Dinner and a Movie… Al Fresco
Not all of the best outdoor dining in Baltimore is at the Inner Harbor (though the views there are pretty darn great). There’s also plenty of people-watching to be done around town in some of the city’s historic neighborhoods.
At the Inner Harbor, those looking for the quintessential Baltimore experience should book an outdoor table at Phillips Harborplace and get a couple of dozen crabs, which should be devoured while watching the nighttime water traffic skim across the waters of the harbor.
There are lots of other restaurants at Harborplace with outdoor dining as well, so if Phillips is overbooked, you should be able to find a substitute. (The second-floor restaurants of the Pratt Street Pavilion are a good bet for a great view; a quieter option is McCormick & Schmick’s.
In Fell’s Point, you can get a great street-level table along Thames Street at two bars: Duda’s Tavern and John Steven, each at opposite ends of the (mostly) waterfront thoroughfare. There’s also local upscale brewpub chain Du Claw Brewing Co., across the street from Duda’s in the Bond Street Wharf; it’s close enough to count as waterfront.
Shucker’s has the best view in the neighborhood, though the feel is less “salty dog” than at Duda’s or John Steven. On warm weekend nights, you’ll get to see the rowdy crowds roll in with the evening tide, so don’t think of this as a romantic Saturday night destination.
Federal Hill has only a few options, but they’re quite good. First is Regi’s, a longtime fixture on Light Street that serves classic American dishes. On the water, the Baltimore location of the Rusty Scupper chain doesn’t have the city’s most inventive menu, but the view (especially for brunch) is probably the best in the city.
The innovative The Bicycle has an interior, brick-lined courtyard for dining; the almost-waterfront Little Havana is a loud, raucous bar and club where you can sip marvelous mojitos in the glow of the Domino Sugars sign; and south of Federal Hill proper is Nick’s Fish House, a hard-to-find little waterfront bar and restaurant that overlooks an inlet of the Patapsco (think Tampa, more than Miami).
There are some other outdoor dining gems in Baltimore, scattered across town. In Mount Vernon, Donna’s gives its diners a look at Charles Street’s bustle through the neighborhood, while Sascha’s 527 Café offers a great view of the Walters and the Washington Monument.
In the small Station North arts district, and right next to the Charles movie theater, Tapas Teatro may not have a waterfront view, but it’s a thriving, bustling scene for dinner and drinks (and great small plates). In Hampden and Homewood, The Ambassador Dining Room has a magnificent backyard lawn/dining area that offers seclusion among the neighboring apartment towers.
At the Baltimore Museum of Art, the modern, tented patio at Gertrude’s overlooks the museum’s sculpture garden. And the lauded Woodberry Kitchen offers dining among the repurposed and restored mills and buildings of Woodberry’s Clipper Mill complex of dwellings and stores.
The outdoor movie trend started in 1999, in Little Italy, on a bare billboard hung in a parking lot; now, free outdoor film festivals are a staple of Baltimore summers.
The elder statesman of the bunch, and most popular, is the Little Italy Open Air Film Festival (www.littleitalymd.com), held on eight Friday nights in July and August. Beginning at sundown, films from Moonstruck to Cinema Paradiso are projected right out of the window of a row house. Crowds form early (bring a lawn chair) and fill the streets around the parking lot.
Wednesdays now offer Films on the Pier (www.cdjoint.com/filmsonthepier.cfm), shown on a 300-foot screen at the Broadway Pier in Fell’s Point; the series runs all summer long. On Thursdays in June and July, head to the other side of the Inner Harbor, to Federal Hill Park; bring a blanket and pack a picnic for the American Visionary Art Museum’s Flicks from the Hill (www.avam.org/cgi-bin/Events.cgi), projected on the west side of the museum.
Uptown, the five-week-long, Friday-night series of Johns Hopkins Summer Outdoor Films (www.jhu.edu/summer/films) in June and July features opening bands playing on the bucolic Upper Quad in front of Gilman Hall, followed by the feature.
© Geoff Brown from Moon Baltimore, 1st Edition