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October 19, 2009

Has Fells Point lost some of its mojo?

broadway marketHot spots come and hot spots go.

For years, Fells Point was the No. 1 nightlife destination in Baltimore, hands down. When county folks, tourists and yes, even city dwellers were looking to throw down, Fells Point is where they went.

Now, I'm beginning to wonder: Has Fells Point lost some of its mojo?

In the past several years, Federal Hill, Power Plant Live, Harbor East and Canton have really comes into their own. It seems like there are more bars and clubs in Federal Hill and Canton than ever before.

Fells Point on the other hand, feels like it's in a bit of a slump ...

When I walk down Broadway, it looks like there are more boarded-up shops and bars than ever. A couple years ago, I heard about this plan to revitalize the neighborhood, but aside from a few sketches posted in the windows of vacant storefronts, I'm not seeing much progress.

The more I stop by Fells Point, the more I think it needs a shot in the arm. Yes, Fells still has irreplaceable joints like Max's, the Cat's Eye and Bertha's. And yes, Fells has always been rough-around-the-edges. But look at Broadway Market (pictured). Aside from the Polish deli and a fish stand, it's largely vacant.

Now, at midnight on the average Friday night, the average out-of-towner is more likely to go to Power Plant Live or Federal Hill than Fells Point.

Seems to me like Fells has lost some of its mojo.

What do you think?

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 12:49 PM | | Comments (45)
Categories: Bars & Clubs



Please define Mojo

Please define Mojo

If you gotta ask, you don't got it

I'm not that big a frequenter of Fells or any of the city's bar areas, but I think Fells is just fine. I know plenty of people who still call it their number one.

I'm sure there has been some backlash to it being too popular and too busy. I couldn't even go to the Fells festival because it was packed. Just gave up and went to the O's game.

Anyway... just never underestimate what a bad economy can do. Restaurants are closing everywhere because their so volatile to begin with... maybe rent is just too high in Fells for some of these places to really survive.

Fells Point's mojo has been gone for a while. With the Cup closed down and the Horse filled with thugs it's not very fun down there anymore. The Waterfront is OK but Canton and Fed Hill have more to offer and are safer.

Most of Fells Point is doing great - I believe - with Thames Street and the Square busy every evening. The problem is the Broadway Market and the buildings around it. Those buildings, minus the market, were purchased by one developer who has yet to put anything in (can hardly blame them in this economy, but still). Here's the website of the development:
I'm hoping they move on this project and fill those buildings and make Broadway Market more like Cross Street Market.

Please define mojo

Got my mojo working, but it just don't work on you.

I agree, Sam. Usually it takes a special event to get me to go to Fells, like a beer festival at Max's/DuClaw, dinner at Mezze, or the Fells Point festival itself. I'm a Canton guy.

The problem with Fells now is that there are 3 very different types of places. Moby's, Rodo's, and Cheerleaders are one. The bar/restaurants bring in locals and tourists. Then the new high end restaurants bring in another crowd. If you were a tourist, you probably wouldn't venture off Thames St.

Wait, you're just beginning to wonder? Fells hasn't had much going for it in years. There are so many other, better places to go out in the city. There just isn't very much happening in that neighborhood, and it's been that way for quite some time.

Wish that Dog Pub would have happened in Fells. I'd be there a lot more often.

The developers, Dave Holmes and Dan Winner, are trying like hell to get that development moving, but as most people do not understand, development, especially on a large scale, especially in a backward corrupt municipal government-run environment, does not happen overnight.

At the risk of this becoming a real estate discussion, 'putting something in' to a site requires a ton of work and likely years of battles with politicans and constituents. These guys have a genuine interest in the neighborhood, have put all their chips in, and have a very cool plan...

To me, Fells is as fun as ever below Fleet St., but above, it has been on a continual downturn, which is precisely where (and why) these guys are trying to develop. When they assembled the blocks piece property-by-property, many of the stores were vacant prior to their assemblage.

If they can get the financing back in line and the critical mass of the project identified (read: scaled back), the Broadway Market and surrounding development will be light years past Cross St.

i'm confused. what Baltimore residents willing go to Power Plant except to see a show now and then at Rams Head. Fed Hill has been a weekend meathead extravaganza for years and years. who goes to Canton Square on the weekends aside from college students and people who still think they're in college? Sure, Canton has a growing handful of quality corner bars/restaurants (Mahaffey's, Annabel Lee, Yellow Dog, Jack's, etc) but not nearly enough to have drained crowds away from Fells.

...or maybe, silly me, i'm thinking that "mojo" implies interesting and diverse crowds. if by "mojo" you mean hoards of 22 year-olds, then yeah you might be right. Either Canton or Fed Hill is more likely to be their destination.

I think a lot of people go there because it's not Federal Hill and not Canton. The vacant storefronts are a bummer, though, no doubt about it.

What Dave said above.

But again, I'm not a meathead, a 21-year old college student, a hipster or a yuppie. Just a guy in his early 30's who enjoys good beer bars.

Fells Point's unique character does not depend on what's in or what's not in fashion. People come in, put their stamp on the place, then move on. It was my home for 20 years, and my favorite hangout before that. Long before you and I came along, it was a home away from home for seamen ashore who frequented the bars and sought refuge in the Port Mission. To you it's Fells--a strange term to the ear; to many of us it is so much more.

Mojo does not seem to be the problem with Fell's Point. In my opinion it is becoming more and more of Baltimore's ugly stepchild. I'm curious why it does not have the Waterfront Partnership foot patrols? (may be another issue there - not sure).
But people park wherever they want with little ticket enforcement, the homeless are everywhere and they relieve themselves wherever they want. So I see a few street sweepers in the morning, that is about it. It is a shame because there are some great businesses and charms in Fell's Point. But who wants to walk down the 700 block of Broadway after midnight on a weekend? This is enough to send bar-goers to other places like Canton, etc. Those bars on that block in particular really make all the difference in killing the 'mojo' of Fell's in my opinion. I live in Fell's and would rather not spend my evenings there, and it is unfortunate because it could be so much better.

The Waterfront Partnership does not extend into Fells Point because the original boundary for them was Caroline St. There has been some effort to extend it to Fells Point or create another partnership involving Fells Point. It hasn't gotten very far since it would be funded by a fee for commercial properties based on property value. (A way to raise taxes without calling it a tax.)

Unlike the Downtown and Waterfront Partnerships, Fells Point has many small businesses that own their own building. They can't pass on the cost to their tenants. The local Fells Point business person already believes they pay enough in taxes and the city should provide the services.

Also, you're right about the 700 block of Broadway. A few weeks ago, there was a police helicopter overhead for 3 hours after the latest incident outside one of the bars.

Fell's Point has so much more potential to be a great place for locals to hang out for an evening then Canton or Federal Hill. It is a one stop shop. You can park once and walk to many different places for an eclectic evening. Unfortunately, the local police have not done a great job to keep the undesirables out to keep the locals in. On the other hand, Canton and Federal Hill have gone very young, in a sense keeping away the older patrons who desire a more congenial crowd. Or their establishments are so spread out it takes just as much time driving and finding parking as it does spending time at a table. You might as well stay in the suburbs. So, I don't think Fell's has lost it's "mojo" yet. It just needs more faithful locals to get more active and get it back to its splendor.

The problem is Dan Winner's vision to boost Fells into the modern era is that in the process, he has killed Broadway. All those vacant storefronts are courtesy of him buying them out and waiting for the market to improve so he can start building/renovating. The master plan is actually impressive and Fells will regain any mojo it had lost when complete. Unfortunately, it has lost some in the meantime even though the waterfront up to Aliceanna are solid.

Don't frequent Fells very much now. Much too touristy. I would not describe Fells as rough around the edges though. In fact, it has become very upscale, even though many establishments still have the old funky decor, and expensive. Have you priced a draft at Cat's Eye lately?

I agree with Brian, the Horse has become just like walking through a dark alley. Not safe at all. The Horse used to be the only reason I would go to Fells. New owners have turned that place into the one stop shop for drugs and violence.

Fells having lost its mojo is something that has been the case since Power Plant took off in the early part of this decade.

Power Plant took Fells primary business. Then the "hotspot" shifted to Federal Hill and Canton.

For my eye, Fells' time is about to come back around in the next year or two.

To watch the ebb and flow of the entertainment districts in Baltimore and not understand this is to be naïve. Strong business models, dedicated leadership, and quality staff can usually last through those tides.

It's Fell's POINT!!!

RayRay, I think McIntyre or someone else had a whole thing about Fell's vs Fells. I think it was a draw. My pet peeve is the doofus slacker pronunciation "FELSS" sans Point or the borderline retarded "FULSS". Turn your hat around white boy, your mom ironed your flannel shirt. And get off my lawn!

RayRay - lost cause trying to change people's habits

The dropping of Point from Fell's Point is a recent thing.
All of the street banners with Fells and a picture of a sea captain just make it seem legitimate.

It started to die really bad around 1999/2000. It doesn't help either that the music scene in general now is nearly dead in the city. In the late 90's Fletcher's and The Brass Monkey helped bring in some good crowds down there.

Ted - thanks for the explanation of Waterfront Partnership

Neighborhoods change and evolve and so does their mojo. The Fell's Point mojo of 1850 was not that of 1970 or 2000. The genius of Fell's Point over the years has been the evolution of the neighborhood while maintaining the historical flavor and essential vitality of the waterfront. Even in the midst of the worst economic conditions since the 1930's, we are seeing this evolution in Fell's Point. We still have many of the best from the past -- Cat's Eye, Bertha's, Max's, Birds of a Feather, The Wharf Rat --- and some great new drinking establishments including Todd Conners and Alexanders Tavern. We have the evolution of Fell's Point fine dining -- Mezze, Kali's Court, Meli, Black Olive, Louisiana. And there are more on the way -- watch for Sam's Kid and a new tapas restaurant on Broadway Square as well as, in due course, fine dining and drinks at the old Admiral's Cup. Shopping in Fell's Point is also better than ever -- from Hats in the Belfrey to Su Casa home furnishings to Cupcake dresses to .925 silver to aMuse toys to Sound Garden music, bikes (electric and other) and others. The recession has not been kind to Baltimore in general or Fell's Point in particular. It has forced out some old, favorite friends and delayed some big, transformative projects. Fell's Point is sort of between acts. But when the Marketplace at Fell's Point revitalizes the Broadway Market and returns it to its original configuration, the adjacent blocks open with new and interesting shops and bars, Broadway Square is refurbished and the Rec Pier is revitalized and adds a new sparkle to Thames Street, Fell's Point's mojo will be stronger (a little different, yes, a little more evolved), but stronger than ever. Watch for it. It's gonna be good.

Smash-n-grabs inflicted on one's auto while parked down there don't help...that's why I think twice about going there.

I think the only way to make Fells a show place again is treat it like what it is--The city's number one party spot.

I think an open container law extending from the water over thames and broadway is the way to go. It should be a party every night a la bourbon street. Now THAT will bring in the tourist dollars. The increase in business would easily fund the increase in police patrols and the like.

And the residents? Well, how about they get a break on their property taxes for living with the noise. Although for anyone who has been to New Orleans, you know the noise from broubon doesn't really affect the sourrounding streets.

If you want to play, you gotta play to win.

Keep calling it Fells. That way we can easily tell the real Fell's Pointers from the tourists and wannabes.

Such pointed commentary from RayRay and jupiter.

You could not pay me to go to Power Plant live. Canton and Federal Hill, I'll give you. I still love Fells though :)

Okay, that's it. To counteract the Fulss people, I am now calling it The Point, but with a French accent and I'm telling tourists that it was settled by the French and that the locals all call it La Point (pronounced la pwant. Just for funsies. I've had a lifetime of tems, tames, thames already. I'm now telling tourists it's pronounced tameez. And now for alice-anna vs al-EES-ee-ANN-ah.

I've even got my t-shirt.

I think the Marketplace plan is really great, but kinda pointless if places like Moby's are still open.

The crowd in La Point has been shifting ever since bohager's went extinct and harbor east yuppied it up big time - the addition of luxury condos, brown's wharf office park, duclaw, and additional retail outlets added to that as well. Still has its places like reefers and cheerleaders which remind us of the rough n tumbler days obviously. At least 723 isn't around anymore.

If by losing its mojo, you mean we don’t have crowds of 21 year olds walking in the street drunk at 2am (good riddance to Federal Hill) or have problem bars that took years to close (723), or a yuppified atmosphere like Canton or Harbor East, then yes, it has lost its mojo. Fell’s Point has mellowed- and improved- with age. Don’t forget, this is the oldest neighborhood in this city, and with over 240 years of history under its belt, Fell’s Point isn’t going anywhere soon. I’d be happy to show you around the neighborhood, enlighten you about all the proposed and pending developments, great new retail boutiques and about some of the history of Fell’s Point and its residents that has led to its longevity. Jason Sullivan, Executive Director, Fell’s Point Main Street

From a Towson student perspective, we used to go to Fells Point on a regular basis. At least once every two weeks we would get a big group of us and head down there. Nowadays, it's all Federal Hill.

I'm a firm believer of it's not where you are, it's who you are with. My true reason for making this post.... I was looking for some ideas on where to watch the UFC fight this weekend. Fletchers I hear is closed due to new ownership, that was the usual spot. At Horse it seems like the fights are an annoyance and Green Turtle...well that place will be a last resort. Any suggestions my fellow socialites?

It's all about being too perturbed by fights & such at The Horse You Rode In On or The Greene go watch UFC. Give Yabba Pot a call, they might do PPVs.

Frank & Nick's has the PPV with no cover. Most of the people who show up on the nights of the UFC fights are there to watch the fights.

Rosie Palm, Here's a list of UFC fight providers in the area that I know of:

Frank and Nic's
Crazy Lil's
Pratt Street Ale House
Don't Know Tavern
and the Abbey has in the past.

Maybe Fells Point is just drowning in it's own smug. I noticed that the festival was pretty lame and very corporate while the latino festival up the street was Bangin!

grilled sweet corn rolled in butter, parmesan cheese and hot sauce for $5 while listening to a great band. The festival was like that once, now it's like an afternoon in the lobby of Long & Foster.

(no offense to real estate agents, it's just not what I would call exciting)

now it's like an afternoon in the lobby of Long & Foster.


The last time we were at the festival the "beer garden" was like a really boring prison camp. I did see a guy with all four members of Kiss very largely tatooed on his legs.

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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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