Downtown restaurant scene needs some revitalization

April 17, 2004|By JACQUES KELLY

MY SISTER Josie called the other morning to tell me how excited she was to have a ticket to Les Miserables at the Hippodrome. Then she asked, where they should eat before the show. I thought for a minute, considered the fact that we're staunch city people, and replied Marconi's, of course, because it's not too far from Eutaw Street. She came home elated with both the musical and the restaurant.

The event got me thinking. Reopening the Hippodrome means we have to start thinking about reopening its surrounding neighborhood as well. You shouldn't have to scratch your head to find a good meal before seeing a show. A little nightlife would help. We need to work on the stuff that makes a city a great place to enjoy. As it is now, too much of Baltimore shuts down after dark.

The same was true last Saturday night when I emerged from Center Stage's superb production of Sweeney Todd. Calvert Street was a tomb.

Baltimore has done a commendable job of getting the big entertainment spots to work. We have our Oriole Park, our football stadium, our theaters. Let's not forget the golden opportunity the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre offers too. I can still remember a tasty dinner at the old Cafe des Artists in the Mechanic building of 25 years ago.

There just needs to be more substance to downtown Baltimore than the parking garages that seem to be rising on nearly every corner.

Baltimoreans must explore their city more and fear it less. Every chance I get, I take off to the Lexington Market for what has to be one of the more delightful experiences that you'll never find in the suburbs.

And yet, when you're at Charles and Lanvale, there sits (and sits) the vacant Chesapeake Restaurant, despite the roaring successes of the Charles and Everyman theaters and the strong promise that the elegant and eminently restorable Parkway offers. And what about all the human traffic at the Tapas Teatro on this same block. People will pay to eat.

Another night this week, I enjoyed a delicious meal at the Charleston restaurant facing the harbor at Lancaster Street. I'd like to close my eyes and envision similar places within easy strolling distance of the Hippodrome, Mechanic and Oriole Park. It's not impossible. We just need to work on our entrepreneurial -- and culinary -- horizons.

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