Frugal fun

Watching your wallet? You don't have to spend a lot to enjoy a weekend in Baltimore

November 06, 2008|By Richard Gorelick | Richard Gorelick,Special to The Baltimore Sun

People tend not to change unless they have to. Right now, we're still going out, spending money and keeping the economy humming, maybe just a little more cautiously. But if things do get tougher, the time to start implementing good behaviors is right now. Some good habits have as much to do with maximizing your fun and budgeting your energy as they do pinching pennies. Adopting them will serve you well even in flush times. And if things do get worse, you'll be prepared.

The Baltimore weekend we've outlined tells how and where to spend a wise penny and save a foolish dollar. We especially looked for places where you'd feel good about spreading the wealth around, the kinds of stores, bars and venues that a thriving city depends on. Friday night will have you hopping, but Saturday night will let you settle in. We've found the perfect neighborhood for a Saturday stroll and some easily accessible destinations for Sunday exploring.

Friday night

Station North, Lower Charles Village

The best time to show up is just after 6 p.m., when the no-parking lanes reopen and most of the meters go off duty. This is also the perfect time to show up at the Club Charles. This notoriously hip bar can be intimidating, even obnoxious, at peak hours, but early in the evening, it's serene, and an excellent time to make friends with a bartender.

Instead of a full dinner, graze in the neighborhood. You can walk across Charles Street to Sofi's Crepes and for just $5, get a delicious (and protein-rich) peanut butter and chocolate crepe that will fill up your stomach. But skip the beverage for now. The $2 you save is the difference between a matinee and regular ticket at the Charles Theatre next door. Popcorn? That's too personal. I'd give it up, but it's a must-have for some people. What you must never do is take in your own.

Then, it's time to explore the emerging Station North district. Head up a few blocks to the versatile Wind-Up Space on North Avenue, which manages to be cool and unpretentious. If a good DJ is spinning and you get your own table, this could be your final stop of the night. If you're hungry again, walk across the street to Joe Squared for a nibble, or, if you want to keep moving, run into New York Fried Chicken at Charles and North Avenue for a quick and greasy chicken box.

Backtrack to your car and end the night with a short drive to the slightly off-kilter Kitty Kat Club. The crowd can look menacing, but they're not. Sometimes there's free food set out, kind of a potluck, but wait to be invited. Or, try upstairs at the Ottobar, where there's never a cover Friday nights. The management frequently stages fun events and parties in this accommodating bar/pool hall.

Saturday Morning and Afternoon


This neighborhood of fascinating contrasts lends itself to leisurely exploration, either by yourself or with a friend. You can spend the whole afternoon on and off the Avenue (36th Street), not spend much money, and run into every other person you've ever known in Baltimore. Major hip points for Hampden: The vintage clothing store Dreamland, a Mount Vernon fixture for so many years, has opened on the Avenue; chic boutiques like the Shine Collective and Ma Petite Shoe are appealing, but there's still room for a gothic place like Sandy's, which sells unbranded coffee makers, glue traps and Hilary Duff dolls.

Think about coming here on the light rail and taking the Hampden Shuttle up to the Avenue. Start off with a $6.95 country breakfast at David's Restaurant & Deli, just off the Avenue. Every type of Hampdenite goes to David's, and the rough-looking staff is disarmingly nice. Then, step into the relocated Atomic Books, which now stocks an impressive art toy collection in addition to its printed matter. Browse for hours, but be sure to drop a few dollars, too.

Sustain yourself with a margarita happy hour at Holy Frijoles, which has recently started a Saturday happy hour, from noon to 3 p.m.

With attractions like 34th Street's holiday lights display (it should be up and running soon), you'll have no trouble filling an afternoon with trips on and off the Avenue. Driving through the display is fun but walking is much better. On your way, stop by Wholly Terra on Chestnut Street, a studio and shop run by super-nice stained-glass artist Steve Baker. It's just the kind of place you'll discover on foot.

Saturday Night


Saturday night is when the regulars abandon their favorite hangouts to the once-a-week crowd. It's not a bad idea. It's a good night for staying home with a DVD, but also for taking in some inexpensive culture and trying something new.

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