Successful ventures define the new face of Baltimore

April 12, 2003|By JACQUES KELLY

A NORTHEASTER was making the harbor miserable the other evening while I was warm and safe inside the nearby James Joyce Irish Pub. This was my initial trip to this newish saloon-restaurant, which as far I can tell, stands on the land that was once part of the old railroad yards attached to the President Street Station.

It's a good idea to make myself visit these new and emerging parts of Baltimore, the chunk of the city that is changing so rapidly you have to spend some evenings there a couple of times a year, just to get your bearings. (I have a feeling those with tickets to the nearby Cirque du Soleil will also be forced into a crash course in the geography of our new Baltimore, especially the spit of land now being called Harbor Point, but what I would call Fells Point.)

On a drizzly night in April, your nose will immediately inform you that the harbor and the Jones Falls are not far away. The Marriott Waterfront Hotel is next door to the Joyce Pub, which seems to be built in the hotel's parking garage.

I was seated just inside the front door as the place was beginning to fill up. I was struck by the success of this venture and the whole new neighborhood. You would never know this was a vacant lot for decades, a non-address and a non-neighborhood.

From my booth, I observed this is not the Baltimore of the redeveloped Charles Center of the 1960s and 1970s, when city planners and others tried so hard to make the downtown come to life after dark. Those efforts only sputtered along; so many times they failed outright.

The times are different today; never was it more true than at this place. I can't identify why something at President and Fleet streets apparently succeeds so well, while similar ventures along Charles Street - or a dozen other downtown addresses - only sputter along. On the other hand, look at how long (20 years, maybe more) it took for Marketplace (Water Street) to become a big weekend destination.

One of the great successes of this general area has been the Whole Foods store on South Exeter Street. This is one of my favorite Baltimore addresses; my mother used to say that every Baltimore family, at one point in their life here, lived on Exeter Street. It took my cousin, the genealogist, to tell me where my people had their own Exeter experience.

Baltimoreans are a thrifty lot; so many prefer to cook their own meals, to say nothing of those who buy their own wine and liquor next door, so they don't have to pay bar and restaurant prices. I also wonder how many people who work on the harbor don't pop in the Whole Foods store before darting up Interstate 83 at night?

Amid the April rain squalls, I also counted quite a few prominent citizens here on Exeter, leading me to wonder if what this city needs is a couple more upscale supermarkets to make us feel better. After all, there is nothing worse than a dreary grocery checkout line to drag you down.

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