Charm Boosters Talking to some of Baltimore’s biggest fans.

By Justin Silberman



Joy Giordano likes to say that Baltimore is a city of neighborhoods, each with its own defining characteristics and storied history.

“Baltimore is quirky and funky and has such a wonderful mix of a bunch of different venues,” says Giordano, executive director of Fells Point Main Street.

New developments in the form of housing, shopping and dining options are changing the landscape of many neighborhoods, and advocates such as Giordano are bullish about the city’s future.

That includes Steve Gondol, 39, who’s worked tirelessly to promote a sense of Baltimore pride while selling prospective inhabitants on a unique lifestyle filled with diverse cultural offerings.

“For a lot of the people out in the surrounding suburbs who might be thinking about city living, I would just encourage them to really see the renaissance Baltimore has had the past few years,” says Gondol, executive director of the nonprofit city promotional group Live Baltimore. “It’s such a different city now—and for the better.”

Gondol, who will be leaving the city  in July, bought his home near Patterson Park soon after relocating from Washington, D.C. several years ago. In that short period of time, Gondol wasted no time asserting himself as one the city’s biggest promoters.

Gondol says downtown is one of the areas that has come into its own since he started at Live Baltimore in 2007, and the growth he feels some of those neighborhoods have experienced shows there’s room for more.

“In a municipality like Baltimore City, you have this place where apartments have been renovated with very innovative floor plans that are designed around historic buildings. We also have brand new structures that are going up and are very modern. We also have homes with big yards, driveways and the whole nine yards, and the best part of all this is that everything is within walking distance.”

As Baltimore continues to reinvent itself, it is taking some time for people to get on board. The city’s total population fell by more than 6,700 people, or about 1 percent, in the 12 months that ended in July 2016, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released in March. The current figure puts Baltimore at approximately 614,664 people, around the same size it was a century ago.

Though the city has recently faced increasing crime rates, a school budget deficit and the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray, business owners have not shied away from investing in Baltimore.

“It’s important for people to know that the city is a happening place and very much alive,” says Greg Keating, who is a managing partner of 206 Restaurant Group, which includes Five and Dime Ale House in Hampden, a gastropub that opened in October.  “There’s a lot of good going on here, so people living in the suburbs or outskirts need to hear that, because not all stories focus on that.”

When Keating and principal 206 owners Donald Kelly and Justin Dvorkin—who also run Pratt Street Ale House and other area restaurants—were looking to expand, they felt the city, specifically Hampden, presented a prime location rich in fine cuisine.

Keating, who grew up in Southeast Baltimore’s Highlandtown, also said there is more to Hampden than just good eats. Hampden’s distinct light display, “Miracle on 34th Street,” he pointed out, continues to draw curious visitors from around the region after 70 years.

“Hampden offers a lot for people who have an affinity for Baltimore, which really drew us in,” Keating said. “As Hampden has developed over time, it’s developed into a very popular restaurant destination with a lot of nice concepts that people have been really drawn to.

“The change in Hampden is emblematic of the positive change throughout the rest of the city. The city has had its ups and downs but it has come back in a good way.”

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