  504-1902, thebookescape.com) rivals Normal’s for best used bookstore in town.
Drinking and eating are serious pastimes in Federal Hill. Cross Street Market (Cross Street between Light and South Charles streets) is the ideal place to pick up picnic items or slurp some oysters at Nick’s Seafood. Thai Arroy (1019 Light St.,  385-8587, thaiarroy.com) is small and tends to have a line out the door for a reason. The service at Dangerously Delicious Pies (1036 Light St.,  522-7437¸ dangerouspies.com) may be surly, but there’s no impeaching the pie. Abbey Burger Bistro (1041 Marshall St.,  453-9698, abbeyburgerbistro.com) is home to serious foodie-worthy burgers. Ryleigh’s Oyster (36 E. Cross St.,  539-2093, ryleighs.com) has a killer raw bar and pub grub that’s more than a notch above the usual. Get your coffee fix at Spoons Coffee Café and Coffee Roasting Co. (24 E. Cross St.,  539-8395, spoonscoffeecafe.com) along with the scrumptious banana pancakes. For Japanese, none surpass Matsuri (1105 S. Charles St.,  752-8561, matsuri.us).
Now that you have something in your stomach, let’s drink. You can’t take five steps in this area without bumping into a bar, and generally the best one is going to be wherever you and your friends are, but here are a few suggestions. Into sports? Go to Mother’s (1113 S. Charles St.,  244-8686, mothersgrille.com). Microbrews? Pub Dog (20 E. Cross St.,  727-6077, pubdog.net) makes its own. Serious about partying? MaGerk’s (1061 S. Charles St.,  576-9230, magerks.com) or Mad River (1110 S. Charles St.,  727-2333, madriverbaltimore.com). Something divey with awesome karaoke? Nevin’s (31-33 E. Cross St.,  468-4078). Something more rockabilly than frat? Mums (1132 S. Hanover St.,  547-7415.)
The venerable 8X10 (10 E. Cross St.,  625-2000, the8x10.com) is a music venue that tends to bring in jam bands and rootsier acts. Ropewalk Tavern (1209 S. Charles St.,  727-1298, ropewalktavern.com) has a Reagan statue and enough pool tables, bars, and hidey-holes for a night on the make. There is even a bar owned by a magician, Illusions (1025 S. Charles S.,  727-5811, illusionsmagicbar.com) where on Friday and Saturday nights you’re liable to see a magic show over the bar.