One of the things I love most about Baltimore is the fact that so many of its most interesting places are hidden from public view. Some of the city’s most charming venues, in fact, are the backrooms of stores, sometimes located up or down rear staircases. While most Baltimore residents know about the Owl Bar, hidden away behind the imposing front lobby of the Belvedere, other secret spaces are less well known.
A perfect example is An Die Musik, a classy little record store located at 409 Charles Street. Go to the rear of the shop, past racks of CDs and LPs, and you come to a flight of stairs; follow them up, and you’ll arrive at an intimate, comfortable concert space, home to a wide array of touring classical and jazz artists, as well as recitals by students from the nearby Peabody Institute. Minás Gallery on the Avenue in Hampden also hides a secret staircase. Go through the downstairs boutique that sells vintage clothing, accessories, jewelry and local crafts to a staircase at the back of the store, and emerge in a bright, pleasant gallery space also used for meetings, art shows, performances and belly dancing lessons.
Plenty of Baltimore bookshops hold readings, signings and other events. Not all of them have a backroom for the purpose. The coolest ones do. Atomic Books in Hampden stocks an inviting little bar hidden at the back of the store among the racks of LPs, a great venue for parties with an after-hours feel. Go through the mysterious red door in Normals Books and Records on East 31st Street, and you’ll come to the Red Room (now painted blue), a “laboratory for experimental cultural endeavors” which hosts sound performances, films screenings, lectures, and other eclectic goings-on.
Another odd and appealing space is hidden in the bowels of Emmanuel Episcopal Church on Cathedral and Read, opposite Milk and Honey. Ignore the dusty pews and stained glass windows, go up a flight of stairs to the side, and you’ll find yourself in an unusual venue sometimes used for music and theater performances. But my favorite secret space has to be Charm City Yoga’s Midtown location, at 107 East Preston Street, above Twin Diamond Studios. Slip through the door on Hargrove Alley painted with the elephant god Ganesh and follow the smell of incense up two flights of wooden stairs, and you’ll find two calm, well-lit yoga rooms where you can focus on inner peace. Namaste!