Hip, hip hooray


I had barely recovered from the astonishing news that Forbes magazine had proclaimed dear little Hampden one of the hippest neighborhoods in the Republic when The New York Times proffered advice on what any hipster should do during a 36-hour sojourn in Charm City.

I remember Hampden before it was hip. And, truth be told, you do not need to stray too far off The Avenue to find plenty of ye olde Hampden. Look for a Confederate flag or a “We Don’t Call 911” bumper sticker. In the old days, the whole place felt like a slice of Appalachia that had been dropped by the Fallsway. The ever-sensitive H.L. Mencken called the citizens “lintheads.” Sections of the neighborhood looked like scenes from Walker Evans’ photographs.

Nowadays they make washboard tummies at Meadow Mill Athletic Club and the neighborhood is hopping with hipsters. But the hillbillies—or if you prefer, Appalachian-Americans—have not decamped. You will find them still at the Redman’s Hall, Zissimos or Dimitri’s. God bless them.

The first thing I noticed about the Times’ piece “36 Hours in Baltimore” is the writer spent not 36 hours among us but nearly 48. But it’s perfectly understandable that a visiting hipster would quickly realize there was lots more to do here than could be savored in a mere three-dozen hours.

I agreed with the recommendation to visit the American Visionary Art Museum and the Windup Space, though I thought the Times pushed the cliché-o-meter into the red zone by mentioning John Waters, “The Wire,” Edgar Allan Poe and Michael Phelps. One thing I did not agree with was the suggestion of Club Charles as a dive bar for the hip tourist. Club Charles is now almost a T.G.I. Fridays. May I suggest to any hipster in search of a real dive bar that any of the aforementioned watering holes in Hampden will do nicely.

Baltimore was only No. 15 on Forbes’ hip list, but there are a lot worse things that could have happened. We might not have made the list at all. And if hipsters want to come here and eat crabs or kangaroo and stay up late, well, I say a rising tide floats all boats.

Still, I must take issue with Forbes’ evidence of Hampden’s hipness, which reads thusly: “Home to the annual ‘Hon Fest,’ where women tease their hair in 1960s-style beehives, Hampden embodies retro cool. Bars, restaurants and independent coffee houses co-mingle with two-story rowhouses harking back to the neighborhood’s days of mills and factories. Every year the neighborhood celebrates Christmas with a ‘Miracle on 34th Street’ decoration spectacle in which residents adorn their abodes with thousands of lights.”

Face it, most Baltimorons avoid the Hon Fest. And, unless you have small children or drunken out-of-town relatives on your hands, you never go near the gridlock of “Miracle on 34th Street.”

The real Miracle on 34th Street is Falkenhan’s Hardware and I go there all the time, often in search of an actual miracle. I have an old house and I need things that would otherwise involve driving halfway to Bel Air to a Home Depot. Real live hipsters work at Falkenhan’s! The cat sleeps on the counter. A great cat, sprung live from a George Booth cartoon in The New Yorker.

I went in there one day to get a battery for my automatic car door opener having been told by three Radio Shacks that while they could sell me a battery they would not help me put it in the door opener. The kids at Falkenhan’s are all right. They fixed my door opener. And this was for a $5 transaction. So I think that might be a little about what Baltimore is. The hipsters are not too busy to be nice. That’s what makes Baltimore hip. I believe the sainted John Waters always understood that, too. He has never been anything but a good citizen of this city.

Like most of my fellow taxpayers, I’m willing to suck it up so people from York, Pa., or wherever they come from, can see beehive hairdos or take a photo of the giant pink flamingo on the front of Café Hon. What harm? I’m too old for skinny jeans. And I don’t look good in a pork pie hat.

But I like hipsters. I like them so much that I hope some of them will buy rowhouses and fix them up and pay taxes and have a litter of little hipsters and send those little hipsters to public school and raise the test scores and all will be well.

In the meantime, I have only one concern. If Hampden gets any hipper, and garners any more national media attention, the state of West Virginia is going to want it back. Then we’ll have a problem on our hands.

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