Hot Spots w/Brian Michael Lawrence

Hot Spots: Market Place

Anyone who knows me knows that one of my top go-to food destinations in town is The Food Market on “The Avenue” in Hampden. Opened six years ago by Chef Chad Gauss, it’s as popular as ever, both with neighborhood locals and diners from around the city. The approachable menu offers clever spins on classic dishes, incorporates seasonal aspects, and changes regularly, so there’s always something new to try. And the consistency of the food quality, as well as how quickly it arrives from the kitchen, makes it one of the best dining values in town. Superb service and an always-buzzing crowd in its dining room make it a northside treasure. The bar, located at the front of the restaurant with big windows overlooking The Avenue streetscape, has always employed personable, knowledgeable bartenders. I usually stick to two standard choices. ...

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Hot Spots: Woodberry Watering Hole

I think we’re all familiar with La Cuchara, the cavernous Spanish/Mediterranean-themed restaurant helmed by Chef Ben Lefenfeld. Opened in 2015, it’s been a stunning success and a great addition to the neighborhood. There’s so much to love—the expansive cheeseboard and charcuterie selections… …the dramatic open kitchen with its open-flame spit… …the large, comfortable bar area—even basic things like a free parking lot and outdoor seating in nice weather. I’ve come to appreciate it not only for the dependably excellent food and service, but for the bar program. Helmed by a fleet of personable, knowledgeable bartenders, the bar here offers solid takes on age-old classic cocktails and creative spins on new ones, as well as a respectable beer list and a lengthy, interesting wine list. And the generous size of the bar area here really...

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Hot Spots: View from the Top

I was recently a guest at the soft opening of the new Topside bar and restaurant high atop the recently opened Hotel Revival on the square in Mt. Vernon. The new hotel is a complete renovation of the former Peabody Court Hotel. The building has been completely refurbished, shedding its conservative, formal air for a bright and airy hipster, boutique hotel vibe. In its former incarnation, this rooftop, glass-enclosed space housed the very formal Conservatory restaurant, and more recently was used as private event space. Stepping off the elevator, one is immediately struck by the expansive views of the neighborhood and city, visible in every direction. A large central bar is flanked on three sides by tables, high-tops, some communal dining tables… …and lounge-y seating areas, some replete with foosball tables. Tile floors and ironwork accents give the space a beerhall...

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Hot Spots: Hey, Neighbor!

For years, Long John’s Pub on 29th Street in working-class Remington was the very definition of a neighborhood bar. But aside from the locals, cheap drinks and a low-key vibe made it a gathering spot for in-the-know hipsters from around the city, and karaoke nights there could be epic. Sadly, some structural issues and ownership changes dictated its closing last year. With new ownership (the owner of Swallow At The Hollow in Belvedere Square) and some renovations, the pub reopened recently as 29th Street Tavern. They've kept the low-tech, homey vibe, but basically cleaned up the space; replaced some things that needed attention and repaired things that need fixing. The surroundings are not fancy, but they are inviting. As you approach from the sidewalk on 29th Street, the first thing you'll notice is the new, attractive, Art Deco-style red neon-trimmed sign hanging over the door. Smart navy blue awnings...

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Hot Spots: Chez Hugo

In 2006, the Miss USA Pageant was broadcast to the world from right here in Baltimore, at the Royal Farms Arena. At the time, as Editor-in-Chief of STYLE magazine, I was invited to the broadcast show and to the VIP afterparty, held at the long-shuttered Merchant’s Club building downtown. Though I don’t recall the specific winner (it was Tara Conner of Kentucky—I looked it up), I do recall it being my first time in the venerable Merchant’s Club building, where I hung out with show judge Carsen Kressley, leaving sometime after 4 a.m. after having spent half the night dancing the frug and the twist with a former Buddy Deane Show dancer. Today, that grand space on Redwood street has the Shakespeare Theatre in the grandiose old Redwood Trust Building next door and the chic, hip, Hotel RL across the street. And Chef Steve Monnier, hot off...

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Hot Spots: Days Gone By

The Bygone is one of the more anticipated openings to happen in Baltimore in the past year. The newest brainchild of restaurateur Alex Smith and his Atlas Group, it comes on the heels of last summer's openings of sibling establishments Tagliata and The Elk Room (other nearby Atlas establishments in the city include Loch Bar, Azumi and Ouzo Bay). Perched atop the Four Seasons Hotel on the 29th floor, the glass-walled restaurant, bar and club offers swoon-worthy views of the Inner Harbor and the downtown skyline. A special elevator whisks patrons upward, where they disgorge into a central lounge area (where I intruded on a workman one day recently). Walk to the right, past upholstered booths separated by privacy curtains, and into the swank main dining room, where every seat in the house offers stunning views that overlook the city and the water. [caption...

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Club Scene

Longtime stalwart No Way Jose had been pouring Natural Light (and many other varieties of beer) on Cross Street for more than a few years.  Part of the large collection of bars on Cross Street in the Federal Hill neighborhood, the space has been given a refresh, and now has a new look, a new name, and a new menu. Welcome to One Star Country Club. Inside, the layout of the bar area is the same, but brighter colors abound, a glass garage-style door now opens up to the sidewalk outside, and a series of TV screens line the back bar overhead. In the rear dining room, a staircase has been relocated to the rear corner, opening up the space a bit. The stairs lead up to another small dining room on the second level. The décor...

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All Grown Up

The space at 1110 S. Charles Street has long housed a series of bars with a party-centric vibe, including Boomerang and Mad River. Now, as The Charles, it projects a much more adult, sophisticated feel. It occupies a soaring two-level interior, originally constructed in the early 20th century, as a branch of the Provident Savings Bank. Now, as one enters, there is a large bar along the left wall with a series of shelves that climb up to the open, second level. Interspersed with decorative elements are multiple TV screens for showing sports. An open staircase leads upstairs to a series of booths on a mezzanine that overlooks the bar area. Overhead, a black-and-white checkerboard pattern fills in the original skylight. Toward the rear, there's another bar and an open space for dancing to...

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Heart & Soul

Chef David Thomas, who formerly operated Herb & Soul restaurant in Parkville, has a new venture downtown near City Hall. Named for a 19th-century African-American journalist and activist, Ida B’s table serves what it calls modern soul food. It occupies a large space in a brick industrial building within a stone’s throw of the elevated JFX overhead. Inside, there’s a barroom to the left, and large dining room divided into two areas with a wrought-iron rail. Polished wood, industrial ductwork overhead, exposed brickwork and wood-textured drum shades for lighting, constitute the décor. There are also two adjoining spaces that can be used for private events. Dramatic, oversized artworks portraying prominent African-Americans - including actor Paul Robeson and the restaurant’s namesake - adorn some of the walls. The menu contains Southern-style classics and modern takes on soul food....

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En Español

Amidst the explosion of the Hampden restaurant scene in recent years, Holy Frijoles has been a longtime stalwart. Located smack-dab in the middle of the The Avenue, the informal joint serving dependable Mexican cuisine has been at it for a number of years. So last year, when a devastating fire closed the establishment, folks waited patiently for the reopening. It took just about a year, but the unveiling finally took place in late fall, as the restaurant/bar not only reopened in its former digs, but added a healthy addition as well. The main room looks pretty familiar, with the big main bar on the left… …and a scattering of high-top tables along the right wall. Bright, bold colors and lots of funky artwork define the space. Along the rear wall are several colorful vintage pinball machines. [caption id="attachment_12071"...

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Brian Michael Lawrence

Brian Michael Lawrence is one of THE Baltimore style experts. After all, he was the longtime editor-in-chief at STYLE Magazine, which specialized in covering everything stylish around the Baltimore area. Brian also served as editorial director for the digital division at Sinclair Broadcasting, and creative director at Blue Sky Design. Currently, he oversees communications & marketing for the department of Tourism, Film & the Arts at Maryland’s Commerce Department. 

In his bi-weekly column, you’ll get to see what continues to pique this Baltimore style maven's interest, be it fabulous food, cool cocktails, or great looks he finds, both on people and in places. 

Email Brian