10 Ways to Give the Gift of Baltimore
Don't get us wrong--we avail ourselves of all these opportunities to make shopping a little more convenient, and we dole out plenty of gifts that could be procured just about anywhere. But isn't there a corner of your list that would appreciate a little Mobtown love? Wouldn't you like to share some hometown flavor with old friends and family who may have moved on, or remind those still around of all we have to offer? And we're not just talking Cal memorabilia and John Waters videos here. Baltimore's deep history, unique personality (and personalities), and distinct subcultures offer a cornucopia of ways to add some local spice (McCormick, natch) to your shopping. Herein is a smattering of Charm City-centric gift ideas to get you started; there are oh so many more.
You can't have Thanksgiving dinner at Haussner's anymore, and Formstone is getting harder to find. But cruise through East Baltimore on a sweltering summer night or cool fall evening and you'll still see folks taking the air on their front stoops. Time was the stoop was the social nexus of working Baltimore, and that meant keeping those steps sparkling, traditionally with a vigorous Saturday-morning rubdown. Times may have changed, but a dirty stoop is still a dirty stoop. Encourage your rowhouse-dwelling friends to take old-fashioned pride in their exteriors with a Marble Step Cleaning Kit, available for $10.95 from Hometown Girl (1001 W. 36th St.,  662-4438, www.hometowngirlbalto.com) in Hampden, another center of front-stoop culture. The kit includes a pumice stone (the proper stoop-cleaning tool, so we hear), soap powder, and a history of the step-cleaning arts as practiced in the City That Hangs Out in Front of the House.
Celebrate the most unexpected championship of 2001. What? Get that purple flag out of here. We're talking about the true No. 1 champion of Baltimore, people: the heeeeeaaavyweight chaaaampeeeee-on of the WORLD. This is about the Spirit of Joe Louis, the legacy of Muhammad Ali. This is about Hasim "The Rock" Rahman, who was fighting in clubs here when the Baltimore Ravens were still a gleam in Art Modell's greedy eye. Share the native-born championship experience by equipping friends and family with Hasim "The Rock" Rahman merchandise, available at the HOBO Shop (429 N. Eutaw St.,  547-0007, www.hoboshop.com). T-shirts are $25-$30, posters are on the way. If the Rock beats Lennox Lewis again this weekend, your gift-getters can say they were in the first wave of passengers aboard the bandwagon. If he doesn't, these are instant historical artifacts. Either way, you win.
Frederick Douglass is arguably the greatest American from the city of Baltimore. "What's that?" you say. "Frederick Douglass was from Baltimore?" It's true. While he never seems to make the list of Mobtown's most-mentioned favorite sons--H.L. Mencken, Edgar Allen Poe, Babe Ruth--Douglass spent his formative years as a slave in the shipyards of Fells Point, and chances are there's someone on your list who doesn't know enough about him. While all of his books should be required reading, you may want to start out with his first. Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass takes readers from Douglass' birth on the Eastern Shore to his escape from bondage and the beginning of his abolitionist activism. A surprisingly short and easy read, Narrative is both a history lesson and an inspiration for young readers, conveying the horrors of slavery and capturing the boyhood drive and questing intelligence that produced a great man.
Got friends in Montana, Iowa, or other landlocked locales? Give them a taste of the Chesapeake--specifically, a box of plump 'n' succulent Faidley's crab cakes. Lexington Market's storied John W. Faidley Seafood (400 W. Lexington St.,  727-4898, www.lexingtonmarket.com/ShopPages/Faidley) has been selling the bay's bounty since Grover Cleveland was in the White House (115 years, if your U.S. history is a bit rusty). Along the way it's perfected one of the tastiest and most lauded crab cakes in town. And now you can share these mouth-watering wads of tender lump meat with folks far removed from tidal waters. Employing special frozen-gelatin-lined boxes and UPS next-day service, Faidley's can ship crab cakes all across the country, raw or cooked, for $11.95 each. (Shipping costs vary according to distance.) Maybe you can work out a trade with your Midwestern friends: You give 'em prime crab cakes, they give you prime steaks.
That Irving Berlin number's getting all the props these days, but "The Star-Spangled Banner" is still our national anthem, goddammit, and don't you forget it. Make sure your loved ones don't forget Baltimore's key role (key . . . Key . . . get it?) in the creation of the nation's official aural touchstone. In The Flag, the Poet, & the Song: The Story of the Star-Spangled Banner (Dutton, $22.95; available at local and online bookstores), the former New York Times reporter and editor Irvin Molotsky tells the behind-the-scenes story of the song, the flag that inspired it, and how both ascended from Fort McHenry to the acme of our civic iconography. Described by Booklist as an "absolutely irresistible slice of Americana," Molotsky's engaging account is full of secret history and fascinating arcana, from the unsingable anthem's musical source ("To Anacreon in Heaven," an old English drinking ditty) to its evolution into every ball game's opening act. Required reading for the flag-waver in your family.
If you've ever attended a wedding at the George Peabody Library, you know that the gorgeous and historic setting gives even the most beautiful and blushing bride a run for her money. Thanks to local photographer Jim Burger, you can give your loved ones their own view of the library's elegant "stack room," from the polished black-and-white marble floor, past five tiers of cast-iron balconies sheltering 300,000 titles, to the room's stunning 61-foot skylight. Burger's popular photo is available as a 22-by-28-inch poster and on blank note cards, sold individually or in packs of eight. Black-and-white posters are available on their own at the Baltimore Museum of Art, but you can opt for an exclusive color version ($12.50), or have your poster framed ($130-$230) if you visit the library itself (17 E. Mount Vernon Place,  659-8197, peabody.events.mse; jhu.edu).
If there's a jazzhead on your gift list who goes on and on about Bird and Miles and 'Trane and all the old greats, Joel Dorn has done you a huge favor. Last year the producer/impresario behind Label M rolled out the first installments in Live at the Left Bank, a series of never-before-released concert recordings from the '60s/'70s heyday of Baltimore's legendary Left Bank Jazz Society. Featuring sets at the old Famous Ballroom by the likes of Stan Getz, Cedar Walton, Sonny Stitt, Al Cohn and Zoot Sims, and Freddie Hubbard, the discs have their sonic shortcomings, but the music is revelatory--hot and swinging sets from some of jazz's finest performers in their prime. Best of all for holiday purposes, the tapes have been sitting in storage at Morgan State University for more than 25 years, meaning your jazzhead pal probably hasn't heard this stuff and will be extra glad you hipped him or her.
Androgynous scents may be all the rage, but your dad probably isn't a hipster pretty boy--so why would he want to smell like one? No, Dad wants a scent that says, "I'm a rugged Baltimore man who would rather go trolling for crabs in the Chesapeake than shopping for hip-huggers." He wants a bottle of Chesapeake Bay Spyce cologne, available at the Maryland Historical Society gift shop (201 W. Monument St.,  685-3750, www.mdhs.org) or from Easton-based Coastal Fragrance ( 770-3292, www.coastalfragrance.com). Don't fret--name notwithstanding, it won't make him smell like he's actually been trolling for crabs. Rather, it's a musky scent with a hint of sea salt and the merest dash of Old Bay. Plus the packaging screams days of yore, with its dark bottle with a raised image of the bay and the classic cobalt-blue label featuring a tall ship. As befitting a "unique blend of coastal fragrances" (per that label), it's a bit pricey at $24 for a four-ounce bottle--but considering that a smaller vessel of CK1 will set you back $45, it's not bad.
You don't have to believe in the birth of a baby god or tall tales about a fat man sliding down your chimney to get behind this concept: The Gift of Beer. Yes, beautiful beer (barring any 12-step impediments) is the one-size-fits-all gift that keeps on giving. Our featured holiday potable present is DeGroen's Doppelbock from the Baltimore Brewing Co. (104 Albermarle St.,  837-5000, www.degroens.com; also available at your finer suds shops), a smooth, tasty malt sandwich specially designed and brewed for the hard wintry season ahead. Bitter and hoppy (that's good when you're talking about custom beers, dig?), Herr Doppelbock is hearty and satisfying, yet leaves the mouth with no lingering unpleasantness as he delivers his well-placed 8.5-percent-alcohol-by-volume kick. We suggest you gift in the festive, refillable "growler" quantity, .53 gallons of bock with an attitude. That way, when the gift that keeps on giving gives out, you've given your giftee a reason to go get more. But hurry: Dopplebock is a seasonal brew, available only in December.
Want to export the spirit of Baltimore in an object d'art? If your recipients dig kitsch, they're guaranteed to appreciate such ready-made symbols as the Bromo-Seltzer Tower, the Shot Tower, a clipper ship, or a tugboat, ubiquitous on T-shirts, posters, and postcards. Digital photographer Robert McClintock (www.robertmcclintock.com), who we see at just about every festival and fair around here, shoots all that stuff, of course, but he widens his scope with scenes both more ordinary and more evocative: kids on a sodium-vapor-lamp-illuminated Hampden intersection, bocce rollers in Little Italy. He then romanticizes them with a painterly, expressive treatment, so even clubs on the Block become saturated with color, dignified and timeless. For less than $100, you can show your loved ones how Baltimore kitsch can cross the border into fine art.
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