Baltimost Awards

Baltimost: Druid Hill Park

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Latrobe Pavilion Druid Hill
Latrobe Pavilion at Druid Hill Park. Credit: Eli Pousson/Baltimore Heritage, via Flickr.

Druid Hill Park

For some, it's the history. For others, it's nature. For still others, the draw is the zoo. Or the conservatory. Or recreation. Or the wildlife.

On any given day, hundreds of people find a reason to visit Druid Hill Park, the crown jewel in the necklace of public parks owned and maintained by the city of Baltimore. 

And even as part of it is undergoing reconstruction as the city installs underground tanks to hold Baltimore's drinking water, people find plenty of reasons to spend time there and want to protect it. 

The 745-acre park opened in 1860, and survives today as the city's largest and oldest municipal green space. Along with Central Park in New York (1858), Fairmount Park in Philadelphia (1812) and Golden Gate Park in San Francisco (1871), it was one of the first landscaped public parks in the U.S.

Recreational amenities include a public pool, disc golf courses, tennis courts, a 1.5-mile walking and biking loop, ballfields, basketball courts and picnic groves. The Friends of Druid Hill Park, an advocacy group, and the city's Department of Recreation and Parks organize events that help draw people, such as a farmers' market from June to September, walking and night hikes and fitness classes.

Like all parks, Druid Hill Park technically closes after dark, but it's never really dormant. Around the clock, people tend to the plants in the conservatory, care for the animals at the zoo, clean up after visitors. And when day breaks, they're ready do it all over again. 

When Mayor Thomas Swann dedicated Druid Hill Park in 1860, he said it was meant to be a resource for "the whole people--no matter from what remote land, no matter what sect or religion they belong, no matter what field of labor, however elevated or however humble." Nearly 160 years later, it has lived up to that promise.

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Baltimost: A1 Chops

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A1 Chops

The members behind A1 Chops had confidence in their abilities as entertainers, but they didn't expect success to come this fast.

"Within two years of us street performing, we were noticed by Ellen, which was shocking," says Malik Perry, one half of the group.

That would be comedian and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres. Timothy Fletcher, the other member of A1 Chops, filmed a video for singer Ciara's "Level Up" Challenge that became a smash hit. In it, Fletcher lays down a rapid-fire drumline beat while choreographing a dance around his drum that boasts a high number of steps, hip shakes and stick tricks.

Fletcher and Perry performed together on "The Ellen Show" in September 2018, and the host surprised them with new gear and $10,000 apiece. But DeGeneres wasn't done there. Upon learning Fletcher and Perry were taking time out of their now-busy schedule to volunteer with young musicians at Edmondson-Westside High School, she invited the duo back on the show that November to tell them they would be the stars of a new web series called "The Build Up," which kicked off with the duo receiving a newly refurbished apartment.

Earlier this year, viewers of the series saw A1 Chops perform at halftime of a Ravens game and, with the help of remodelers Anthony Carrino and John Colaneri, revamp the band room at Edmondson-Westside and spruce up the courtyard at the Downtown Cultural Arts Center. 

All that time, A1 Chops has consistently posted new videos set to pop, hip-hop, R&B and more.

"As long as it's fast and the beat knocks, yeah, that's usually the song I look for," says Perry, adding that each A1 Chops routine starts off with a drum freestyle over the track.

The high-profile performances have continued, ranging from a guest appearance alongside rapper Lil Baby on the BET Awards to top billing at the city's AFRAM Festival. Now, A1 Chops is looking to tour the country.

Fletcher says that no matter where A1 Chops goes, the moves they incorporate and the styles they rock will always be a reflection of Baltimore.

"We always got dance moves, we always got swag with the way we dress. We always take that with us."

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Baltimost: The Preakness Stakes

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War of Will wins the 2019 Preakness Stakes. Image courtesy of the Maryland Jockey Club.

The Preakness Stakes

Set aside for a moment all of the recent hand-wringing over the future of the Preakness at Pimlico Race Course.

On the first Saturday in May, there was the Kentucky Derby run in the slop, and the controversial stewards' decision that elevated a 65-1 shot, Country House, to the winner's circle after it was determined the horse that crossed the finish line first, Maximum Security, had interfered with other runners.

Shortly after this shocking reversal, there were indications Country House wouldn't even join the Preakness field. The news became official on the following Tuesday, marking the first time in 23 years a Derby winner had skipped out on pursuing the Triple Crown.

Back to the drama. Overtures by Pimlico's owners, The Stronach Group, made it pretty clear they would like to move all operations to Laurel Park, and the abrupt closure of the oldest grandstand at Pimlico due to structural issues only made matters worse.

There was a very real sense this spring that this would be one of the last times the race was run in Baltimore, and suddenly it lacked any of the excitement of a potential Triple Crown.

Even with all that, people from across the Baltimore region came out in droves--an estimated 131,256, in fact--as they have for more than a century. While Pimlico may not have the spires of Churchill Downs or the mystique of Saratoga--hell, it didn't even have working toilets for much of Preakness day--it remains a sacred place, where legends like Secretariat, Affirmed, American Pharoah and Justify all triumphed on their path to greater glory.

For many others, it's a place where copious amounts of alcohol was consumed without so much as seeing a horse. No matter which camp you fall under, there's something special about the third Saturday in May up on Old Hilltop.

After hearing music from Kygo, Diplo and others thumping from the infield, watching a gutty win by War of Will and seeing a resident on Hayward Avenue using her front yard to host a party for post-race revelers, it was hard to imagine this bacchanalia anywhere but Baltimore.

And now, with the news announced last Saturday that a deal is in place between Stronach and the city, Baltimore is hopefully the place it shall remain.

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Baltimost: Mr. Trash Wheel

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Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program, via Flickr

Mr. Trash Wheel

Goofy, animatronic and flaunting a savvy social media presence, Mr. Trash Wheel has artfully straddled the line between humorous advocacy and practical cleanup for Baltimore's harbor for five years now.

The solar-powered, dumpster-bellied robot is the brainchild of John Kellett, founder of Pasadena-based Clearwater Mills. Since deploying at the mouth of the Jones Falls in the Inner Harbor in May 2014, Mr. Trash Wheel has collected more than 1,100 tons of trash from the water, including some 10.6 million cigarette butts, over 612,000 grocery bags, almost 9,000 glass bottles and two beer kegs, the most recent data say.

"Unfortunately it does seem like anything and everything eventually finds its way into Mr. Trash Wheel," says Adam Lindquist of the Healthy Harbor Initiative, which owns and operates the machine.

The trash wheel has earned his own cult following--some are quite devoted--and multiple signature beers along the way, and has inspired a whole family of the devices from Clearwater Mills. There are now two others in Baltimore, Professor Trash Wheel and Captain Trash Wheel (and another planned for the mouth of the Gwynns Falls), plus a sibling coming soon out west in Newport Beach, California.

As impressive as the floating trash-collecting machines are, it would be foolish to think these alone could fully and constantly purge the litter amassing in the harbor. That blame lies with us humans.

That's the inherent appeal to Mr. Trash Wheel and his growing family, Lindquist says: Their presence reminds devoted fans that all of their litter will inevitably end up in local waterways if they don't properly dispose of it. "That is to me, almost more valuable than taking trash out--promoting behavior change."

Still, Mr. Trash Wheel has proven to be an impressive, innovative fix.

"I think this is the most viable technological solution to ocean plastics," Lindquist says. "It's certainly not the ultimate solution, right? We need to be making and consuming less plastic. But Mr. Trash Wheel is really at a sweet spot for where you can pick up trash in the most economical way."

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Baltimost: The Ottobar

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Credit: Shane Gardner.

The Ottobar

In the same year it was named one of the nation's best rock clubs by Rolling Stone magazine, The Ottobar's future looked uncertain. The beloved bar and venue, founded on Davis Street downtown in 1997 before moving to its current N. Howard Street location, was put up for sale in November, and then things went quiet.

People speculated on the buyer, fearing some developer would come in and either suck the soul out of the space or knock it down altogether for a fancier building. Then, in May, one of the best possible outcomes happened: The Ottobar announced head bartender Tecla Tesnau would be buying the club.

With the very real possibility that The Ottobar would close, Tesnau had to step in.
"I decided I couldn't let that happen if it was at all possible for me to make the Ottobar continue as it has," she told Baltimore Fishbowl earlier this year.

By hosting happy hours, trivia nights and theme parties, and music that spans indie rock, punk, metal and hip-hop, The Ottobar means a lot of things to a lot of different people. For me, it's both my spot for watching the Ravens on Sundays and the place I chipped my tooth while in the middle of a po-going crowd at local post-hardcore band Double Dagger's final show.

Tesnau said she's looking to collaborate with more artists and bookers to make the venue an even more inclusive space.

"I'm interested in continuing to make this a spot for the Baltimore creative community to hang out and showcase how awesome they are. Because we are awesome."

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Baltimost: Baltimore Spirits Co.’s Epoch Rye

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Courtesy of Baltimore Spirits Co.

Baltimore Spirits Co.'s Epoch Rye

The 2015 exhibit "Maryland Rye: Straight From the Bottle" showed what a force the distilling industry used to be in the area. A number of the bottles on display had labels that incorporated familiar spots for locals, such as Dundalk Rye, Dulaney Valley Maryland Straight Rye Whiskey and Roland Park Rare Maryland Straight Rye Whiskey.

But local distilling declined after World War II, and by the 1970s, there was only one Baltimore area company left, Standard Distillers Products Inc. Last year the Baltimore Spirits Company--back when it was still known as the Baltimore Whiskey Company--released the first rye to be produced in city limits in more than five decades.

Now, co-founder Max Lents says, the company is about to release its seventh batch of Epoch, with the first five selling out and the sixth well on its way to doing the same. They've also put out limited-run variations, such as a cask strength version and batches finished in a maple syrup barrel or a moscatel barrel.

Lents is quick to note the whiskey, while made in Maryland, is not strictly Maryland-style. The spirit counters the usual spice of a Maryland rye with a hit of sweetness, offering a more rounded flavor profile. The company's unique twist, he adds, felt appropriate for a city with a creative community that can pull off big ideas in spite of limited means.

"We wanted to help bring back the tradition of rye distilling to the city, but also have it reflect the very modern and vibrant creative community that is Baltimore."

Clearly, they're onto something, taking home a double gold medal last year in the prestigious San Francisco World Spirits Competition and a gold medal in this year's New York International Spirits Competition.

And with bartenders revisiting older recipes that call for rye, the whiskey is experiencing something of a renaissance.

"The public is ready, and I think there's a deep thirst for high-quality rye whiskey that there hasn't been for decades and decades," says Lents. "And we're excited to be part of that."

As much as there is to be said for being first, Lents says Baltimore Spirits Co. is more than happy to be joined by the likes of Louthan, Old Line and Sagamore Spirit.

"We're really happy that as an industry, we're not the only people doing it. Baltimore really deserves to have rye whiskey made here. It has so much history in its roots."

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Baltimost: Pennsylvania Avenue Main Street

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Arch Social Club, facade. Photo by Preservation Maryland.

Pennsylvania Avenue Main Street

There's a shared wistfulness among those who remember The Avenue: the days of the Chitlin' Circuit, of grand theaters like the Royal hosting jazz greats such as Ella Fitzgerald, Miles Davis and Baltimore's own Billie Holliday, of packed movie houses and thriving dance clubs, record stores and hotels.

"It is like walking on hallowed ground," the late jazz vocalist Ruby Glover told The Sun in a 2002 story tracing a walking tour of Pennsylvania Avenue. 

Those days are long gone, the scene having crumbled after the riots of 1968 following Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s assassination. But hope springs anew in 2019. The Arch Social Club has gotten a facelift, and attractions like The Avenue Bakery and the Shake and Bake roller rink and bowling alley are steadfastly anchored. And in a major step this year, the state designated Pennsylvania Avenue as Baltimore's fourth entertainment and arts district--the first in Maryland specifically honoring a black community's artistic roots. 

Pennsylvania Avenue Main Street joins Bromo Seltzer, Highlandtown and Station North in holding the designation. The state program offers tax credits for historic renovations and new construction, and other incentives to businesses. 

A coalition of community organizers, led by Brion Gill, a.k.a. spoken-word artist and poet Lady Brion, made this happen. Gill, now serving as the arts district's executive director, is helping to jump-start the resurgence. She said in July the effort will include marketing The Avenue to creative people already living there, helping current residents become homeowners and beautifying its blocks.

She also plans to have new programming to showcase Pennsylvania Avenue's artists, "creating a platform" for them to anchor a new tourism draw. "For these first foundational years, it's really about marketing, about promotion and telling a really good story."

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Baltimost: Union Collective

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Union Collective
Union Collective. Credit: Tedd Henn

Union Collective

Union Craft Brewing's current home base was a literal shell of itself in 2017--an empty, 138,000-square-foot Sears Roebuck warehouse that sat unused for decades.

A little over two years later, it can be challenging some weekends to even find a spot on Union Collective's sprawling lot. Guests sometimes park up to the top of the sloping driveway from 41st Street, cramming in for events, concerts or just a seasonable day to enjoy a beer, a scoop from The Charmery, a whiskey tasting at Baltimore Spirits Company or something else. 

Union Collective counts those local makers as tenants, as well as Maryland-born rock-climbing gym chain Earth Treks, Vent Coffee Roasters and Well-Crafted Pizza Kitchen. A winery is now setting up shop. And there's the brewery, of course. 

Union Craft co-founders Adam Benesch, Kevin Blodger and Jon Zerivitz sought a larger space when they relocated from down the street in Woodberry. And that's just what they got, with a sprawling new tasting room, an expanded quality-control lab, a 60-barrel production system (tripling their production capacity) and more.

But they also wanted to champion Baltimore's new generation of homegrown makers, giving them a dedicated hub to create and interact with customers. 

Zerivitz now sees their dream becoming a reality. 

"We've taken a derelict building that served no purpose to the community and made it a vibrant hub of activity--not only just for consumers to come and spend a few hours and spend the whole afternoon, but also for these small local businesses to flourish." 

And there are still spots for future tenants to fill.

"We just feel like it's just gonna keep growing and it's still in its infancy. Its full potential hasn't been realized yet."

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Baltimost: Dovecote Cafe

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Photo via Dovecote Cafe/Facebook.

Dovecote Cafe

Dovecote Cafe sits in the middle of the block in Reservoir Hill, surrounded by brownstones and jubilant neighbors. When you walk inside, the walls are covered in art, the aroma of fresh coffee and handcrafted food hits you in the nose and the feel-good music is always on shuffle. There is no feeling that you'll receive inside of Dovecote Cafe that you have not felt on the streets of Baltimore.

Cole, one of the owners, says the name--a reference to medieval bird houses as well as harmonious gathering places--"was reflective of the physical energy of the space but also the way we think about the space as a sanctuary."

Cole and wife Aisha Pew, whom Cole calls "the most brilliant woman I've ever met in my life," moved from California to Baltimore to build the cafe. They shared a vision "of stopping gentrification and having a conversation with young black folks about what does it mean to claim your city before it is taken from you," Cole says.

"We were hoping, building and dreaming on vibrant spaces where Black people can be free and engage with each other in new and imaginative ways."

Cole and Pew opened up an artist residency this year called "House of Sedulo," where six artists were chosen to stay at a house on the other side of the neighborhood rent-free. They have the opportunity to create, host events inside of the house, or the cafe, and are also able to make money while doing so.

In the past, I've visited Dovecote not only for its food and drinks and mesmerizing aesthetic, but also creative writing workshops and live performances, and to just be among the good vibes of the staff and customers. 

The cafe is all about "reimagining Black possibilities," Cole says, and one way to bring that to fruition is by "creating space for our community to be together. To find spaces of Black joy, and connection. Ensuring that Black artists, makers and creatives have the room to build those spaces is so essential to our vision."

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Baltimost: New Beginnings Barber Shop

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New Beginnings Barber Shop
Photo courtesy of New Beginnings Barber Shop.

New Beginnings Barber Shop

Troy Staton took the bullets as motivation. A year ago, he was struck three times in the back of the neck when a gunman ran inside his shop and fired upon a customer, hitting him and Staton as well. They proved to be graze wounds, and he was released from Shock Trauma that same day.

"I'm still alright, you know," he says. "I'm grateful."

While the experience could certainly set someone back physically and mentally, for Staton, "it gave me a more intense drive to move forward."

Staton's New Beginnings Barber Shop has been a mainstay in Southwest Baltimore's historic but direly underserved Hollins Market neighborhood for more than a decade now. Staton had grand ambitions when he moved the business to 1047 Hollins St. in 2008, beyond being a place to get a haircut.

It began with an art gallery. An avid collector, Staton brought pieces in to showcase and educate neighborhood children. He curated a library of art books to peruse, and began exhibiting work by professional artists--including pieces seen in museums--and students alike. He's since partnered with the Reginald F. Lewis Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Art, MICA, Coppin State University and others "to bring art exhibitions to the community and resources to those that normally wouldn't be exposed."

Then came the health clinics. Staton teamed up with insurer Kaiser Permanente to host a van at his shop, with medical staff giving free health screenings, flu shots, HIV tests and more. It was so effective that they've repeated it for three years since, and have now brought on two other barber shops and two salons in the 21223 ZIP code to do the same.

"We bring it to the people who need it in an untraditional setting," Staton says.

Post-shooting, Staton ramped up his outreach, steered by his nonprofit Luvs Art Project, with the "More Than a Shop" initiative. He partners with a dozen Baltimore barber shops and salons, from Cherry Hill to Park Heights, to help connect customers to resources they aren't getting or may not be aware off. Examples include public health awareness events and expungement clinics to help job-seekers clear their records.

Staton characterizes his approach as "disruptive innovation." It banks on using the full reach of a community-serving business. And his model began with New Beginnings. 

"It's a barber shop, but we wanted to be more than just a barber shop. It's become a community hub, a central resource."

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