Street Scene: The Avenue
From bikers to beatniks, The Avenue has transformed into an indie enclave worth exploring.
The Hampden section of North Baltimore long had a reputation as the domain of bikers and laborers, who came from the west to work at the mills nearby. But in the '90s, artists looking for cheap rent invaded, as they do, and soon hip bookstores, trendy boutiques and indie-rock venues sprouted. Refreshingly, the neighborhood never quite relinquished its working class roots and exists today as a friendly and diverse area known for great shopping and food, all centered on the main commercial strip of 36th Street, between Falls Road and Beech Street, known to locals quite simply as "The Avenue."
1 ATOMIC BOOKS
"Bookstore" is an understatement. This temple to the arts of print and pop culture carefully curates a broad spectrum of zines, comics, magazines, toys and ephemera. No wonder Baltimore's own "King of Trash," filmmaker John Waters, is a regular and held a recent book signing here. www.atomicbooks.com
2 13.5% WINE BAR
The cozy, woody interior of this wine bar tests the neighborhood's upper limits for refinement, but squeaks by on account of its dependably friendly staff and relatively reasonable prices. There are more than 40 wines available by the glass, along with a menu of small plates — try the smoked shrimp empanadas and pork belly sliders. The best part has to be the crowd — generally attractive and laidback, just like the block. www.13.5winebar.com
3 GOLDEN WEST CAFÉ
This cozy café is an epicenter of the nabe's hipster contingent with a purposefully scruffy appeal. By day, gorge on a mélange of comfort foods — from tilapia tacos to buffalo tofu — under the watchful eyes of the giant mounted moose head. By night, hang in the bar at the back and play pinball and video games until the late night shows by (mostly) local indie-rock and electronica acts. www.goldenwestcafe.com
4 TRUE VINE RECORDS
This tiny but irreplaceable shop is perennially placed on lists of the country's top record stores by the likes of Rolling Stone and Spin. What True Vine lacks in quantity — you could fit 15 of them into your average record store — it more than makes up in quality, with its impeccable collection of hard-to-find records and CDs from small and international labels. The staff has enough collective music knowledge to power a small village of music bloggers. www.thetruevinerecordshop.com
If you've ever been in a Baltimore home where everywhere your eye falls there's some piece of furniture or wall-hanging that is so cool, so beautiful and so functional that you wish you had it, chances are the owner shops at Trohv. This store is the ultimate in home décor, mixing new and vintage, southern sensibility and urban grit to make a shop that's hip without being pretentious, from the giant gold accordion lamps to the small whiskey flasks, inscribed with "put some hair on your chest." www.trohvshop.com