Not really a weekend, but a day and a night in Baltimore to see Billy Joel in concert at the M&T Stadium. Friends invited us, they had secured killer seats in a box in the stadium, so why not?
We arrived at lunchtime in time to join our friends at Kona Grill next to the Convention Center on the Inner Harbor. We haven’t been to Baltimore in ages and have fond memories of the quirky neighborhoods where you could still find a corner neighborhood bar populated with burly longshoremen and teamsters, and in summer the painted screens in the windows of many of the houses in and around Fell’s Point.
Painted window screens are a unique Baltimore folk art, but sadly we didn’t see any. No surprise there, really; Fell’s Point has turned decidedly upmarket from when we visited occasionally in the late 1980s, and with houses being modernized comes air conditioning. Something was lost there, but we see that there are societies seeking to promote and preserve the practice, which is a good thing, but we think the authenticity of them might be lost to history. An entry in Wikipedia notes that an estimated 100,000 painted screens once festooned houses in Baltimore, but a census in 2014 put the number at 1,000. That’s a real pity. Fortunately the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore maintains a permanent exhibit of examples, though we would rather see them in situ.
Kona Grill was selected for lunch because it provided a perfect vantage point to watch the parade of participants at Otakon, a convention taking place that weekend in Baltimore. We joked that it was difficult to tell the conventioneers from the locals. Otakon has been a feature each year in Baltimore since 1999. We don’t fully understand it, but its devotees enjoy “costume play,” or “cosplay” and dress up however they choose to create and present characters. Its all very surreal — some dressed as pirates, we spotted one gentleman dressed as Colonel Saunders and carrying a bucket of Kentucky Fried Chicken; others were otherworldly creatures carrying impossibly large mallets or swords from video games, anime, movies — you pick it, they dressed it. It might be worth the price of admission to the convention to see what goes on in there.
This surreal scene reminded us of another visit to Baltimore. It was 1997, the 25th anniversary of Pink Flamingos (1972), John Waters’ break-out cult classic which was re-released that year with improved sound. We attended a screening at the Charles Theatre on Charles Street, but first decamped to the Club Charles across the street to have a drink. Things were still a bit dicey in the neighborhood and we had to be buzzed in, but imagine our surprise to see holding court at the bar but John Waters! “The only movie I want to see right now is Anaconda,” he said (he was chatting with the bartender). We kept a respectful distance and had a quick drink, then joined the growing line for the movie, which stretched down the block. A few minutes later, out came Mr Waters, who put his arms akimbo, took a minute to take in the scene, and smiling approvingly, got into a late-model Buick parked in the adjoining lot and drove off.
We had an early dinner at Barcocina, a Mexican-inspired restaurant with breathtaking views of the Inner Harbor, then took a water taxi across the harbor to the stadium. The concert? Truthfully, underwhelming (we’ve heard it all before), but a great day and a night out. Breakfast the next morning at Jimmy’s Restaurant on Broadway in Fell’s Point reminded us of old Baltimore, with the presentation of a heaping helping of pan-seared scrapple.
Kona Grill, 1 E Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD 21202 (410) 244.8994
Barcocina, 1629 Thames Street, Baltimore, MD 21231 (410) 563.8800
Jimmy’s Restaurant, 801 South Broadway, Baltimore, MD 21231 (410) 327.3273