Starting off as a 19th-century mill town, Hampden today is firmly rooted as one of Baltimore’s, if not the nation’s, top hipster neighborhoods. At its heart is The Avenue—a five-block segment of 36th Street between Falls Road and Chestnut Street—filled with quirky cafes, kitschy-chic boutiques, and terrace restaurants, shoulder-to-shoulder with old-timey drug stores and barbershops. Artists and makers arrived some years back, giving its shops and restaurants an innovative edge. That said, movie lovers might feel a sense of déjà vu, as native Baltimorean John Waters has filmed many movies here. It’s the sort of place to stroll, sip a craft cocktail at a streetside bar, and poke into establishments to see what’s new—and vintage.
Explore the John Waters Connection
Filmmaker and Baltimore native John Waters filmed several movies in Hampden—including "Hairspray" (1988) and "Pecker" (1998). The independent Atomic Books is devoted to him—he stops by here to pick up his fan mail, and he autographed all of his books and DVDs on sale (it’s also the go-to for hard-to-find comic books, zines, and toys). Look for him at the retro Rocket to Venus, poking into the vintage shops along The Avenue (it’s said he shops for costumes there), and Hampdenfest, which he rarely misses.
Get Swept Up by the Hons
White working-class women of the sixties called each other “honey,” which came out “hon” in local Bawlmerese. They wore sky-high bouffants (sometimes dyed pink and adorned with flowers), cat-eye glasses, flashy dresses, lycra pants, and plenty of rhinestones and glitter as a way to feel special without money. Today, hons are celebrated in Hampden at Café Hon, a campy American diner serving comfort food (with attached gift shop purveying everything you need to become a hon yourself), as well as the kitschy HonFest in June. It’s said that the tradition is starting to die down—but it’s not too late to get a taste of this unique ode to the colorful past.
Check out the Local Maker Scene
Makers are flocking to this creative enclave, filling one-of-a-kind shops with their wares. There’s Ma Petite Shoe, combining fresh shoe designers with designer chocolates; Trohv, a true trove of artful home goods and gifts; and DoubleDutch Boutique, featuring local designers. Good Neighbor combines a home goods shop and a coffee shop—meaning you can get a mug of locally-roasted coffee and then purchase the mug afterwards. Plates, glassware, and other items used in the cafe are also on sale. Keep your eyes peeled for local street art as well.
Hampden is the sort of place you want to hang outside on a sunny day or warm evening and watch the goings-on, and there are plenty of chances to do so. Tiny Grano Pasta Bar, for instance, is a local date favorite (BYO bottle of wine). There’s also the casual Avenue Kitchen and Bar, serving coastal comfort food and craft cocktails; Suzie’s Soba, an eclectic Japanese and Korean noodle house; and Rocket to Venus, with a retro, sci-fi vibe, known for its hot wings; to name a few.
Taste Local Cuisine with a Twist
Hampden is experiencing a foodie boom, and the go-to is the Food Market, featuring comfort food by award-winning chef Chad Gauss, but that's not all. There’s also The Charmery, making a name for itself with handcrafted ice creams in such creative flavors; True Chesapeake Oyster House, serving up hand-picked Chesapeake oysters and seafood; Foraged, a hyper-seasonal, forest-to-fork eatery; Paulie Gee’s Hampden, a pizza joint with unique, locally sourced toppings; and Full Circle Artisan Palace, offering artisanal doughnuts and baked goods—look for their soft-shell doughnut during crab season. And one last thing: Whitehill Mill, the historic flour mill that kicked off the neighborhood in the first place, has been redesigned as a sprawling food market.
Kick Up Your Heels at a Neighborhood Festival
Hampden is festival central, with several signature events taking place every year. The Miracle on 34th Street, a blingy, month-long lights celebration, has been outdoing itself at Christmastime since 1947. Hampdenfest in September celebrates locals with live music, lots of food, toilet bowl races, and a pie-eating contest organized by Dangerously Delicious Pies—it’s the best time of year to get a feel for the neighborhood. And, of course, there’s HonFest in July, in celebration of all things hon, including a contest for the best beehive-and-cat-eyed look.
Shop for Vintage Finds
In a neighborhood that still reflects its past, it makes perfect sense that vintage shopping is having a moment in Hampden. Favorite shops include Hunting Ground, showcasing small designers and affordable vintage clothing; Milk and Ice Vintage, a collection curated by a pair of best friends, which also shares space with an antiques shop; the multi-vendor Changed My Mind Vintage; and Wishbone Reserve, run by three clothes-obsessed friends.
Sip a Cocktail
Hampden is also making a name for itself with crafty cocktails, and there’s no better place to imbibe than the Bluebird Cocktail Room and Pub. This cool little speakeasy-type space, all dark blue with gilded trim and chandeliers, serves literary-inspired drinks (like Golden Goose, The Wolf, and Seven Little Kids), each with its background story written up. There’s also Avenue Kitchen & Bar, Wicked Sisters, and Arthouse, which also offers uniquely topped pizzas and exhibits art; to name just a few. And if you’re looking for a taste of Hampden’s blue-collar past, Zissimos Bar was established in 1930 and is still owned by the same family.