East Baltimore is a sparsely populated, mostly residential district covering about a third of the entire city in the very rough east of downtown and the more suburban-feeling northeast.
East Baltimore is notable principally for helping to keep Baltimore's homicides per capita among the highest in the nation, and unsurprisingly has been used as a filming location for both the Wire and more extensively for Homicide: Life on the Street. It is also home to the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus, which is somewhat controversially demolishing the blighted neighborhoods that surround it in order to accommodate its ever rapid expansion. Displaced residents are not pleased, but Johns Hopkins is the single most powerful institution in the city, and the hospital is likely to get its way! Sensing neighborhood change in the wake of the expansion, real estate developers have been buying up properties by the block, looking to turn them into condos, leaving swathes with the appearance of a shiny new ghost town. The city government is quite interested in renovating areas so close to downtown (for the new tax base that would bring), particularly in the borderline ghost town of Old Town. A yuppified East Baltimore is at least a possibility in the future, but what a contrast that would be to the present reality!
Northeast Baltimore is an entirely different animal, with some really interesting neighborhoods, especially Hamilton and Lauraville along Harford Road. Expect quaint strips with nice restaurants, cafes, and local shops. Harford Road might ring a bell for film lovers of the eccentric variety—it was brought into the popular consciousness by John Waters' 2004 film, A Dirty Shame.
By public transport
East Baltimore is a pretty huge area, when you account for the whole northeast of the city, so how to get in will depend on what part you mean to visit. The only part of East Baltimore that can make sense to visit via public transport is the Johns Hopkins Hospital area, which is served by the little-known Baltimore Metro, which runs to the JH Hospital station from the Inner Harbor, Lexington Market, and Midtown, as well as by Bus #35, coming to the hospital from Pratt St in the Inner Harbor. Bus #13 is also of potential use, as it runs south from Hopkins along Wolfe to either Fell's Point or Canton (depending on the routing of the specific bus) and north along Washington before turning west on North Ave, going past Great Blacks in Wax, Greenmount Cemetery, and on to North Charles St in Midtown.
For the more interesting neighborhoods of Lauraville and Hamilton, Bus #19 runs up along their main commercial corridor, Harford Rd, from Pratt St in the Inner Harbor all the way out of the city to the northeast (note that #35 service is suspended 1:30AM-4AM daily).
For Chaps Pit Beef, if you are feeling too stubbornly adventurous to go there properly via car, you can take Bus #35 past Johns Hopkins Hospital and all the way out the Pulaski Highway. If you miss it, though, you'll wind up lost all the way out in boring old White Marsh.
A car is the only truly sensible way for a visitor to get around East Baltimore. It is safer and more convenient, and you will find parking basically everywhere. Monument St and Orleans St/Pulaski Hwy (US-40) are the main east west roads, with Harford Rd and Belair Rd serving as the main northeast radials from the city center.
I-95 and I-895 clip the eastern edge of the city. Coming from the north, use Exit 13 off I-895 for US-40/Pulaski Hwy. From the south, use Exit 14 for Moravia Rd. Both northbound and southbound I-95 traffic can use Exit 61 for US-40/Pulaski Hwy. For Lauraville and Hamilton, Harford Rd intersects with the Baltimore Beltway (I-695) at Exit 31.
- Great Blacks in Wax, 1603 E North Ave, ☎ . Tu-Sa 9AM-6PM, Su noon-6PM (summer days are open on Mondays as well). Only the American Visionary Arts Museum could claim to be more unique than this very off-the-beaten-path museum, and it might be wrong. The catchy name betrays the extremely disturbing content (make sure your kids are prepared). It's appropriately disturbing, though, as much of African American history is horrifying even without seeing it reproduced with life-sized wax figures. The first room you enter sets the tone: a cramped slave ship, packed with brutalized slaves watched over by a sadistic slavemaster. The lynching scene is in a separate room downstairs, so you can get through the museum without getting those particular nightmares, but you'll have to live with the guilt of essentially hiding from a brutish and terribly significant fact of recent U.S. history. It's not all doom and gloom, though, as the story of African Americans is full of personal triumphs and huge contributions to the society of not just this country, but of the world. $12/10.
- Greenmount Cemetery, 1501 Greenmount Ave, ☎ . M-Sa 8AM-4PM (office closes Sa at noon). Call ahead during bad weather to make sure you can enter.. Greenmount Cemetery is Baltimore's most interesting after Westminster Hall downtown, with beautiful, tranquil, rolling hills, and interesting Gothic chapels and statuary. Among the most famous interred are a long list of Maryland governors, John Wilkes Booth and a few of his co-conspirators, Johns Hopkins himself, as well as William Thompson Walters and his son Henry Walters, the famous art collectors and founders of the Walters Art Museum. Fans of the HBO series, The Wire should recognize this as the location for several important scenes. Pick up a map from the office to the right of the gates at Oliver St. In May and October, you can take guided tours—check the website for details.
- Johns Hopkins Hospital, 601 N Broadway. While not really a place to visit, unless you are sick or injured, the administrative center, the Billings Building, is a beautiful work of architecture, and a principal East Baltimore landmark. Its prestige is likewise enormous, almost always named the United States' premiere hospital, and by extension, many consider it the best in the world.
- Mt Pleasant Ice Arena, 6101 Hillen Rd, ☎ . M-Th noon-2PM, F 8:30PM-10:30PM, Sa 3PM-5PM,8:30PM-10:30PM, Su 3PM-5PM. Open year round, this indoor ice rink is too far away for your average city visitor, unless they have a car, but it's a good escape for a family from touring the sights. $4, $2 skate rentals.
- Parkville Bowling Lanes, 706 Harford Rd, ☎ . M-Th 9AM-10PM, F 9AM-midnight, Sa 3PM-midnight, Su noon-6PM (8PM in winter). Similarly remote, and a similarly fun escape from the city center. It is Maryland style duck-pin bowling, so it's especially great for kids who aren't yet ready to wield the big balls. They also have a video arcade, pizza and beer, and easy parking. ~$2/game.
- Collectors Corner, 7911 Harford Rd, ☎ . M-Tu noon-8PM, W-Sa 11AM-9PM, Su noon-6PM. Baltimore's biggest and likely most beloved comic book store (for those who know the area, anyway), with a huge selection of comics, manga, miscellaneous paraphernalia, games, and DVDs. Friendly, well stocked, and well organized. Weekly gaming sessions and movie nights.
- Rim Source, 4810 Bel Air Rd, ☎ . M-Sa 10AM-7PM. Preeminent rims shop and fictional front of the Marlo operation in The Wire, there just is no better place for a lark cruiser purchase, or just some fancy upgrades to trick out your current car. This is another one of those "real Baltimore" spots.
- Shockers Smoke Shop, 7110 Harford Rd, ☎ . M-F 11AM-8PM, Sa noon-7PM, Su 1PM-5PM. This is basically a high end "head shop," where you'll find glass blowers actually creating bongs in shop. Custom glass pipes of all sorts can be commissioned at the shop. Plenty of other, ahem, paraphernalia, but expect it to be a bit more pricey than usual.
- Vú Skateboard Shop, 7118 Harford Rd, ☎ . M-Sa noon-8PM, Su noon-6PM. A skater-owned and operated skate shop, with an ethos that includes donations and demonstrations for lower income communities and keeping a small ramp in the back, in case they start feeling bored. Pronounced "view," and stocked with apparel, boards, and accessories.
- Wockenfuss Candies, 5420 Belair Rd, ☎ . M-Sa 10AM-6PM. This little shop has a pretty wild variety of chocolates, truffles, and other candies. The City Paper really likes its marzipan.
- Zeke's, 4607 Harford Rd, ☎ . M-Sa 7AM-6PM, Su 7AM-4PM. Sells beans only, but they are the best coffee beans money can buy!
- Big Bad Wolf's House of BBQ, 5713 Harford Rd, ☎ . M-F 11AM-9PM, Sa-Su 8AM-10PM, 2AM-3AM. A simple sit-down BBQ joint, offering ribs, pulled pork, brisket, etc. of different regional styles, as well as some real mouth-watering Eastern Shore BBQ chicken. Aside from the chicken, the consensus standouts would be the signature Big Bad Wolf sandwich, the pork ribs, baked beans, and just about any of those sauces. $5-15.
- Brass Hen, 1407 E Cold Spring Ln, ☎ . Dirt, dirt cheap, and very good, greasy subs and breakfast (but out of the way!). $2-6.
- Chaps Pit Beef, 5801 Pulaski Hwy (US-40), ☎ . Su-Th 10:30AM-10PM, F-Sa 10:30AM-midnight. Chaps has long served the best pit beef in the city, and is the place to come if you want the real deal. The location is seedy (but perfectly safe), next to a strip club and an adult video wholesaler. Chaps itself is a nice place, however, to sit and enjoy your meal on the wood picnic tables enveloped in Ravens colors. The pit beef eclipses all else on the menu, but the dry-rub ribs as well as the rice pudding merit a little extra expense. (The lines, which shot out the door after the gurus at the Food Network, Travel Channel, et al., caught the little sandwich shop in their massive spotlight, have thankfully died down.) $5-15.
- Dino's Carryout & Restaurant, 2000 Orleans St, ☎ . If over by the hospital, you could do a lot worse than Dino's. Expect big, cheap, tasty portions of greasy pizza, gyros, subs, etc., as well as some surprisingly good salads, but more importantly a nice, clean dining room--a bit of an oasis in these parts. $5-12.
- Lost in the 50s Diner, 5512 Harford Rd, ☎ . M-Tu,Th-F 7AM-4PM, Sa-Su 8AM-4PM. It's a new diner (occupying the space formerly known as the Golden Key, a venerable grease institution), but serves a big side of nostalgia and 1950s kitsch. Photos of Hamilton in the 50s dominate the walls, and seating is in cozy booths with individual jukebox machines. There are plans to expand into dinner, but for now spoons are greasy only for breakfast and lunch. $5-14.
- Mama Mia's, 700 N Broadway, ☎ . A slice of East Baltimore that attracts, rather than scares away, the Hopkins crowd. It provides a sense of balance to the health facilities across the street--you'll find here only unhealth. Pizza, greasy subs, and just about anything fried. It's delicious (and very cheap). It also serves to unify locals with the professional hospital crowd in a way that only fast heart-destroying food can. There is a little bit of seating available, but it's the kind of food you wouldn't mind eating while standing outside. $3-8.
- New York Fried Chicken, 1268 E North Ave, ☎ . Open awful late. Whew, NYFC on North Ave in East Baltimore. Not for your average tourist! Coming after dark promises to be interesting (if the collective consciousness does not err, didn't one of the city's nightlife weeklies call this location Baltimore's best cheap entertainment?), but that's only for folks who feel very comfortable hanging out in the hood. The chicken box and lake trout are really good, though. For those unfamiliar, NYFC is a franchise (with no franchise quality controls) originating in New York, as Kennedy Fried Chicken. The ploy was to confuse initial-recognizing Kentucky Fried Chicken fans, but a lawsuit seems to have had at least partial success in forcing a name change! Weirder still were the investigations of Afghanistani NYFC employees, which actually did turn up the occasional pamphlet advocating extremist violence against the U.S. Intrigue and deep fryers! $3-7.
- Northeastern Market, 2101 E Monument St, ☎ . M-Sa 7AM-6PM. Northeastern Market, est. 1885, in the heart of East Baltimore, is probably the least touristy of the city's many public markets, and it's also one of its largest. Jumbled and a little dirty, it implausibly received the City Paper's award for best public market. It is without a doubt colorful enough to warrant a visit if you are in the area, though, and you can wander in along with hungry Hopkins interns, mingling with grocery shopping East Baltimoreans, to find some tasty eats: favorites include sandwiches at Rex's Deli, OK Oriental (Chinese), Hot Mustard (Korean, just behind the market), and Shore's Seafood.
- Overlea Diner, 6652 Belair Rd, ☎ . M-Sa 6AM-9PM, Su 7AM-7PM. Lost in the 50s brings the kitsch, while Overlea brings nothing but authenticity--it approaches the Platonic diner ideal type. Cheap beyond all reason, breakfast all day, Hon-served scrapple, and over 65 years of stool-use. The only digressions are the notably clean and bright interior, and the strong Bawlmer accents wafting around the room, piggybacking the smell of syrup. $2.50-9.
- Sunny's Sub, 1518 Havenwood Rd, ☎ . M-Sa 9AM-9PM. This Northwood Shopping Center shop is one of the better hole-in-the-walls in the city for a chicken box or lake trout with a half and half, and worth a detour if you have a car, or if you are at Morgan State University. $3-7.
- West Indian Flavor, 2111 McElderry St, ☎ . Across the intersection from Northeastern Market, this unassuming little place serves what you can comfortably call the best fresh-off-the-boat Caribbean/Trinidadian food anywhere near Baltimore. Really, try to beat sawfish baked in coconut with a side of roti. $6-15.
- Woodlea Bakery, 4905 Belair Rd, ☎ . Tu-Sa 6AM-7PM, Su 6AM-3PM. Cheap and delicious, Woodlea Bakery is far off the beaten path, and an unorthodox choice for desserts, but a very savvy choice for travelers in East Baltimore with a car. $2-6.
- Corner Crab House, 4600 Erdman Ave, ☎ . A hidden diamond in the rough of East Baltimore, this "house" is little more than a large shack, but it cooks up some of the city's best crabs. Go ahead and splurge on the large crabs: the prices are usually very good here, and they don't kid around when they say large. There are plenty of other options, if you aren't in the mood for effortful eating, or if crabs are out of season. Coddies and mac n' cheese could fill you up for less than $5, or you could go through the fried fresh shrimp, crabcakes, whiting, fried oysters, etc. This is a true Baltimore seafood house. $5-22.
- Frank's Pizza & Pasta, 6620 Belair Rd, ☎ . Tu-Th 11AM-10PM, F-Sa 11AM-11PM, Su noon-9PM. An unassuming Italian restaurant, with surprisingly good food inside, and very friendly service (and patrons!). The pastas are as excellent as the pizzas, which come either thin crust or thick pan pizza. The meaty crabcakes are another pleasant surprise. $13-23.
- Hamilton Tavern, 5517 Harford Rd, ☎ . Kitchen: Su-M,W-Th 4:30PM-10PM, F-Sa 4:30PM-11PM. Hamilton Tavern is most famous for its "best-in-Baltimore" Roseda beef burger, topped with a fried egg and horseradish, but the rest of the menu is universally excellent (its fried chicken got another one of those "best-of" awards from the City Paper). The interior is stylish (it's a new place), and a cozy place for microbrews from the list at the Brewer's Art in Midtown. $13-25.
- Koco's Pub, 4301 Harford Rd, ☎ . Kitchen: Tu-Sa noon-9:30PM. Koco's has as good a claim as any to the best crabcake in the city. Now that that's out of the way--its a cheery neighborhood pub with various standard pub grub and derivations thereof: coconut shrimp, jerk chicken, garden salad with buffalo chicken strips, but also ye olde fish n' chips, burgers, and stand-out wings. $9-18.
- Chameleon, 4341 Harford Rd, ☎ . Tu-Th 5PM-9PM, F-Sa 5PM-10PM. The Chameleon is one of Baltimore's most trusted fine dining, contemporary American restaurants, despite being all the way out in Lauraville, with an emphasis on local, farm-to-table ingredients (it's consistently rated the best in this category in Baltimore). Great cocktails, in particular the Vespertine and the Root Down. $27-50, $33 pri fixe Tu-Th.
- Clementine, 5402 Harford Rd, ☎ . Tu 5PM-9PM, W-Th 11AM-9PM, F 11AM-10PM, Sa 8:30AM-10PM, Su 8:30AM-9PM. Clementine is the other really upscale restaurant in Lauraville-Hamilton, without the white tableclothes, but with food and drinks just as good as Chameleon. Known for a focus on local ingredients, creative takes on comfort food (e.g., duck nachos). Setting Clementine apart from the majority of Baltimore fine dining, though, is its impressive, yet rather cheap breakfast and lunch offerings, W-Su. $18-42.
- Daily Grind, 720 N Rutland Ave, ☎ . M-F 7AM-5PM. High quality coffee drinks of all stripes along with fresh salads and wraps, in the back of the Broadway Research Building.
- Holiday House, 6427 Harford Rd, ☎ . Memorialized by John Waters' 2004 film "A Dirty Shame," the Holiday House captures classic Harford Road culture better than any other bar or restaurant in the area. Bikers swarm the joint and park their impressive, if intimidating, rides outside with pronounced gusto. Inside, this American bar is totally wholesome if you are into vibrant edginess and big character. Hear that great Baltimore accent careening across the room.
- Red Canoe, 4337 Harford Rd, ☎ . M-Sa 7AM-5PM, Su 9PM-3PM. One of Baltimore's most pleasant cafes, intended to get you to stay and relax a bit (they even have a fireplace!). They have famous, local Zeke's coffee by the cup, and a small menu of worthwhile sandwiches, wraps, soups, salads, and absolutely delicious and eccentric muffins. It's a great place for families, as it also holds Baltimore's best children's bookstore, as well as a play area. In addition to the occasional author talk or music performance, they have children's sing-along on the first and third Wednesdays of the month at 10:30AM.
- Shamrock Inn, 6044 Harford Rd, ☎ . Given a nod in Esquire Magazine's best 150 bars in America (sharing the distinction with only one other Maryland bar, the Brewer's Art in Midtown), this is a good Bawlmer biker bar to get your teeth knocked down your throat by a big tattooed broad. Or just to generally have a very colorful, entertaining evening (don't misunderstand, the place is absolutely accepting of newcomers of any stripes). It is also a great place for live rock music. John Waters loves the place.
- America's Best Value Inn, 6510 Frankford Ave, ☎ . A basic, clean, 2-diamond, mid-sized motor lodge right off I-95/I-895, with free WiFi and parking. $65-75.
- McElderry House, 2000 McElderry St, ☎ . Designed for families of patients at Johns Hopkins (but not affiliated with the institution), this is a set of townhouses right across the street from the hospital. The townhouses can be rented privately, or you can rent a room, sharing the common areas with other guests. $66-85/room, $132-255/private townhouse.
Some restaurants and all public libraries provide WiFi. There are other areas where you can get it by subscription.