By Micha Green
AFRO D.C. Editor
With the COVID-19 pandemic still plaguing cities across the United States and globe, some families might be reluctant to travel internationally. However, while many in the Washington Metropolitan area, might not consider taking a trip to Baltimore a true vacation, there are plenty sights across Charm City that will feel like a trip around the world.
This reporter enjoyed a full day of touring and learning about Baltimore’s history, hot-spots and “charm.” In a matter of minutes, one can feel as if their time traveling, visiting another country and even immersing oneself in different cultures. No matter if a person is alone or traveling with the entire family, Baltimore’s rich history of diversity and various cultural influences allows for jam packed experiences in Charm City.
Visit Baltimore, under the leadership of President and CEO Al Hutchinson, provided a wealth of information about local sights and a full itinerary for this, D.C. gal to check out sights beyond the normal go-to’s of Charm City far beyond what I’ve enjoyed for decades such as The Baltimore Harbor, The Baltimore Aquarium and some of my favorite go-to restaurants that I’ve fallen in love with over the years.
I began my day in Charm City in the artsy and historic, Mount Vernon neighborhood, where I enjoyed the 19th century architecture, small park spaces equipped with benches and tables for outside merriment or dining and statues all surrounding the area’s focal point- Baltimore’s Washington Monument.
Baltimore’s Washington Monument is considered a National Historic Landmark as the first public monument built in honor of the first United States President George Washington, and made with local marble. Designed by Robert Mills (the same architect who later designed D.C.’s Washington Monument), Baltimore’s Washington Monument stands 178 feet and eight inches, and after climbing 227 steps, guests get a beautiful view of the city.
After halting visits due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Baltimore’s Washington Monument is allowing visitors to return at the end of April, according to the Mount Vernon Place (MVP) Conservancy. Guests are required to wear masks. Virtual visitor experiences are also available in the “Digital Exhibits,” portion of the MVP Conservancy website: http://mvpconservancy.org.
Diagonally located across the street from the Washington Monument is another historic location, Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church and Asbury House, a Norman-Gothic style church completed in 1872, which even from the outside is truly a sight to see.
Just a one-minute walk from American history, is a spot that gives visitors a taste of Korea. Dooby’s, located at 802 N. Charles Street, has selections from breakfast, lunch and dinner and offers outdoor dining. From noodles, to dumplings and buns, the menu features a Korean influence with a bit of barbecue and Baltimore twist.
“The Korean-inspiration comes from my personal background. As a Korean-American, Dooby’s became an outlet to share Korean ingredients and flavors that I grew up with,” said Dooby’s Chef Phil Han. “We wanted to present them in a way that was fun, approachable, and delicious. The Korean BBQ Cheesesteak is a great example of this. Soy-marinated shaved beef presented in a classic form.”
This reporter particularly enjoyed the Chesapeake Dumplings with seafood, Old Bay seasoning and more beloved Maryland flavors. With the diverse cultural background and arts influence, Han said that Dooby’s was a perfect fit to add to the eclectic neighborhood.
“Mount Vernon has always been culturally diverse. It’s also the arts-center of Baltimore, as we’re wedged in between The Walters, Center Stage, BSO, and independent galleries. We believed we would be a great fit for the neighborhood with our unique menu, but at the core of our offering, we’re a go-to cafe with specialty coffee, housemade pastries, and casual fare,” he said.
Han said Dooby’s is a perfect place for visitors interested in taking a brief pause for some yummy food, while checking out more of what Charm City has to offer.
“Dooby’s is a perfect pit-stop in-between visiting the museums, the Monument, and even neighborhoods. Our diverse menu provides options for all, including vegetarians and gluten-free guests. Hanging out at Dooby’s certainly makes you feel welcome to the neighborhood as our cafe is a community center for all,” Han told the AFRO.
A short drive from the Mount Vernon neighborhood is Fell’s Point, one of Baltimore’s oldest neighborhoods, which was once a bustling shipbuilding port and known to be extremely diverse.
“When I was a little girl, Fell’s Point was like a League of Nations. You had to learn five or six languages to play with the kids in the neighborhood,” said long time area resident Elizabeth Losh in 1994, according to a featured historic billboard.
The great orator, newspaper publisher and abolitionist Frederick Douglass also spent a significant amount of his adolescent and teen years working in Fell’s Point. Historian, Lou Fields, who has hosted “Path to Freedom,” tours in Baltimore about Douglass told Baltimore Magazine: “He was born into slavery, grew up watching slave ships dock all around [Fell’s] Point, and witnessed slaves being marched in shackles to auction in the market square,” Fields said. “We are still talking about his legacy two centuries later because he became one of the great freedom fighters.”
The rich history and culture in Fell’s Point is still seen and appreciated through the stone streets, waterside restaurants and businesses and the beautiful views of the water.
After taking in the waterfront views in Fell’s Point, this reporter felt as if I had taken a short boat trip to Argentina, when I stopped by Bar Vasquez.
“Bar Vasquez is a really unique location in that it is located on the outer edge of Harbor East yet has easy access from Fell’s Point as well. It’s very convenient to have our flagship, nine-times James Beard Foundation Award nominated restaurant, Charleston, just two blocks. Cinghiale, our Italian restaurant and wine bar is also across the street from Charleston and less than a five-minute walk from Bar Vasquez. To have these three world-class concepts all close together has created a rich experience for our diners. When they are looking for something special, or when they want to pop into Bar Vasquez for the best steak in Baltimore, we have much to offer,” said co-owner of the Foreman Wolf Restaurant Group Chef Tony Foreman.
Bar Vasquez honors co-owner, Chef Cindy Wolf’s mentor, Chef Marcelo Vasquez and has delicious food and flavors that has kept this reporter reminiscing for almost two weeks.
“The restaurant celebrates the vibrancy and energy of Buenos Aires and reflects the Argentine love of meat and seasonal ingredients in the menu. Our breathtaking restaurant really transports you to a different place and makes you feel as if you were somewhere else entirely,” Foreman added. “The gorgeous interiors, the lush greenery, the ambiance of the mezzanine that overlooks the wide open lounge and bar. It’s really a sight to behold.”
I particularly enjoyed the Empanadas de Espinica (spinach empanadas), flavorful Shrimp Ceviche and delicious grilled salmon cooked over the cherrywood fire grill.
“Our Executive Chef Mario Caño Catalan is incredibly talented. He cooks with live fire every night using only the best seasonal ingredients and amazing meats and seafood for our guests to enjoy.”
In addition to the ambiance and food are the delectable cocktails and an extensive wine list that can be enjoyed separately or paired with one’s dining experience.
“I tasted over 1500 Argentinian wines alone to make selections for Bar Vasquez’s wine list. The wine cellar is filled with the best Argentinian and South American varietals, all of them brilliant. It is exciting what you can find on our wine list—fun, bodacious, just simply great wines at all price points,” Foreman said. “We are known to have the best happy hour in Baltimore, Monday-Saturdays from 5-7pm.”
“Bar Vasquez is a must-visit when you are in Baltimore because of the impeccable food, service and space. Downstairs the bar and lounge provide a more relaxed and easy environment fit for enjoying drinks and snacks. Upstairs, the second floor is a more intimate scene of white tablecloths, silver candlesticks, Rosenthal china, and formal service. Diners will appreciate a view of the energy downstairs from a more private location,” Foreman explained to the AFRO.
For more information on a fun day in Baltimore, where one feel as if they have been transported to other countries, check out the Visit Baltimore website at: https://baltimore.org.