Hotel Ulysses sits in the former Latrobe Apartment Building (once a block for ‘bachelors’) at the northeast corner of Charles and Read streets – a couple of blocks away from the George Washington Monument.
Baltimore/Washington International is the closest airport, a 20-minute drive away, which has direct connections across the US and to a handful of destinations further afield. The hotel doesn’t have a transfer service, but there are plentiful cabs and Ubers milling about.
Penn Station is just a 15-minute walk away; Amtrak routes arrive here direct from Washington and New York and other destinations in the north east. For zipping about the city on the Metrosubway, the State Centre stop is about a 10-minute walk away.
Baltimore doesn’t have the best reputation for driving – especially during commute hours – but it's generally safe and unproblematic, giving you freedom to roam. The hotel’s valet parking is available for US$47 a night, and there’s charged street parking outside.
Worth getting out of bed for
Mount Vernon was once considered the gay-bourhood of Baltimore, largely due to its countercultural past, but nowadays it’s let the ‘counter’ slip a bit and you’ll be more likely to see the Baltimore symphony play than hunt down an illicit party of an evening. But, that doesn’t mean it’s a bore – for the curious there are adventures to be had. First, climb the 227 steps of the Washington Monument, just a few blocks from the hotel to get a bird’s eye view of the ‘hood. Once a month Baltimore Heritage hold a tour to learn about its history, and on the first Thursday of each December it’s illuminated like a partisan Christmas tree with festivities including a market and live musicians. Then, tour the Grecian, Egyptian, Ancient American, and Eastern artefacts of the Walters Art Museum, keeping an eye on its calendar for more modern seasonal shows and drop-in art-making classes. And, those lit-lovers who agree with John Waters’ adage: ‘don’t sleep with someone who doesn’t read’ are in for a treat (and possibly romance…), with two major libraries close by. You may recognise the George Peabody Library from many ‘most beautiful libraries’ listicles, because it’s a queen of the form with five tiers of white cast-iron balconies, propped up by Grecian-style columns forming a cathedral-like space which holds more than 300,000 books. The Enoch Pratt Free Library is also a beaut, with lots of marble and some ornate ceilings, but it’s beloved for its interactiveness, hosting workshops and talks on art, digital savviness, history and more, and events such as #popshop, where telescopes are handed out for sky-watching sessions. Then get your ‘queen’s gambit’ on – and get to know the locals, who can be a very interesting bunch – playing open-air chess at Mount Vernon Place Conservancy, where in summer, there’s a series of yoga and painting classes, movie screenings and walking tours. Rounding up the area’s cultural mores are the Baltimore Center Stage theater, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. But there’s more to see in B’More: Fort McHenry, the birthplace of the Star-Spangled Banner in the Inner Harbor; the Avenue in Hampden, a former Waters’ filming spot, now hipster hang out which holds beehive-celebrating Honfest festival annually in June; and the American Visionary Art Museum, which goes as big, wacky and fun as you could ask outsider art to go, with a 14-foot-tall pink poodle as its mascot. To finish – recite The Raven by Edgar Allen Poe’s gravesite.
Baltimore is most famous for its blue crabs, which usually come steamed or in a crab cake (or tossed with macaroni cheese) – and the local good-shouts are LP Steamers for a claw-crackin’ good time, or the Corner Bistro & Wine Bar for a crab-cake dinner or sliders. But once you’ve eaten your fill of crustacea and followed it up with a snowball (crushed ice and flavoured syrup). You’ll want to mix things up, and Magdalena bistro is the best place to do that, with its wild swings on flavour: koji-marinated kurobuta pork with grilled peaches and alliums, and mustard greens with ancho fig jus, for example. And just around the corner from the hotel is Afghani eatery the Helmand, where sweet and spice play very nicely together in dishes such as koufta challow (lamb meatballs with grapes, paprika and turmeric in a peppery tomato sauce) or kaddo borwani (pumpkin browned in sugar and served in a garlicky yoghurt). Comptoir du Vin feels like an authentic French lunching spot, with its cosy dimensions, bentwood chairs and chalkboard menus, although the menu’s more of a Gallic dalliance, serving steak tartare with devilled eggs, octopus in Italian salmoriglio, and Eton mess for dessert – but rosbif-pleasing aside, it’s all délicieux. Alma Cocina Latina doesn’t just go south of the border, but crosses a few more, with its Latin gyoza (plantain, bacon, and cheese in a ginger-tamarind soy glaze) and five-spiced duck magret. And, for romantic harborside views, and a chef who’s won nine James Beard awards, book at Charleston; the trick here is comfort food but with a few fancy accents – lobster and mascarpone agnolotti with cognac cream, shrimp and grits with andouille sausage, wild rockfish with hickory-smoked bacon steeped in red wine and rosemary.
In Mount Vernon, Fishnet seems to have got the memo about the area’s insalubrious past, certainly name-wise anyways. In practice it’s a bit more literal; this casual joint serves up fried-fish sandwiches with imaginative fixin’s. Their signature is the ‘real MVP’ with wild hake in a spicy cornmeal batter, cheddar, lemon-dill mayo and hot sauce squidged into a brioche bun. And brunches at the Food Market have topped visitors’ tick-lists thanks to lauded chef Chad Gauss. Fuel up with tempura-battered French toast dipped in fondue, obscenely long mozzarella sticks, health bar pancakes and salt-and-pepper tuna with avocado tzatziki.
For cocktails seek out WC Harlan – it’s a speakeasy that looks pretty nondescript from the outside, but once you’re in it has an alluring blend of faded Twenties glamour and well-mixed cocktails, such as the Canopy Fizz with Rinomato Americano Bianco, egg white, lavender bitters and orange and lemon juice; or a Tropic of Cancer with rye whiskey, peppermint, raw honey and nutmeg. National Bohemian lager (or Natty Boh as its known in Bawlmer) is what you’ll see locals crack open at Orioles games, but if you want to experience a wider range of local brews and ciders, take a stool at Pratt Street Ale House, tempering pints with crab pretzels.