A Day in Hampden
Published: August 16, 2010
OK, Hampden might not warrant an entire day, but you can spend a lovely afternoon into evening there. This old mill neighborhood is the epicenter of the kitschy “hon” thing, even as hip boutiques and restaurants have slowly taken over the Avenue (aka 36th Street). You may hear people refer to old and new Hampden, and there is certainly a contrast as gentrification pushes its way into this blue-collar neighborhood. None of which will probably matter a lick to you as shopper, eater, and drinker.
Every trip to Hampden should start with a visit to Atomic Books (3620 Falls Road,  662-4444, atomicbooks.com), this independent book, comic, and odd doodad seller (co-owned by occasional City Paper contributor Benn Ray), is a treasure trove of offbeat delights, and the recent addition of in-house record store Celebrated Summer ( 866-9988, celebratedsummerecords.blogspot.com) makes it one-stop shopping for lovers of all things indie.
Women looking for cute clothes and jewelry should stop in at Double Dutch (3616 Falls Road,  554-0055, doubledutchboutique.com), which marries cool clothes and accessories with strikingly reasonable prices. Vintage shops such as 9th Life (833 W. 36th St.,  534-9999, 9th-life.com) and Dreamland (845 W. 36th St.,  253-2602) are full of thriftscores for men and women. If you’re ready to splurge on footwear, check out Ma Petite Shoe (832 W. 36th St.,  235-3442, mapetiteshoe.com). To spruce up your rented apartment, David’s (914 W. 36th St.,  467-8159) and the three-story Avenue Antiques (901 W. 36th St.,  467-0329, avenueantiques.com) offer some worthy used finds, while Red Tree (921 W. 36th St.,  366-3456, redtreebaltimore.com) gives you that lived-in feel in new furniture and home goods.
All the shopping is bound to make you hungry, which works out well because there are plenty of good eats. Don’t miss the cheap, addictive Mexican fare at Holy Frijoles (908 W. 36th St.,  235-2326, holyfrijoles.net), really good falafel and hummus at King’s Grilled Kabobs (907 W. 36th St.,  889-3663, kingspizzaandsubs.com), sweet and savory delights at Puffs and Pastries (830 W. 36th St.,  878-1266, puffsandpastries.com), or coffee and noshes at Common Ground (819 W. 36th St.,  235-5533) or Spro (851 W. 36th St.,  243-1262, sprocoffee.com). If you’re on the Avenue at brunch time, check out the Golden West Café’s (1105 W. 36th St.,  889-8891, goldenwestcafe.com) unique mix of Tex-Mex (huevos montuleños) and what-the-hell (Elvis pancakes). Just get their early or be prepared to wait.
First Fridays (that’s, uh, the first Friday of every month) are a great time to head to Hampden because the shops are open late and often serve food and drink and sometimes even have DJs playing. After you’ve shopped your heart out, hit a bar—if you’re over 21 that is. Hampden’s bar scene tends toward a musician/artist crowd, from the laid-back, good-old boy vibe of Frazier’s (919 W. 36th St.,  662-4914, fraziersontheavenue.com) to the ironic-moustache crew at Golden West. Holy Frijoles has great flavored margaritas, and Rocket to Venus (3360 Chestnut Ave.,  235-7887, rockettovenus.com) has one of the city’s best jukeboxes as well as outdoor seating when the weather is nice.
There aren’t many highbrow cultural attractions in Hampden, but there is a movie theater Rotunda Cinematheque (711 W. 40th St.,  235-5554), and Baltimore Shakespeare Festival (3900 Roland Ave., baltimoreshakespeare.org) calls the neighborhood home, though it generally only offers a few shows a year at its Hampden space. But you can go to Mount Vernon if you want culture. Hampden is for shopping, eating, drinking, and just hanging out.