Baltimore MD neighborhoods
May 31, 2004 5:16 PM   Subscribe

A friend is moving to Baltimore, MD. She has been offered a good apartment, but we don't have any contacts there to scope out the area. So, we are calling on MeFites who may be able to help us with a neighborhood question (and general Baltimore advice)! [More Inside]

When we went to scope out the city, it seemed to drastically change personality and atmosphere on each street (I guess this is true for many cities.) But somehow it seemed more obvious in Baltimore - some areas felt really populated, while others were almost deserted. She is moving to attend a program which will be housed at the Hopkins Medical Center, and she has been offered a good option for an apartment near the corners of South Washington Street and East Baltimore Street. It seems to be a few blocks West from Patterson Park.

Does anyone have any anecdotal advice for this area? Is it fairly safe? The apartment itself is great value, so she's tempted to take it, but I'm wondering if anyone here knows what that area is really like. Also, any advice for Baltimore in general is very welcome! Thanks in advance for your help.
posted by fionab to Travel & Transportation around Baltimore, MD (14 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Other advice may include: cheap used / new furniture places, good local pubs or neighborhood bars, farmer's markets, fun evening or weekend activities!
posted by fionab at 5:30 PM on May 31, 2004

I don't know the area that well, but I run a weblog directory for Baltimore and I'm sure that some of my listees would be happy to help. If your friend would like, I could post a request for info on my site and get her in contact with some folks. Just let me know.
posted by amandaudoff at 5:34 PM on May 31, 2004

The area just west of Patterson Park is an OK area and appears to be on the upswing with lots of cool shops and cafes popping up and lots of people with money moving into the area. But it's next to a lot of pretty bad neighborhoods. Very generally speaking, a lot of the neighborhoods around Hopkins hospital are flat-out unsafe -- a sad Baltimore reality.

And you're certainly right that the city does change personality on a street by street basis, but even so, there are several great, safe and fun neighborhoods in the city:

Charles Village is the area just to the east of Johns Hopkins University (NOT anywhere near the hospital) is a great neighborhood. It's about five minutes directly north of downtown and very roughly straddles Charles, St. Paul and Calvert streets from about 33rd Street to about 25th Street. Lots of students and medical types (from Union Memorial Hospital, which is in the neighborhood), also lots of community activists.

Federal Hill is a great neighborhood immediately south of harbor and downtown. Cool restaurants, bars and cafes. A great open-air market. Great views of the city.

Fells Point is the city's famous waterfront neighborhood east of downtown. Tons of bars and restaurants and on weekends lots of drunken frat boy types puking on their shoes, but still a pretty fun place to be.

Canton is another great waterfront neighborhood just east of Fells Point. More cool bars and restaurants. Lots of yuppies, rooftop decks and waterfront views.

Mt. Vernon is the neighborhood on the north edge of downtown. Pretty "urban" in its feel. Tends to have more petty crime (car break-ins etc.), but some cool rental opportunities and some good cultural institutions in the area. Also, Mt. Vernon has a fairly large gay and lesbian population and bars to match.

Bolton Hill is a great residential neighborhood on the extreme northwest edge of the downtown area. Very cool houses for rent or to buy. Lots of art students live in the area because of a nearby art school.

Hampden is a funky, old-school Baltimore neighborhood north and east of downtown that has been made somewhat famous from John Waters movies (most recently Pecker, which was set mostly in the neighborhood). This neiborhood is really hot right now with a lot of people. Consequently it's a place where hipsters, bohemians, yuppies and working-class folk collide. The results can be pretty interesting at times.

Mt. Washington, on the extreme north edge of the city is a pretty cool area as well. It feels like a little village that has been swallowed by an expanding city (and I suspect that's what happened). Funky restaurants and shops. But it's a long ways from most of the rest of the city.

So this is by no means a complete list of good Baltimore neighborhoods, but it should give you a few places to check out. I'm sure you cand find out info about most of these places on the Web or in the standard Baltimore guides that you can find in the travel section at Barnes & Noble. I should also add that the views expressed here are my own (a five-year Baltimore resident) and don't necessarily reflect the views of all Baltimoreans.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 7:51 PM on May 31, 2004 [3 favorites]

I might add to the above list that Baltimore is weirder than most cities. You can litterally go 1 block and walk from a vibrant, safe community into a block that is run down, boarded up, and littered with crack vials. Well, that last is a slight exaggeration, but I've lived in Mt. Vernon and Bolton Hill, and there are areas in or near both where I wouldn't want my girlfriend walking alone after dark. That said, I'm not familiar with the area your friend is moving to, but if its non-urgent I'll ask around next time I'm over at the Hopkins library.
Hopkins students tend to live in Charles Village, fairly safe, young, hip, several cafes. There was a stabbing in one of the frat houses not too long ago, but that is fairly extreme for the area. Freshmen tend to get mugged if they aren't careful, but if your friend is familiar with any big city, she'll know how to avoid obvious danger. Mt. Vernon is also great, there are a lot of festivals and things around the monument (where the Peabody institute is). You can get some great shopping bargains in Lexington Market, although getting there on foot can be an eye opening (though not necessarily dangerous) experience, depending on what direction you're coming from. As someone without transportation, I go everywhere within a three mile radius on foot, occasionally by bus, although the busses suck.
Finally, if you're friend reads a lot, check out The Book Thing on 27th street between Charles and St. Paul. It's open every sat. and sun. and has roughly half-a-million free-for-the-taking books. All donated. I've found some really incredible books there. As for furniture etc. there are a lot of pawn shops, you can get some pretty good deals in. Also, clothing, golf clubs, 8-track cassettes etc. can be had for pennies at various thrift shops. A new one opened recently on North Ave near Eutaw and Park, however this is several miles south west of where your friend is moving so it might not be so helpful.
posted by Grod at 9:14 PM on May 31, 2004

I moved from Baltimore a couple of years ago (but lived there for almost a decade), so my advice may be a little dated. So, caveat emptor.

That area around Patterson Park is pretty bad. I wouldn't move there unless I first knew what was going on with my next door neighbors (i.e., that they weren't drug dealers or prostitutes). Sadly, that's the reality. The good news is that it's really easy to find cheap, great apartments in Baltimore. My best recommendation would be to move into Charles Village or Fells Point for the first year until you get your feet on the ground and know which blocks=good and which blocks=getting mugged. Having said that, I know many med students live in that area and get along fine. A little further south will put you in Canton, which is a great family neighborhood that I know I'd feel a little safer in.

The advice from Grod and TBone is solid. Here's another great guide, though:

It's put out for Hopkins grad students who are moving to the area, as I once was, and the advice is very reliable.

I loved Baltimore and miss it. I lived there for a long time and in several marginal neighborhoods, and never experienced any real trouble. Of course, your idea of "real trouble" gets adjusted a bit after awhile in The Greatest City in America. Good luck to your friend.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 9:43 PM on May 31, 2004

I just moved to Baltimore from Oregon and, after about 2 weeks here, have found it to be a fun, interesting place. My wife is going to the Hopkins School of Nursing, which I think is on the same campus as your friend's program.

I think the general rule is that Baltimore Street (the north-south division of the city) delimits between "safe" and "less safe". North of Baltimore St. is generally the less safe area. It really is block-to-block, though.

Between Baltimore and Eastern Streets (to the south) is a "fairly safe" area and south of Eastern is considered "more safe" (Downtown, Inner-Harbor, Fells Point, and Canton are all south of Eastern and are the nicer but more expensive parts of town). Canton and Fells Point are at what seems to be the center of the gradual revival of the inner-city.

The neighborhood your friend is looking in is called Butcher's Hill, I think (or maybe West Patterson Park, but most neighborhoods seem to have a couple of names). The park and the area around it is nice enough, but not necessarily walk-around-alone-at-night safe. There seems to be a lot of row-homes being refurbished there which is the trend here, as builders and owners look for "another Canon" where real-estate prices probably quadrupled in 10 years. When we were scoping neighborhoods, the Butcher's Hill area seemed fairly attractive overall. Even so, when home shopping, we toured a place there (on Madeira St. about 3 blocks south of Baltimore St.) and I turned into an alley littered with hypodermic needles (well, 3 or 4, but that's a lot in my experience). I'd feel generally safe there, but wouldn't want my wife walking around by herself, even in the daytime. I would advise your friend to not be too attached to the "great value" of the apartment; Baltimore is a fairly inexpensive city with about a billion row-homes to rent or buy.

I live south of Eastern, east of Patterson Park, in an area called Brewer's Hill, and it's an amazingly nice neighborhood. Quiet, friendly, and safe-feeling.

Play with the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance's Statistical Interactive Mapping System for some cool looking (and probably pretty useful) results.
posted by maniactown at 10:47 PM on May 31, 2004

This is awesome. Thanks so far, everyone. All of the links look great as well.
posted by fionab at 10:55 PM on May 31, 2004

Tip about the Book Thing: if you show up on Wednesday evenings and help shelve newly arrived old books, you can find a lot more good stuff you didn't know that you wanted. And Russell will give you pizza.

As for the neighborhood you are talking about, it is really block-to-block more than the rest of Baltimore these days. A friend of mine bought a house there a few years ago, and sold it recently without much improvement for over $20k more. However, I really suggest that someone physically stake out the area for you and email you pictures, at the very least. Since it really, really varies from block to block.
posted by donkeymon at 5:14 AM on June 1, 2004

I lived in Baltimore's Teeny-Weeny Little Italy for a year and just moved out last August. Charming neighborhood, cheap rent with a housemate, good food, good location beside Inner Harbor and a Whole Foods. Walk a block in the wrong direction, however, and you're in "the projects," through or around which you must walk to get to Fells Point and Hopkins Medical.

I hear some really nasty things about the immediate neighborhood around Hopkins Medical, so I don't recommend living in that area. There's good living around Fells Point and Canton, though, which is close by.
posted by brownpau at 7:22 AM on June 1, 2004

My wife and I lived in Charles Village for about three years (from 1999 - 2002) while she attended nursing school and worked at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Overall, it's a great neighborhood with all the normal pros and cons. Not the safest, but not the most dangerous either. Lots of great places to eat and drink. Parking is horrible, but the upside is that Hopkins runs a FREE shuttle service from the Homewood Campus to the Medical Campus. Might be worth looking into. Good luck, and don't forget -- Baltimore is the greatest city in America, the bus stop benches say so.
posted by marcusb at 7:41 AM on June 1, 2004

It's also the city that reads. And BELIEVES.
posted by brownpau at 7:57 AM on June 1, 2004

There is a reason why the call Baltimore the "City that Bleeds"...
I've felt safer wandering the streets of Bombay at night than I have walking one block off of the Inner Harbor on a Sunday afternoon. Actually, I've felt safer in Phnom Penh, Caracas and Johannesburg then in Baltimore.
Do not, under any circumstances rent a home there without first seeing the neighborhood at many different times of the day.
posted by hummus at 9:55 AM on June 1, 2004

Also, if your friend isn't opposed to suburbs, I highly recommend Towson. I lived there for a year (Goucher College) and loved the area. About 20 minutes from downtown and safe. It's got a fun little "downtown" area with a concert venue, restaurants, a great ice cream place, a trader joe's and bookstores.


I can take or leave Baltimore itself, but I really miss Towson.
posted by amandaudoff at 10:09 AM on June 1, 2004

I've felt safer wandering the streets of Bombay at night than I have walking one block off of the Inner Harbor on a Sunday afternoon.

With all due respect, hummus, I think you're exaggerating the dangers of Baltimore just a little. But I would agree that people moving here should err on the side of caution until they get their bearings -- and your point about visiting a potential rental neighborhood at different times of day is a very good one.

But I want to emphasize that with a healthy dose of city smarts (which anyone who chooses to live in any big city should employ), Baltimore can be a very exciting, fun, safe and livable place. It's got a surprisingly large amount of cultural venues for being a so-called blue collar town. It's got a fantastic ballpark. Tons of great restaurants -- seafood and otherwise. A diverse population. A superbly low cost of living. And (maybe best of all) when you get sick of the place, you're two hours from the ocean, one hour from the mountains, 45 minutes from D.C., an hour and a half from Philly and three hours from New York.
posted by TBoneMcCool at 2:21 PM on June 1, 2004

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