I went restaurant-hopping the other night by boat. It was a pleasant way to gad about. The ride was smooth. The breeze was cool. There were no stoplights.
The boat that carried me from restaurant to restaurant was from the Water Taxi fleet, one of two such floating shuttle services operating along the Baltimore waterfront.
I was a stowaway on a Water Taxi tour, a private restaurant-hopping affair arranged for a group of hotel concierges from Baltimore hotels. But I could have hopped around the waterfront restaurants on my own.
The two floating taxis both stop at ports of call in the Inner Harbor, Fells Point and Canton. Some of the stops are right on the restaurant's porch. Other stops are within a short walk of restaurants. The fare is $3.25 for an all-day, unlimited-use adult ticket on the Water Taxi, and $3 on the Bay Shuttle, the other taxi service.
The two competing taxi services can be distinguished by the color of their boats. The Bay Shuttle taxis are trimmed in black, the Water Taxi craft are trimmed in blue.
I was aboard one of the blue taxis. We shoved off from Harborplace. It was rush hour and the streets were clogged with cars. But on the water we moved along without delay, the waves slapping at the sides of the boat.
The owner of the Water Taxi, Ed Kane, a ruddy-faced man with a rugged voice -- he can say "shiver me timbers" and get away with it -- entertained us with tales of Baltimore history. As we moved past Federal Hill, Kane pointed to cannons sitting atop the hill and told of the time during the Civil War how Union Gen. Benjamin Butler allegedly threatened to blow up the Maryland Club if the Confederate sympathizers in town didn't behave.
Shortly after the tale ended, we pulled into our first port of call, Harrison's Pier 5, hotel and restaurant in the Inner Harbor. I hopped off the boat and within a few minutes popped down a warm crab ball I snagged at Harrison's bar buffet. I took a brief tour of the hotel rooms there, and saw one room with a whirlpool bath that looked big enough to hold the entire population of Tilghman Island, hometown of the Harrison family. I wandered into the upstairs bar, the Skipjack, which looks right out on the Pier 6 concert pavilion. I made a note to return to the bar on a concert night and see if I could eavesdrop on the music as it drifts across the water.
From Harrison's I walked over to the nearby Chart House restaurant. I sat outside, looking out on the water, and sipped a Long Island iced tea. I watched the drink being made. It looked lethal -- four kinds of liquor and fruit juice -- but it tasted refreshing. I could have eaten more of the smoked bluefish with horseradish sauce, but Captain Kane announced that it was time to shove off.
Back on the water, we cruised to Henderson's Wharf, a combination apartment building and inn. Again I toured a room. The inn has 38 of them, all non-smoking. This is ironic since the building used to be a tobacco warehouse.
After the tour I lolled in the inn's cool courtyard eating cookies and sipping soft drinks. Soon I was at sea again.
We took on a little water when a ball cock valve was left open, but made it to our final stop, Weber's on Boston, in good spirits.
Weber's is a bar and restaurant that sits across Boston Street from the Anchorage Marina. Over the years the building has been a stag bar and a speakeasy, and was rumored to have been a waterfront brothel. The current owners, Tom Douglas and Jim Mikula, showed me around their place, pointing with pride to original light fixtures, the ceiling fans, the stamped patterned tin ceilings and the magnificent carved mahogany bar. All these were original fixtures of the old establishment.
It was Monday night, ordinarily a slow night, but Weber's was crowded. As I ate some spicy chicken wings and I looked around for a familiar face.
I spotted one. Babe Ruth was in the bar. A crisp black and white photo showed the former Yankee slugger, playing golf. The photo hung on the bar wall. As I left Weber's, I said good night to the Bambino.
Our group trooped to the end of the pier at the Anchorage Marina and awaited our taxi. We never had to wait long. Whenever we needed service, Kane got on a two-way radio he carried with him, and ordered one of his boats to pick us up.
If you don't have a radio, hailing a taxi is trickier. I found this out a few nights earlier when, after polishing off some soft crabs at Pier 500 in the Harbor View Marina, I walked to the end of the pier and tried unsuccessfully to wave one of the taxis down. What I should have done, I later learned, was have the marina office radio the taxi service. That way the taxi service would know they had a customer, not just a guy waving to them.
On the way back, the stars glistened in the night sky and Kane told another yarn. This one involved Fells Point, which Kane said was once a strip, or "hook," of land that jutted out into the water. And on the land, he said, there dwelled some ladies of the night, who made their living entertaining sailors. And that, he said, is how we got the term "hookers."
It was close to 10 o'clock at night when the taxi swept past the illuminated rigging of the Kruzenshtern, the Soviet tall ship tied up at the Inner Harbor.
Back on land, life got complicated. I had to cadge a ride to a parking garage and then retrieve my car. I also knew I should check out whether the ladies of the evening got their nickname from Fells Point or from the camp followers of Union Gen. Joseph Hooker.
But these were the concerns of a landlubber. I longed to return to the water, and to eat again.