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March 3, 2009

Federal Hill wins Great American Main Street award

mainstreet.JPGBelieve it or not, Federal Hill was just named one of this year's five Great American Main Streets, according to a short piece by Sun reporter Brent Jones.

The reason?

More than 80 businesses have opened since 2000, providing 270 new jobs in the neighborhood. Federal Hill Main Street has rehabbed 58 historic structures and received $350,000 in public investment and more than $1 million from private donors.

Now, I'm going to open this up for discussion. I'd like to know if you think Federal Hill deserved this or not.

But before I do, I want to weigh in here ...

Keep in mind, I live in South Baltimore, so I'm not impartial here. I walk these streets ("a loaded six-gun in my hand") pretty often, and I've been to plenty of other cities too.

And I think this award is a little overblown. Maybe that's putting it lightly. Look, Federal Hill is a cool place. I like all the little boutiques. I like the bars. I like the Cross Street Market, which is the cleanest, nicest neighborhood market in town. 

But this is a relatively small part of Federal Hill. And look, I know it's technically South Baltimore and Federal Hill and all these other little mini-hoods jumbled together, but I'm using the blanket term Federal Hill because that's what most people call it.

There are plenty of vacant buildings and storefronts just outside of the small shopping center. It doesn't take you that long to see all the shops Federal Hill has to offer.

There are plenty of other towns and cities with much nicer, cleaner main streets. And I think that since the nice people behind the National Main Street Awards give out five every year, they may be running out of good main streets.

What do you think?

Also, thanks to Jason for the heads up.

(Sun photo by Karl Merton Ferron)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 11:07 AM | | Comments (81)
Categories: Random stuff


it probably has to do with how many and which main streets were entered. usually, these rating organizations (government included) ask for submissions with bios and such. they then pick from those. so it depends on how well the submissions are done, how many received, etc.

i believe the bon jovi song goes " a loaded six string on my back"

It's funny, but I kind of think Fells Point has more to offer. Tons of new shops and even a movie theater with Harbor East. Lots of restaurants and bars, offices, townhouses and condos, ethnic diversity (at least to the north and east, with all the Latino businesses and Little Italy). Federal Hill seems more fragmented and with less of a thriving business and redevelopment community. I'm just saying.

"More than 80 businesses have opened since 2000, providing 270 new jobs in the neighborhood"

Interesting. I would like to know how many of these businesses have closed since 2005.. I can think of about 13 consulting, real estate, development and law offices, in Federal Hill, that have closed.


You're right. Not to mention HDC's renovation of both Broadway Markets blows Cross St Market out of the water. I've seen the renderings, I just wish they would finish!

The three year plan joins both Harbor East and Fells Point as one neighborhood, with paths, water walkways, etc.

Fells Point shows the most promise right now for Baltimore, but who knows if the execution of the plans will come to fruition or not; this is Baltimore after all. A small city of big planning and little action.

Fells Point has relaxed their mindset quite a bit. For awhile they were limiting restaurants, renovation & development (historic reasons), which I believe contributed to Fells Point becoming a lot less desirable with homebuyers and visitors alike.

As "America's oldest waterfront community" it has great promise of being a more desirable neighborhood than Federal Hill.

There are forces at work in Federal Hill and Canton who do not like what is going in Fells Point, as they do not want to see their over-inflated property values continue to fall.

Time will tell, but the action on all three sides for the past year has been entertaining to watch to say the least.

"The trust praised the nonprofit Federal Hill Main Street Inc. for helping to drive down vacancies and pump up investment.

Of the group the trust said:

'Its popular street festivals like the Spring Block Party, the Jazz & Blues Festival, and the Street Beat Festival attract thousands of people by offering live music and activities for young and old alike. Unique boutiques, gourmet restaurants, and trendy bars give festival-goers reasons to come back and keep the district humming all hours of the day and night.'"

It's funny that there aren't many locations with live music on a normal basis other than 8x10 on Cross Street. The Main Street Association doesn't want live music for bars and restaurants. There are only a couple of gourmet restaurants in Federal Hill that do well and they are Corks and Metropolitan. The Bicycle and the Wine Market aren't considered Federal Hill. There is absolutely no parking in the area because Main Street Association doesn't want out of towners to come to their neighborhood. There is only one small garage that is always full and the parking restrictions in the neighborhood are atrocious for people that don't live there. The festivals are great but at the same time the Main Street Association doesn't like bars in their neighborhood even though that is what keeps their value in their homes.

I agree with Twain and KB that Fells Point and Harbor East look great. No offense to Shoppers but that is all that Federal Hill has for now. The community association is fighting a proposed hotel right now that would create more jobs. They are mad that it will bring more people (money) into the neighborhood on game days and that would create less parking (but create more money for business owners).

Federal Hill just doesn't get it sometimes.


Not to mention the Shoppers isn't actually in Fed Hill.


By our powers combined we form the segregated peninsula!

Kickin po folk to Pig Town since 2001!



the neighborhood association is not "fighting a proposed hotel" - it's opposed to the height of the proposed hotel. EIGHT STORIES, some 50' taller than its neighbor, ropewalk. it has even approved full lot coverage, just not the proposed height. nobody wants a tall, looming eyesore of a building in our historical, charming working-man's neighborhood.

Apply to Win!

SS2's right - the awards are bogus. Still, I'm happy to see people take pride in where they live and work, and endeavor to make it a nicer place. Such an award may help.

lowercase m,

There is a 9 story public housing project at 1 W. Conway that people pay $90 a month to live. I'll take an 8
story hotel (boutique or not) in Federal Hill any day of the week. There are a lot worse eyesores in Federal Hill than a new hotel that would bring money and jobs into the neighborhood.

The email I received yesterday asked me to sign a petition and it didn't mention that it was just opposing the height, it only mentioned parking and taking up more spaces during football games. I will send it to you if you want or ask people associated with Area 30 parking, the one's who sent it to me.

The hotel will have 91 rooms of people that will spend money in local restaurants and boutiques.

"nobody wants a tall, looming eyesore of a building in our historical, charming, working-man's neighborhood."

have you looked at the old 5 story building at the end of Heath Street or the old builings at the end of Charles Street. I would love to have a 8 story hotel or garage there any day of the week.

ugh! Why do I even care....

Lowercase M,

Wow, 8 stories tall? That's a whopping 92 feet!

Besides, with hotel vacancy rates already at an all-time low in Baltimore, and development at a standstill, let's push away one developer who is actually willing to gamble on Federal Hill. At the same time, let's complain about our property values falling each and every month.

I, know, it's not that you don't want the hotel. Federal Hill just wants it built to their standards. Problem: there isn't a model for profitability if built to their standards!

I have an idea, let's restrict parking while we're at it. After all, we don't need tourists and shoppers! I know I sure as heck don't want 8 floors of tourists staying in a hoel in my neighborhood and spending money. That would be a disaster!


You care, cause I care. Virtual hug.

crazy joe


Without question a boutique hotel would benefit Federal Hill. Everyone knows this to the truth; still some don’t care for and don’t want change in their neighborhood. Some people actually love Federal Hill just the way it is. I know it’s scary, but true. The only problem I see is that it's 8 stories tall and not 18.

Hotels directly benefit retail business, which improves residential values and raise the appeal of commercial property seeking tenants.

Not to mention, the hotel could be a key partner with the neighborhood to enhance its ascetic appeal.

For example, maybe this Spring, Fed Hill won't have to spend $30k on hanging plants for Charles & Light streets from the kickback, err, "tax" that -all- businesses in the neighborhood have to pay to the association. Perhaps the hotel could pick up some of these costs, as it would be directly beneficial to their business.

Just proves that these log rolling organizations couldn't exist on their own.

The award is akin to the SEC honoring Bernie Madoff for his successful investing techniques.

Some hold the opinion that Federal Hill Main Street is a corrupt outfit that helped proliferate the
mega-bar culture that troubles the Federal Hill homeowners and their quality of life,
but one would be hard pressed to read it in The Sun.

By 'homeowners' I mean adults who own their home and pay property taxes, not four 20-somethings renting a crammed two bedroom apartment so they can turn Federal Hill into a fraternity party on the weekends.

"More than 80 businesses have opened since 2000, providing 270 new jobs in the neighborhood"

I'm with MT on this. Let me see the specific breakdown and name the businesses...240 of those jobs could be waitresses and bar backs.

Hard empirical data please, not the propaganda that permeates from the former public toilet on Cross St.

Tomato Head,

Exactly. There is no doubt that the Mad River's of the neighborhood are not beneficial. However, residents of the neighborhood and the associations which they represent have very little power to force these businesses out, absent of willing investors to replace these concepts. There is no revenue stream without them. On the same note, existing bar owners, some of which would gladly operate a more upscale operation, are hesitant to do so, and rightfully so.

There are two groups of “leaders” in Federal Hill that I have identified. One group doesn’t want the bars at all. They want the bars to go-away or be relocated along Key Highway. The second group understands that the bars will always be there, but they want them to attract a more “upscale” crowd. The first group has tried an array of initiatives to further their cause, all to no avail. The latest is their restrictive parking program initiative. Which is a direct copy of the program tried in Chicago’s Wrigleyfield neighborhood which ended up lowering property values by around 17% because people stopped buying in the neighborhood until it was relaxed. The second group is almost as clueless as the first, because, although they understand the need for bars, they oppose most new development. Without new development (like, say, a nice boutique hotel), should the bars go upscale, they won’t have much of a demographic to pull. I invite you to take a journey to the now defunct Juniors. Corks tried upscale, how did that work for them? Last I checked, they aren’t anymore.

As proof, I submit the former Sky Lounge. Sky Lounge operated for many years while continuously breaking liquor and health laws. Even with video proof of said violations, neighborhood protest and a liquor hearing, sky lounge was allowed to stay open with a wrist slap. That really doesn’t get the message out that these kinds of operating procedures won’t be tolerated.

When Federal Hill realizes that the only way to close these “problem” bars is to force them out with development and renovation, then Federal Hill will change. Patrons of a nice boutique hotel will not want to drink at Mad River, so they will head to a nicer bar in the neighborhood. The boutique hotel will attract businesses that wish to cater to the hotel’s customers, and little-by-little you will see a neighborhood change.

It’s called gentrification, Google it.

And if you don’t want development in your neighborhood then stop complaining about all the [crappy] bars in Federal Hill. Yeah, they suck. And bitching about them isn’t going to change anything. Neither will some dumb beer-pong law, but I guess that’s a lot easier than really addressing the problem, developing a solution and executing a planned program initiative. Because that townhome you bought for $600k isn’t worth $450k and if you don’t get your head out of your ass, in a few years it may only be worth $300k.

Ok, I'm done.

I meant to post this hours ago but oh well

CJ don't forget Otterbein!

I'd say Harbor East / Fells / Canton have come so far as quickly as they have simply because 5-10 years ago they were mostly brownfield and abandoned parking lot - they had a lot of room to grow. Federal Hill (slash upper Riverside) has not had quite the vast tracts of land or cooperation from community associations to do so.

Essentially, those areas were built and zoned as medium to high-medium density from the ground up (ten years ago being "the ground"), whereas FH/RS is now hitting the brick wall of a pre-existing, very discerning lower density population who are very unlikely to welcome highrise condos or new parking garages right across from their houses.

Regardless, pretty much every area around the water is hitting its carrying capacity, if it hasn't already.

ps that award is dumb

pps all new development in the federal hill area should provide overflow parking for residents with area 9,19,30 etc passes (how those details would work out is not my bag).

ppps Jason, next time I see you I'm going to show you some interesting stuff re: that building on the end on Heath.

Since the topic changed to the proposed's the 411.

The knuckleheads who are proposing the 91 room boutique hotel (with no parking) never took their concept to the city's Planning Dept. Instead they "lobbied" their proposal to the surrounding stakeholder associations.

Business owners (who don't live in South Baltimore) want it and the residents don't. I was informed today the hearing for BMZA Appeal #121-09,1201 South Charles St. was postponed.

Probably not enough of the right people were "lobbied".


Sorry to disappoint you. I bought in 1978 for $20K. I was part of the first gentrification. Federal Hill was once a happy little village until the underage drinkers migrated west from Fell's Point and the City turned a blind eye to uncontrolled development. Which bar do you own?

I live on S. Charles and although this award seems cool, it probably isn't much to brag about.

About the hotel, what does "boutique" mean? Are we sure it's not going to be a Hampton Inn where people that stay there would go to Mad River anyway? My vote is they add a few more stories on the current parking garage before allowing this hotel (with no parking? how stupid is that) to be built.

Tomato Head,

I don’t own a bar in Federal Hill and by no means is I standing up for the crowd of drunks that calls Federal Hill home on the weekends. You will hardly ever catch me in Federal Hill.

I would hazard a guess that many of your neighbors, from when you first purchased, no longer reside on your block. Gone are the jobs that most South Baltimore residents depended on in the 70’s and 80’s.

But, you have to look at the situation realistic (not implying you aren’t). Federal Hill isn’t going to be a “happy little village” again, and the bars in Federal Hill aren’t going anywhere despite petitions, protests, calls-to-action, etc. These tactics are great for working your way up the political ladder, especially in a town like Baltimore, but don’t move the neighborhood in a direction that benefits homeowners.

Part of the blame rests with residents’ fear of change. This is something uniquely Baltimorean; to me anyway. It reminds me of Mt Vernon a few years back. For quite some time Mt. Vernon kicked developers off their doorstep. Citing historical-this and historical-that, and how development would alter the “quaint” image of Mt. Vernon, etc.

Those developers went to Harbor East and built the only neighborhood in Baltimore City (not including northern neighborhoods) that hasn’t seen a dramatic decrease in property values and is attracting buyers at a price point Federal Hill could only dream of. Mt. Vernon has learned from their mistakes and is leaving the welcome mat out for real estate developers and proprietors of bars and restaurants. This comes directly from the horse’s mouth, as I attending their last meeting when it was topic of discussion.

Unless sound development is allowed to -begin- in Federal Hill, the property values will continue to fall. Canton has become more desirable neighborhood than Federal Hill (a quick search on tax records will support this statement) and much of that does have to do with the offerings. Many people see Canton as a neighborhood moving forward. With Fells Point and Harbor East connecting into one neighborhood, less people, especially investors, are less impressed with what Federal Hill has to offer. Couple this with the neighborhood’s attitude towards outsiders, and it doesn’t paint a pretty picture of Federal Hill’s future.

Without sound development, Federal Hill runs a very real risk of falling behind other city neighborhoods and the the progress they are making. Those bars you don’t like now, will become even worse.

Homeowners in Federal Hill are literally at a crossroads right now. If they continue with a ‘no-development, ‘no-nightlife’ attitude, they run the very real risk of seeing Federal Hill continue its downward spiral, and with the exception of homes in Otterbein and the small area by the park, housing values will continue to spiral with the neighborhood.

The neighborhood has complained about parking for years, but in the last five years (after a recent search) I discovered three attempts from developers to build garages, all met with opposition from homeowners and neighborhood groups.

Federal Hill needs ‘new blood’ calling the shots. If you’re a homeowner, don’t be intimated by the Jim’s Deli and Movie Time crowd, the wannabe politician jeweler (old timers will know who I speak of). These people are holding your neighborhood back. These are the people that protested Illusions, but won’t raise a finger at Drifters. Maybe because Danny’s aunt is Barbara Mulkulski and these ‘leaders’ are all jockeying for political points?

Federal Hill needs new leadership. Strike that. Federal Hill needs leadership.

Federal Hill/Riverside/Locust Point, Canton, FellsPoint/Harbor East, ....Hamden, Mt Vernon, Charles VIllage. etc...There are great "city neighborhoods " in Baltimore. They each have their own charm. Night Life holds a valuable attraction encouraging folks to come to the neighborhoods and spend time and money. Typically folks young or old, whether renters or buyers move to a neighborhood based on its characteristics and perceived benefits. We share a place where you can walk to markets, bars, restaurants, parks, the water, museums, professional sports contests, and your local neighborhood meeting to express your opinion. I was a renter. I am now an owner. I enjoy grabbing a few pints or a great steak. Big Picture There is room for coddies and sushi. Burgers and steaks....Natty Boh and Fine wine.

I have lived North, South, East, and West in this Great Country of ours. Baltimore offers a nice lifestyle at a reasonable price. There are many fine and friendly people our city neighborhoods that add to its art, music, writng....culture....

I've sat next to some in restaurants, some at the game, some at the opera, some at the bar. I used to drive a truck, now I wear a tie. I always have felt comforatble here, regardless of my career in all the city's neiighborhoods.

Congratulations to any neighborhood that wins an award and may attract positive attention to our city.

Is this you, Mark Twain, in gym class?

Thanks for your recent thoughtful and cogent post. I'm still chuckling over "wannabe politician jeweler". You're spot on with the description.

Can't the Mad Rivers of the city move to the county? Wouldn't that solve a lot of problems? The county/frat-raff would stay there, parking spots become available, and Fed Hill has extra space to hang their $30K plants.

Maybe we can force them to move by banning redbull and vodka and jaegerbombs (and "new haircuts"). B'lieve, hon.

I really like your perspective on Baltimore, --jaw! I agree; my favorite thing about Baltimore is that no matter where I go, I never feel unwelcome or uncomfortable. I can dress to the 9s and head to see the BSO or wander down to the Square in jeans and a tshirt and feel equally like I am in MY city with MY people.

I say, congrats to Fed Hill, and I'm pulling for Fells Point next year. I'm with you, MT, I hope the development plans do come to fruition, because they are gorgeous!

Not to introduce facts into all the opinions, but folks might want to go to the website of the people giving the awards: . It is clear that the awards recognize "Main Street Programs" -- organizations like Federal Hill Main Street -- that are part of the National Trust Main Street Center. So, a number of the Baltimore neighborhoods all the folks like better are not eligible. Second, the awards recognize efforts to keep urban commercial districts viable against suburban shopping malls. These are, essentially, Chamber of Commerce-type awards.

Within that framework, Federal Hill earned its award. And while I am not 20-something and do not frequent the bars and I do wish Federal Hill was better at the Clean and Green part of this -- way too much trash on the streets, especially after weekend nights -- it is a great thing to have a lively, thriving area near our residential neighborhoods where you can get a cup of coffee, a good lunch, hardware or everyday items at the CVS.

Could we suspend for just a moment the inter-neighborhood rivalries and intra-Federal Hill arguments for just a moment and enjoy that someone out there is saying something good about the city we love?

Whoah - interesting discussion here!

MarkT: I appreciate all your insights. You make a good overall point about good development having potential to drive out the bad. Some qualifications I would add are:

1) Development is *not* a subsitute for good governance. Just because someone puts in a nice hotel doesn't mean the drunken crowds will stop. In fact, I'd hazard that a hotel in that spot will have trouble attracting people to stay on its first 3-4 floors. The economics actually seem to dictate that the slosh fest will continue; a lot of money is being made by flaunting weak liquor laws; it will stop when the liquor laws are beefed up and enforced. The Sky Lounge saga has a half-empty/half-full quality in this regard.

2) Fixing the bar situation is a leading strategy as well as a following one. The prime reason people resist building more parking garages is that the bar patrons using the current garage are so disruptive to our quality of life. The reason many establishments no longer put out their own flowers is that the bar patrons continually have trampled them. And on and on. . .

3) Not all development is created equal, and much of it is, in fact decidedly less so. We've seen several of the bar owners claim to be revitalizing and developing the community because they renovate old buildings, only to put in the kinds of community-draining establishments you decry. I don't know any details about this hotel, but catch-phrases like "boutique" raise a flag (last year the word "bistro" was indiscriminately appended to any project).

None of the posters have any idea what they are talking about, except Tomato Head and Mark Twain, so stop pretending to be liquor law experts! Just go to the bars instead of attempting to analyze them. Leave the analysis to Sam, Tomato, and Twain.


Nuts to this I'm moving to Darley Park

One other thing: A lot of posters have expressed admiration for Harbor East and Canton and scorn at people who want to preserve the history of Fells Point and Federal Hill. Harbor East is a generic, medium-rise soulless mini-canyon that could be in any city or big suburb in America. The point of preserving the historic feel of places like Fells Point and Federal Hill is that they put the Charm in Charm City -- they are what makes some of us want to be in Baltimore as opposed to, say, Towson. Twenty, maybe even 10, years from now, Harbor East will seem "so 2000," while neighborhoods that have held on to their heritage will still have charm and, yes, property values. So, as you advocate unleashing developers -- too many of whom reflect Bush-era "I'll get mine" over community values -- and "trendy" over lasting design -- on Federal Hill and Fells Point, be careful what you wish for.

Oh, for God's sake. Does anyone remember what was there before Harbor East? Nothing. It was devastated. It looked like Iraq. There are plenty of neighborhoods left untouched in Fells Point, holding onto their "heritage." But I more than welcome new development in the neighborhoods whose "heritage" is boarded-up homes, junkies squatting in them and families trying to make a life crammed in between, with no businesses but liquor stores, bars and check-cashing joints. One little corner of the harbor filled with touristy shops, chain restaurants and a movie theater is not the worst thing that ever happened.

I think dichotomy between burned-out and deteriorating areas vs. high-rise development is a false one. Surely, finding a middle path that balances the needs of residential and business communities and encourages long-term development that is harmonious with the existing stock is difficult. But it is just as surely possible. There are many dedicated people working towards this, and respectful dialogue among people with different views is a way forward. Looking at other neighborhoods is helpful not as a rivalry, but as a way to learn from each other.

Evan- I agree with you that the development in Harbor East – a self-contained, 10-block area with very little pre-existing stock – is a poor comparator for Federal Hill. Canton is a better one, if we’re talking about the old neighborhood itself. (Price points of new housing along the waterfront would seem less relevant.) Are they building community garages amid the rowhomes there? 8-story condos and hotels? I haven’t been over there in a while, but I hadn’t noticed such things on my last visit. I do know that they had a highly successful campaign a few years back to keep a mega-bar development from going through in Canton Square. The bar developers wound up building instead in (you guessed it) Federal Hill. If Canton’s housing values have surpassed Federal Hill’s in an apples-to-apples way, then perhaps this contributed to it.

I guess an alternative way to look at it is to consider the Canton + waterfront and Fells + Harbor East areas as comparators to Federal Hill + waterfront. Is this what you had in mind, MT?

Mike- I’m with you re: the Hampton Inn concerns. These developers have some other properties that are relatively high-quality (e.g., Admiral Fell Inn), which is promising. But there are many ways for that promise to be unfulfilled.

There are a lot of dimensions to this issue, many of which have been touched on here and many of which have not. For example, real property tax reform that reduced the penalties on home-owners who make improvements and stopped giving huge breaks to large developers would encourage a more organic development path for the city that would serve many communities well.


I agree with you, to a point. I used to live in Harbor East and recently moved to Homeland. I like Harbor East, but chain restaurants aren't my cup of tea either.

But, despite our personal feelings regarding Harbor East, nobody can deny that thus far the neighborhood has been a success for the city. The city took a gamble with Paterakis and that gamble created a neighborhood with consistent homeowner growth, as opposed to Federal Hill, a neighborhood with consistent homeowner loss [in recent months.] The downtown hotels see an occupancy rate a fraction of what the four hotels in Harbor East enjoy, and because of the hotel traffic, the neighborhood sees a varying daytime tourist population whose dollars flow through the restaurants and boutiques that line up and down the streets.

Don't be confused, Harbor East is a case study for the city and its success will be attempted in other neighborhoods through relaxed city programs to allow developers to begin transforming vacant and rundown properties. We are seeing this now with the creation of Dixon's Land bank, if successful.

If you're serious about preserving the "charm" of charm city, first you're going to have to find it. I've looked hard, but keep finding homelessness, gang violence, a spiraling murder rate, rampart drug addiction, ridiculously high property taxes, roads fit only for 4x4 vehicles, and a failing education system.

Your argument is contradictory to say the least. The boutique hotel slated for Federal Hill is the antithesis to the development and offerings in Harbor East and should be supported by those opposed to blanket commercial, chain development. We’re talking about an 8 story, locally owned, $17million dollar project. Not a Mariott, not a Hilton, but an independent business and a large chunk of change for a neighborhood that’s seen better days

It’s naïve to think Baltimore will regret its decision to invest heavily in Harbor East as “so 2000.” Historical data would cite otherwise. Not too much blowback with the creation of Penn Quarter in Washington, DC (used as a model of Harbor East), same goes for Center City in Philly and Bucktown in Chicago. All of these neighborhoods were modeled on the same principals using the same economic forecasting algorithms.

Couple the successful development in Harbor East with the now underway development along Howard St. including condos, hotels, restaurants, House of Blues, etc. and Baltimore may have two neighborhoods to use as models to augment existing neighborhoods such as Federal Hill.

I would caution those with a closed mind regarding development, be careful what –you-wish for. I don’t want mass commercial development in Federal Hill, but I am aware that opposing –all- development in Federal Hill may lead to just that.


I will give you credit that Twain and Sessa know a lot about bars and restaurants, however tomatohead is just part of a neighborhood association(am I right?) and a lot of other writers on this blog, i.e. Evan, ECommerce, know a lot about bars and restaurants as well as their community.

SF knows alot as well (happy belated birthday sir)

This blog is about hearing people's opinion and hopefully the higher's up read it, i.e. BDC and the mayor's office.

Take a quick look at Pigtown/Washington Village, there is an old shopping center on Washington Blvd. and MLK, that would be an awesome place for an anchor store ( Whole Foods) and would bring a lot more business to the area. A lot of people think that Washington Village is historic as well.
Driving to work today from Pigtown, I saw the five story high rises of Sharp Leadenhall, I would rather see 8 story boutique hotels, sorry, my heart doesn't bleed.

Anyway, hope to see everybody at the party tonight.

Twain, let me know if I am getting in over my head in Pigtown, somebody has to do it.

Oops. That last post should have been addressed to "Charmed in Charmed City" not KB.


Tomato Head is actually a composite of 1 million monkeys at the keyboard trying to plunk out something worthy of Shakespeare. By some twist of fate we ended up here for better or worse. We don't know a thing about bars or restaurants, but we did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night and also attended the City Council hearing on Live Entertainment at City Hall.

This blog is about hearing people's opinion and hopefully the higher's up read it, i.e. BDC and the mayor's office.

One needs to look down with disdain at these 'higher-ups'. Federal Hill Main Street, BDC and City Hall ignore the sins of cronyism, nepotism and conflict of interest ( I've even heard rumors of kickbacks and payoffs). I very much doubt they're concerned with what is communicated on this blog.

The Main Street Association doesn't want live music for bars and restaurants...Main Street Association doesn't want out of towners to come to their neighborhood.

Hard evidence please, not hearsay or opinion.

What's the 'live entertainment' position of the Federal Hill Hospitality Association? How about the Federal Hill Business Association (formerly the South Baltimore Business Association until the wannabes decided to change names to cash in on the 'Federal Hill' brand)?

The community association is fighting a proposed hotel right now that would create more jobs.

Which community association..or is it plural...associations? Let us not confuse the 8 story hotel on Charles St. with the 8 story condo the Vice President of Federal Hill Main Street wants to build on Light St. Ever wonder what happens when a board member of a residential association also sits on the Main Street board? It can't be good for the residents.

The festivals are great but at the same time the Main Street Association doesn't like bars in their neighborhood even though that is what keeps their value in their homes.

Bars help keep the value of Federal Hill residential property? LMAO. Where do you come up with this stuff? Oh, by Federal Hill you mean Fort Ave. Let me own TWO bars.

Listen up. Federal Hill Main Street is in it for themselves. They have nothing to do with or work in conjunction with the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, Federal Hill Park or Friends of Federal Hill Park nor do they take positions with the RESIDENTS of Federal Hill concerning quality of life issues. They do, however, curry favor with the Federal Hill South Neighborhood Association (your territory) but only when it benefits Federal Hill Main Street.


I am the President of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association.

Jason is Jason Zink who owns a bar closer to Riverside Park than it is to Federal Hill Park, which of course is the Federal Hill Neighborhood's namesake.

Mr. Zink actually once owned two bars, which previously were considered "neighborhood" bars. Mr. Zink decided to employ a new business model targeting customers from outside the immediate area. He apparently sold one of his bars as he has continued to find it difficult to compete with the proliferation of clubs that populate the three blocks that surround Cross Street Market. In other words he's too far south to effectively be part of the Cross Street scene.

Mr. Zink's comments should be considered in this context.

Mark Twain is a very well-versed restaurant and club owner who struggled for years to buy or establish a business in what is euphemistically referred to as the Federal Hill Hospitality/Entertainment Zone.

The Board of Directors of the Federal Hill Main Street Program is largely dominated by the few bar owners who control most of the liquor licenses at establishments located on or near Cross Street. Those licensees naturally want to preserve their market share and Mark Twain was essentially deemed unfit to join the Cross Street fraternity.

Again, the scholarly nature of his comments aside, one needs them to be considered in the proper context.

Finally as far as the matter of this boutique hotel is concerned, the opinion of the 160 adjacent property owners (both business and residential) who signed a petition of opposition to the proposed scale of the project should carry much more weight than any of those expressed on this Blog..

As for Federal Hill Main Street’s award – the appearance of the business district speaks volumes.

Frankly how many of us consider a coat of purple paint hastily sprayed over existing formstone to be an example of "historic architecural preservation"? (see Bilabong Bar post).

We can only hope that Federal Hill Main Street uses the honor as an inspiration to spearhead programs that will lead to some much needed improvement as far as the optics on Cross Street are concerned.


Yeah, I got your email. I want to do a little research. I'll call you over the weekend when you're really busy to touch base. :)

Response to Paul W Robinson

I know my feelings aren’t shared by all bar owners, but I like Paul Robinson and have had the chance to discuss the future of Federal Hill hospitality with Paul on several occasions. I believe Robinson is unfairly labeled “anti-bar” by those that don’t fully understand his position.

In fact, I would hazard that Paul’s vision of Federal Hill isn’t too far off from my own, but I think we may butt heads over the best course of action to reach our collective goal. Moreover, I would not “lump” Robinson with the Federal Hill “leaders” I spoke so hastily about in previous postings.

That said, Robinson is partly right regarding his interpretation of my experience attempting to open an establishment in Federal Hill. While certain establishment owners in Federal Hill, unrelated to our attempted transaction were opposed to our purchase for competitive reasons, the main reason our deal didn’t transact was due to independent seller action and conduct.

My partner and I offered $1.2m, $400k over asking price, and well over appraised value. We were attempting to purchase two parcels of land on Cross St for the creation of an upscale food and beverage establishment (a new kind of upscale, for Baltimore anyway, not suit and tie, not blazer, but cerainly unlike most of the bars that line Cross St.) and an authentic NY style pizzeria, something Federal Hill has needed for sometime (btw: there is a deal in the works now to open a pizzeria on Cross St near Bank of America).

In the end, the seller, who undoubtedly ran his business into the ground, did not want to cease operating his establishment. Time-after-time he attempted to structure a deal that would allow him to retain a silent partner arrangement and share in the proceeds collected; we weren’t receptive to this arrangement. The seller’s intention coupled with his personal distain for me, which compiled during the 7 months, not years, of negotiation, resulted in the seller rejecting all offers submitted on our behalf.

I can say for a fact that Mr. Robinson isn’t anti-bar, as he took the time to understand our concept and came to the conclusion that our venue would be a benefit to the neighborhood. More establishment owners should try and work with their respective neighborhood associations, but many see this as more difficult than a middle-east peace process, and in the end, everyone loses.


Come now, they took at least five hours to hand paint that form stone!

Mr. Robinson,

I would like to extend an invitation to you to stop by my place(s) to check them out and I would like to buy you dinner at Don't Know Tavern. To my knowledge, you haven't been to my place, but I think that you would be pleasantly surprised, then again I could be wrong. The olive branch has been extended.

Sam knows how to get in touch with me, even though it's not that difficult.

Thanks for the award last night Sam. It will hung somewhere tonight.

Fed Hill absolutely deserves this award.

Thank you to the biz owners and residents who have helped put Baltimore on the nation's map!

Congrats on this tremendous honor for your neighborhood.

As the owner of a Federal Hill business... Which associations should I get involved with?

We are saddened to read that your restaurant failed to materialize in Federal Hill. We could have used a real Pizzeria in the area.

The tentacles of the cartel you ran up against on Cross St. reaches far and wide. They feel they have a divine right to break the laws and codes that are in place and they do. They contend they are responsible enough to police themselves.

Although new liquor licenses can't be issued in the area, the expansion over the last five years, illegal or otherwise, by the core of the offending bar owners has increased their capacity by the equivalent of seven new bars. Instead of having 34 bars in a three block square area (the highest density in the State of Maryland) we have the equivalent of 41. Was City Hall asleep at the wheel or on the take?

Like the tobacco industry, the Cross St. Cartel realize they have a highly desirable and addictive product to sell. Cigarettes were the delivery systems that introduced nicotine into the bloodstream. At best, the cartel members operate Alcohol Delivery Systems to a target market of college aged alcoholics. The cartel establishments add absolutely nothing to the quality of life for the residential areas of Federal Hill or to property value.

While you are doing your research for jason, see if the license transfers ever took place for Juniors and Turners. I don't recall seeing them posted. Again, was City Hall asleep at the wheel or on the take?

Bonus Quiz Question: What do Juniors, Turners and Abbey Burger Bistro (the former Sky Lounge) all have in common?

Hello.....I have tried my hardest to refrain from joining in this blog but I can no longer bare it!
First off.......CONGRATULATIONS to Federal Hill Main Street & for the tireless work of Jane Seebold!
I for one Thank Jane everyday for taking on such a tremendous task!.....This IS positive publicity versus the usual dire news of the day!!

Contrary to what most people think...Federal Hill is NOT just about the bars.......we are blessed by amazing folks brave enough to bring beautiful BOUTIQUES(Amy's Boutique, Whimsy, Babe, Remember When, Vanessa's, Flip Side, Charles Tiles, Sobotanicals, Le Petit Cachon......& several more, I'm sorry I cannot list them all) to this neighborhood & attempt to make this a destination neighborhood..not just one that comes alive at night!!!
I know for a fact that my business is a destination shop and whenever folks come & ask where they should go next I send them too all the boutiques AND encourage them to dine in the neighborhood or in the market!!!
The boutique owner's should be proud of hanging on through the good times and the tough times but I know that we will ALL make it!......if we ALL "PAY IT FORWARD" & support one another......& just stop bickering!
I have a slogan for Baltimore City:
"they're not coming YOUR it!"

there is NO magical creature that is going to float down from the skies and clean the neighborhood, plant flowers, trees & beautify the's up to us ALL!
Business owner's and residents alike!
I can hear many of you muttering under your breath..."the taxes I pay, blah, blah, blah!!!"
Well.....guess what..........we all do and so far just moaning and groaning hasn't made that much of a difference so lets "change course!"
I encourage one and all to pick up a broom, sweep your sidewalk & your neighbors (karma works!), hose down the block, pick-up litter, pull up it on a regular basis NOT just when you may get a free
t-shirt and a beer to join in!
I have seen so much positive change since I have cleaned up my block.....people appreciate it and it just makes folks smile!

This is a wonderful neighborhood with all sorts of adorable kids that deserve to walk down streets that are not littered with broken beer bottles, pizza boxes, puke, trash & vagrants!
Lets make Federal Hill "shine!"
I know that myself, Amy & Pat Mutch & Brian McComas are vigilant when it comes to cleaning the area......not just in front of the entrance to our businesses!!
Please, please, please....pitch and lets KEEP Federal Hill in a positive light!!!!

Also, take the time to THANK your community leader's...they are doing this work on a volunteer basis & to help better the areas.....not deter progress.
Also..................please stop in the Main Street office, introduce yourself to Jane Seebold and VOLUNTEER!!!
And congratulate Jane as well.....she is amazing!!!!!!
Thank you......
I am blessed everyday by being in this wonderful neighborhood....

b. hawks do you still have nightmares when you eat meat

Last night I had the pleasure of meeting Jason Zink, the owner of the Don't Know Tavern and No Idea Tavern. He is very impressive to say the least. I must have asked him 1,000 questions regarding Baltimore, Federal Hill, night life, his business and the business in general. You know what, he listened to me and answered every question I could throw at him. Sorry about that Jason. He even escorted myself and my girlfriend around the neighborhood. We popped into TAPS and the Idle Hour Tavern. If I didn't know any better, I thought he was running for office, but no, he was 'just being part of the neighborhood'. He told us he loved what he does, he loves the neighborhood and the city. You know what? I believed him. He's out there, every night, working his butt off. Even by leaving his restaurant (which was bustling on a wed night) to show me around, he was scoring points for Federal Hill. Will we come back, yes. Will we eat at Don't Know Tavern and shop around, yes. I don't want to get into quality of life issues regarding bars. I would like to know why Neighborhood Associations don't go after derelict housing like the one across from The Don't know Tavern. That is a true cancer in/on a neighborhood. Or try and have the streets paved maybe?
FYI - Everywhere - and I mean - EVERYWHERE outside of Maryland, people ask me, "Is all of Baltimore really like The Wire?"
To B. Hawks - I guess it's not just Jason who are happy to be in Fed. Hill. I like your attitude.
Mr. Robinson, I agree, painting formstone is like putting lipstick on a pig, literally.

eeyore, every place you spoke of is in Riverside, not Fed Hill. I'm officially declaring my Riverside Pride here.

Also that building has been for sale for quite some time but it needs so much work that no one wants to touch it - definitely an eyesore but there's not much that can be done aside from leveling the structures.

to: Anonymous!
why would you take the time to write such an insignificant comment?
Use your real name if you have something to say to me.....or better yet, come say it to me directly.
Quite weird!
this is the kind of behavior that gives me the creeps......
it won't be hard to find me....I'll be the one outside bright & early cleaning Cross & Light Street to prepare for a wonderful day in my shop......
B. Hawks
Zelda Zen

well, well,'s 8:30 AM..I just returned from cleaning Cross & Light Street and "surprise, surprise"
Mr. Anonymous did not show.
I've there since 6:15AM so they had "ample time" to show themselves.....

I cleaned from Blue Agave all the way to Billibong. the old Turner's (swept & hosed)...I picked up approx. 9 pizza boxes, 15 beer bottles, too many plastic TO-GO cups to count, 20,000 cigarette butts, & hosed down 4 piles of puke! PLUS....picked up the broken tree that has been on the South side of the market for weeks and weeks and took it to the dump!
Now...that's how you make the neighborhood "succeed!"
Walk the walk.....just don't talk the talk.............
THIS is a great neighborhood.....and I implore each & everyone of you to get out there and clean......
and BE N-I-C-E!

there's always tomorrow....because trust me, myself & wonderful folks like Pat & Amy Mutch will indeed be out up the mess.
B. Hawks

Eeyore and Beth,

You are both quite right. While it's easy to get hung up on the weeding and beating back of invasive species, it takes a lot of seeding, fertiilizing and watering to make a garden grow. Beth cites to all the beautiful flowers springing up along Charles St., and now on Light St. and the other as well (Doggie Style, Love Allie, etc.). That is an accomplishment in local development that continues to bear fruit (this mixed metaphor is getting out of hand!). To me, that's what the award Federal Hill Main St. is about. Congrats to Jane and all the other small business owners for all their hard work! And Beth, thanks for watering the lawn so diligently (I'm out of control).

Eeyore, re the derelict properties: I'm sure your NA would love to see what could be done on that score. I know a lot less about the prevailing laws than I do about liquor law (LOL), but it's worth looking into. Please get involved with your NA and get some work done on it! (totally sincere on that)

The thing that's always shocked me about Federal Hill -- and about lots of Baltimore streets, actually -- is how much trash there is around. (Not any kind of metaphorical trash -- actual, literal trash.) I know it's a bit like comparing apples to oranges, but whenever I go to D.C. I'm amazed at the absence of litter everywhere.

Just a thought.

It's called personal responsibility. As long other people (like the Zelda Zen lady) keep picking up, the unwashed masses will keep dropping it on the ground. Perhaps it's an urban entitlement.

And why the current crop of weekend visitors to FH want to turn it into the Baltimore's biggest outdoor urinal is beyond comprehension, but as Archie Bunker one stated "Youz don't buy beer Meathead, youz just rent it".


So what do Juniors, Turners, and Abbey Burger Bistro have in common?

Just curious.

i agree that we should be happy our neighborhood won this award. main st. is a mostly volunteer group that works to help revitalize a city neighborhood competing with suburban malls.
i dont know all the details but fed hill main st is a shinning star in the country wide mainstreets. a few of the notable accomplishments are the numerous retail promotions, the rebuilding of a run down rest room into a vistors center, a communication tool with city hall for the very busy business owners, a marketing arm for new business and many more smaller details to numerous to mention. main st has supported itself as federal funds have dwindled down to a very small amount of its operating budget. many baltimore main st branches coudnt support themselves and certainly havent provided the long list of accomplishments.

stop hating and start appreciating...main st is looking for the good but sometimes it cant control the bad that happens in a city street. most of this is city halls job and they just dont do it.

also, main st doesent try to stop parking or live music. the neighborhood associations are the ones that dont want these things.

I have to say that I love Baltimore, but man it is dirty... It's like the trash never stops coming.

I visit 10-15 major cities a year and Baltimore ranks up there in the dirtiest. Add on to that some of the highest property taxes and it blows my mind.

People throw Mayor Daley in Chicago under the bus, but man - he runs a tight ship.

I wouldn't mind Sheila stealing from the needy for her mani/pedi's, but at least have some decent city services.

this city for some reason has a culture of littering. I cannot for the life of me figure out how it came about, but it's absolutely true.

main st doesent try to stop parking or live music. the neighborhood associations are the ones that dont want these things.

Ahhh...those pesky neighborhood associations...why those taxpaying homeowners won't bend over for business and transient renters has always been a mystery to City Hall.

Update: The BMZA review of 1201 South Charles Street (boutique hotel) on March 3 is postponed until March 17. Maybe they'll have green beer for attendees.

Best guess is that councilman Reisinger requested the postponement, but he's probably already in the tank to back the variances.

Online petition for those opposed:

but if your not careful the parking problem could lead to many closed business's in the hood and then what will happen to the very important property values.. after all the main reason the prop. values in fed hill went up so high was due to the ent. district..close walk to good eats and fun ..just my 2 cents..still loving fed hill

after all the main reason the prop. values in fed hill went up so high was due to the ent. district

That mantra is becoming a like broken record on the blog. You guys can not offer any hard evidence that mega-bars helped drive up property values in Federal Hill.

However, ask any bar owner in Federal Hill and they'll all tell you that if Copernicus lived long enough he would have discovered that the universe revolved around them.

Federal Hill-entertainment district= Washington Village= Pigtown

Just got an A+ on that math test!

Thank Dave Rather and Paul Dollaway, Mark McFaul and Hugh Sisson for starting bars here back in the day and taking a risk.

ps Steve Osmond too at the Dog Pub, Pub Dog, Thirst whatever.

TH – it’s the old political truism we’ve seen applied ad nauseum in this country: repeat something enough times and people will eventually come to accept it as true (see mass destruction, weapons of). Didn’t you know that if Paul Dolloway opened a bar in PigTown, it would then have a view of the harbor? He’s that powerful.

But at least there is a question of fact to be addressed here rather than an unending series of false dichotomies, red herrings and straw men. (Jason, please don’t compare the height of a proposed building in the middle of the neighborhood to buildings downtown on Conway St.) I certainly would be interested in a properly constructed set of facts, if anyone can tell me where to find them.

From the bit of research I have done on the subject, I hazard that the facts would show a dramatic rise in property values in South Baltimore from the mid 1990s to about 2004, both in absolute terms and (this is important) *relative to the surrrounding area/city/state.* Furthermore, if this development / gentrification (I looked it up, MT!) has followed the path seen elsewhere, I hazard they would show values increasing next to Federal Hill Park and slowly spreading down to contiguous areas (Fed Hill South, then Riverside, etc.). IOW, residential development begets residential development. Of course, the development of the business district has played a symbiotic and complementary role in this renaissance. But please do not make this out to be solely, or even primarily, about Mothers and Magerks!

Unfortunately, here’s the problem that MT brought up way way up above: since then the housing values for many South Baltimoreans has actually declined relative to the area/city/state. Why is that? One important reason is that there is little to no control over the development of bad-acting liquor purveyors, either in scope or attitude. That is a major threat for the neighborhood, which by the way is still beloved by those concerned about this threat. An important consideration here is that the addition of 200 partiers to a small contingent in the late 1990s is much easier handled by the neighborhood’s police, parking, and other resources than is the addition of 200 more when there are already thousands spilling into the streets.

Meanwhile, here’s a true fact: from 2002 to 2004, the revenue of Corks (remember when this thread was discussing the viabilityof the neighborhood’s serious restaurants?) grew by 46%; it has declined ever since. What happened between 2004 and 2005? You may have your own answer; for me, a prime suspicion begins with Bandaloo and ends with ifters. If you buy that story, you might also be concerned about the prospects of Corvino, the new, serious restaurant opening in place of the failed Juniors. I went there for dinner last week and found the food delicious. But will serious eaters be willing to wade through the drunken crowds? We will see. I wish Brian and Chris well in their endeavor.

Word up K-Man! homies just got schooled.


You are blaming Nobles (Drifters) as a reason for the decline in the property values??

I am trying to read through your rhetoric but for the most part, and we all have our own personal opinion on Nobles,I like Nick. Most bars that have been sold in the Federal Hill area have gone from bad to good and not the other way around, as you are suggesting. There are a couple that have maintained, I liked Vespa, Juniors and I am sure Corvino is going to be great.
Ryleigh's is a great improvement even though it was nice before, the Abbey is an awesome improvement to the neighborhood. I am looking for Charlottes to reopen as the Federal Reserve and Rub took an old building and made it a nice restaurant. I can go on and on with bad places becoming nice and respectable places. Tomato Head, you would agree that the Rowan Tree is a nicer place now than before Ronnie took it over? Do you really want to go back to the old days of the old school bars with drugs and fights and sex clubs? All u can drink Bud Ice, hmm, sounds like a good promo to me! That's the neighborhood that I want to move into.

Tomato head, you never answered your own quiz about what the bars have in common? Is it great ownership, did I get that right, I think so.


Why do you feed the trolls that purposely come onto a night life blog and try to start flame wars? TH is obviously a hater and anti-bar.

Remember, arguing on the internet is like running in the special olympics, someone will win, but. . .

Heavy sigh, and yet, you join the discussion ...

TH is obviously a hater and anti-bar.

another truism: proceed with the ad hominem attack when facts do not support your argument

Also, any analogy to mock special needs people is undignified and in very poor taste.

TH = troll

Although I admire your enthusiasm, I've observed that grading your own quizzes is not one of your strengths. The quiz was meant for Mark Twain. I suspect he knows the answer, but too much of a gentleman to go down that path.

BTW, I've dined in your Light St. place many times. I wasn't real keen when the kitchen (new chef I was told) changed the prep and cut of steak for Steak Night. Maybe it was about this time last year? But hey, I'm old school and will always be in the way of progress.

Heavy Sigh/sigh = mean person/people

(jason gets credit for starting this equation thing)

TH- please hate the owner but not the bar. We have always use a 12oz. NY Strip stuffed with boursin, USDA Choice for $16. However we are switching to USDA Prime next month prepared the same way, better marbling, I've been told by my chef. We will have a review next Thursday in the Sun. Anyway, enough self promotion.

TH-stop by and I will buy you and Mr. Robinson dinner, we can sit down and break bread together!

Heavy Sigh- I try to take up for the other bar owners and bars that get bashed. She is as guilty of half truths as anybody else.

TH- still waiting for you to answer your own quiz question, have you turned into ketchup on that subject?

Keenan- Drifters didn't open til 2005, so I don't know what happened in 2004.

TH- I am sure Mr. Twain may agree with many of your views, as do I, but you are a hater when it comes to establishments that serve food and adult beverages in your own backyard.

As Twain said, work with your neighbors not against them and that is why my open invitation to sit down for a meal together will always be there.


First off, and not to pile on or give you the kiss of death, but I also like your place on Light St., and consider it the best place in the neighborhood to watch sports. And I think you are a good guy. And my NA-type friends down in your area hold your place up as relatively responsible as regards your surroundings (cab rides, thumbs up; bottomless cup specials BIG thumbs down, general upkeep and amiability big thumbs up). . . Most of all I respect your willingness to blog on this site about issues that truly do concern your neighbors, and for using your real name.

I apologize for the gotcha-ness of my last post, but I do vehemently disagree with some of the claims you have made. Overall my comments are meant in the spirit of dialogue that perhaps we both can learn from, and certainly not in the spirit of "winning." (on a blog site? Calm down HS.)

I do believe, with little doubt, that Drifters/Nobles has diminished the property values of residents within a couple of blocks, but that's not what I was saying. I was saying that theyhave diminished the *business* values of nearby establishments, especially those who are or would like to be open during the hours when Drifters/Nobles patrons are making their presence felt. This discussion started long ago with a claim that positive businesses can have positive spillovers onto their neighbors. I agree. But there is a flipside to that coin, which is why I noted, "all development is not created equal."

You go through a list of other places that have changed hands. I'd agree that some have gotten better. Some have gotten worse. But most have gotten, above all else, bigger. Bigger, more crowded, and more plentiful in the amount of liquor they sell. Now consider what the aggregate effect of all these expansions in size and liquor serve rates does to the neighborhood. Pretty much all the problems you hear about (safefy, vandalism, litter, noise) from the many, many people in the neighborhood who are affected are impacted by these factors. That is in addition to the fact that there are some real community drains. (Check Sam's ratings for the "biggest meathead hangouts in all of Baltimore," then ask yourself how it comports with the local pitch of "trendy bars.")

All of the concerned community members I know are not "anti-bar." But we are looking for some sense to be applied to the situation. It's a community commercial district that needs some reining in.


"From the bit of research I have done on the subject, I hazard that the facts would show a dramatic rise in property values in South Baltimore from the mid 1990s to about 2004"

Yes, that's true. Housing values started to decline in Federal Hill around 2004 and have been fairly consistent to present day.

Most of the decline has to do with the large amount of 'developers' who bought properties to rehab on loan, and eventually defaulted and were subsequently foreclosed. It was a combination of two things: 1) way to many fly-by-night developers seeking renovation projects with loans they couldn't afford and 2) way too many 'flipped' properties hitting the market in concert, leaving a supply that far outweighed, and continues to outweigh demand.

I hate to repeat myself, but its 'sound' development that Federal Hill needs. Not too many residents spoke up about the flippers in the neighborhood, because for a long time, their property values rose along with the supply hitting the market. They didn't understand the overall picture, and the imminent consequential blowback that followed.

Just as now, I hazard that many residents, without an understanding of urban planning may see the proposed, locally owned, boutique hotel as being more of a hassle than it’s worth.

Despite the protests, I have a gut feeling that Federal Hill will be welcoming a new boutique hotel to their neighborhood. Just as many residents didn't see the problems with the house flipping, many don't see the benefits of this proposed project.

Also, Tomato Head, where is this quiz I’m supposed to take? This is the first I’ve heard. I’ve been slacking on my Midnight Sun browsing duties recently.


Drifters/Nobles contributed to the neighborhood about as much as Taps, and they aren't in the neighborhood.

First off, if a bar is situated in a residential neighborhood and their business model draws 90% of their revenues from Thu-Sat nights, they are not making a beneficial contribution to the neighborhood, period.

While Nobles may be a success financially, it is without a doubt a failure in my eyes. Not because it isn't making money, but because it's not making enough money, in the right ways.

Moreover, they could be a better neighbor and make more money if they focused a small amount of their attention on creating a decent lunch menu, with decent prices, and quality service for in-and-out time. It shouldn't take over an hour for lunch from my bartender/waiter/host/expediter/etc. Yes, you need to staff your restaurant with more than one person. I know this may shock some, but one staff member is not sufficient to run lunch.

There is little to no focus on food at Nobles, therefore I would find it hard to defend them, from a neighborhood perspective, even if I liked the place, which I don't.

That said, I do like Danny and Nick, but I think they are way over their head and could use some help. Neither had any experience in the business prior to opening Drifters. It was the current owner of Taps that ran Drifters (into the ground) for quite some time. I believe the change in name was to separate themselves from the reputation which they built. Unfortunately, they didn't change many of their operating procedures with the name.

Nobles is a licensed restaurant, they don't even pretend to operate as one.


I will invite you to stop by and we can sit down and talk about business and the neighborhood anytime you want.


I wanted to get back to you in case you are still reading this. A lot of what you wrote makes sense. A few quick reactions:

I think there are 2 separate issues here (although they feed back into each other). One is the bubble economy stuff you describe, with houses having been bought for "investment" purposes only, money running out, and unnaturally high vacancy levels accruing. This aspect seems to underlie much of the housing price gyration in the neighborhood, most of which was divorced from fundamental valuations - a pronounced hump in prices that mirrors the hump in other cities. The other is what has happened to the fundamental values associated with quality of life. As someone who doesn't plan to move from the area in the foreseeable future, I am more interested in this second, lower frequency trend.

What you write about the bubble effects is intriguing and thought-provoking. It seems to me that these need to be solved by speedy resolution of accounts and proper valuation of properties. Some of this is macro in nature, but perhaps there is a course of action at the local level that would help? I don't understand what residents could have done about it at the time, even if they did realize the need for concern. . . Anecdotally, it seems to me several property owners simply do not want to recognize the loss in value of their property and that's why things are unresolved. Or perhaps they are hopeful that something will happen to lift those values (I believe some significant amount of properties is actually owned by bar-owners. . .)

Most of the things you (the hotel) and I (the bars) have discussed here seems to fall in the latter category - things that actually affect the fundamental quality of life in the neighborhood. For the record, I don't oppose the hotel, but neither do I support it based on what I know. My point has been that the details of the project are critical. Until we learn just what those are, I remain skeptical, but hopeful. Will it help build up the best aspects of out business area (would love for it to be "historically hip," as the business owners have branded themselves), or will it feed into the craptastic frat party scene that has been ascendant for the last 6-7 years? I don't think it is wise to simply take the developers' word that it will be a good influence. The skepticism you see in the neighborhood has been hard-earned (did you know that the TAPS guys marketed themselves to the neighborhood as being akin to the Cheesecake Factory?)

I, like you, would love to see some sound urban planning (and related disciplines) principles applied here. But I hear prominent voices saying more and more bars and entertainment is the way to develop a healthy residential community in an area with an extensive, low-rise housing stock. That does not pass the most primitive stink test, IMHO.

I think you are too charitable, or subtle, in your take on Nobles' "business plan" as regards its interaction with the community. While there is some tradeoff between positives a place might bring to the table and nuisances it might contribute, I don't think Nobles is near enough to the threshold to make a lunch menu relevant. But I don't mean to pick on them specifically - they are simply a good example of the larger point I wanted to make: bars (and other businesses) can have negative effects on surrounding businesses and housing units. Also, I don't begrudge the fact that Danny and Nick are nice guys . But as has been said here many times, "Hate the bar, not the bar owner." Or something to that effect. BTW, if you look over this thread, you'll see a common phenomenon I've noticed. Most of the "player-hating" comes from the bar crowd themselves, who'd rather talk about ping-pong, meat, and how stupid everyone but them is than actually discuss the issues. Consider that the next time you hear about "crotchety" "complainers" and "bar-haters" causing trouble.

seems like most of the people writing on this board are old. maybe I can offer a different perspective.

I bought my house 4.5 yr ago for the same reason many young professionals did--to enjoy a fun location w/ affordable housing. why bother buying a house in this crime-ridden city? to be able to walk to the inner harbor, harbor east theaters, or any other equivalent of a shopping mall? of course not, people move here and have fun by finding great places to drink. you bust your butt for 5 yr in college sleeping 4-5 hr a night and now it's time to enjoy yourself. and you don't do that by going to a boutique or an aquarium, but to a bar where you get a good buzz and hope to meet a nice girl. I've heard my share of noisy people walking by late at night, and the noise of increasing property values is a pain, but after a year of going out 4 nights a week for beer and food specials you get over it and just enjoy living in the city. you notice that your friends that came here to socialize and have fun get married and start having kids and still decide to stay. but it's the beer and fun that lured you here. what else is there? and what else raises property values than young professionals purchasing houses?? if you want a boring bar-free place to live then there are plenty of suburbs w/ lesser crime than the city, and that's where I'd be if fed hill were bar-free.

I hate to break the news to ya, but it's the bars that lure people here. and ironically it's the old bars that the new people complain about--the ones on trash strewn streets that cater to people that fight, have their private arguments outdoors, and support the drug trade. irony, I guess.

if there weren't bars here no one would move to fed hill. no one buys an expensive house, and pays rediculous taxes, b/c there are a few shops that sell nice art or fancy clothes! those places add ambiance to a neighborhood, and eventually go out of business, but are not a reason to move here.

now that I've had my fun, paid years of expensive taxes, had my car broken into the night I bought it, and even met my wife in fed hill, I'll be looking to move to the suburbs down the road. but someone looking for fun noisy nightlife will buy my house and enjoy the city as I have done, continuing the cycle of raising housing prices.

bars are the reason people move here, old people. duh.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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