The United States’ most up-and-coming luxury destination
Baltimore, Maryland, deserves far more attention. Thank you, Skift, for recently promoting the fact that the city now has – thanks to a trio of Baltimore success stories – three luxury hotels. I went to visit the two that are in the up-and-coming Fell’s Point area, a newly gentrified cobbled village that apparently has over 120 pubs and almost the same number, it seems, of charming restaurants and boutiques. Both, by the way, are within 15 minutes’ drive of Baltimore Penn station, on the main Amtrak rail line between Boston and New York (to the north) and Washington DC (to the south).
First up was the 256-room Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore, developed by John Paterakis, whose family bakery, H&S, seems to be one of the biggest manufacturers of burger buns – and more – in the USA. The hotel opened late 2011, right on Patapsco River at the entrance to the Inner Harbor, and it showed that this city does indeed have an appetite for quality. It is a hotel that has many reminders of Four Seasons Hotel Seattle, with water views and internal art. Both hotels are great for those who like to keep fit (they have outdoor pools, and year-round great hikes around).
All summer long Four Seasons Hotel Baltimore’s regular Saturday morning yoga classes are held outside, by the pool that seems to float, as it were, on the hotel’s deck. It’s winter, though, and weekenders who enjoy staycations here obviously prefer lie-ins to lie-on-your-back-and-do-contortions, so I had the hour-long session to myself. I had woken up in #807, an end suite with views on three sides over the Patapsco River. (Be prepared for motion sensors in your room; if you do not move for what seems like a short period of time the main lights go off). I was actually still recovering from the 45 minutes I had spent on a Technogym jogger, playing sudoku, last night after an early dinner.
The all-purpose restaurant here also reminds me of the Seattle hotels. Both, in destinations that are super-rich in dining opportunities, work with outside specialists. Here, Michael Mina runs Wit & Wisdom, a real old-style tavern with wood tables and a wood-burning oven. The dinner menu is complemented by an oyster hour, from 5pm, which meant our 5.30 start allowed us a preamble to the meal-proper with a tasting of East Coast oysters, which went really well with Stolpman Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2016. Afterwards, following a server’s suggestion, I had red wine-braised short rib with beluga lentils, cauliflower florets and pomegranate seeds.
I had earlier seen Julien Carralero, the opening, and current, GM of this friendly and delightfully no-attitude luxury hotel, but he was rushing off somewhere or other. I dined with his deputy, the equally charming Nancy Chacon, a Guatemalan who joined Four Seasons Hotel San Francisco Clift (as it was) after graduating in Business and French in that city. As it happened she too was rushing off – to hear her five-year old son singing during the half-time of a soccer match – so I took off as well, to exercise body and mind. This is, by the way, a hotel that is ultra guest-centric. A personalised note on my bed said the bedding was all hypoallergenic, and I slept like a log. I breakfasted back in Wit & Wisdom where a Tavern Platter means eggs come with bacon and potatoes, and the bill comes with exact suggestions for tipping 18%, 20% or 22%.
And then I moved all of six blocks east to Sagamore Pendry Baltimore. This is definitely not lifestyle, says its GM, David Hoffman, but whatever he thinks, it is undoubtedly the style of life that today’s millennially minded travellers love. It is old and new, and oodles of fun. Local entrepreneur Kevin Plank, whose Under Armour headquarters shine prominently across the Patapsco River, paid US$3.4 million for the 1914-vintage Recreation Pier (Red Pier) and then invested over US$60 million in what is certainly one of the top new-look luxury hotels for today. Looking at the building sideways on, the original brick house is now public areas, and what were two floors of basketball court and other sports areas are now, with an added storey, two wings of three floors of bedrooms.
The wings form arms for a central courtyard dominated by a Fernando Botero Horse with Bridle sculpture, a 3.6-metre-high twin of the one in the lobby of The St. Regis Hotel & Residences, Kuala Lumpur. That one had its lobby built around it, here the horse was dropped into place by a really heavy crane. At the end of the wings, jutting into the water, is a big deck with inset swimming pool and summer-only bar. Before you go out to this deck you pass the glass-walled, 24/7 Precor gym with, on your right, four old lifebelts, each in a big frame. Go further and on the left, you probably stop at a video art installation by a Zurich-based guy (can one call him an artist?), Marck, who appears obsessed by taking videos of lithe girls in swimming pools.
Thanks to designer Patrick Sutton, who apparently lives only a few hundred metres away, everything at this fabulous hotel is emblematic. White waves set either side of the main entrance stand for the ocean; the entrance itself is a reminder of locals’ fascination with stoop-watching, admiring the world outside. To get to the lobby walk the really gradual slope, up all of about 60cm vertically, and you pass likenesses of local symbols and memorabilia, including blue crabs and a thoroughbred (Kevin Plank owns Sagamore Racing). The two-floor-high lobby lounge has a wrought-iron framed mezzanine for private dining. Off the lounge is a closed door speakeasy, the Cannon Bar, with one of the three cannons unearthed during the property’s rebuilding; the other two are on the rear deck. From the third-floor wings’ inner corridors you can look down at the courtyard: last night its trees had thousands of Christmas lights turned on early, plus hundreds of candles, and over 200 wedding guests, mostly in black and all seated on white chairs, waited for the nine bridesmaids, also in black, and finally the bride, in a puff of what looked like white candyfloss, and her small dog, in a white tutu.
Patrick Sutton has brought in just enough nautical associations to bedrooms to give a sense of locale; all the newly-built third floor rooms have balconies and I loved looking out over the Fells Point surroundings. Despite the dining opportunities around I would definitely, however, recommend staying put, and dining here, if you can get a table (you can even try such local Maryland craft beers as Union Craft Brewing Balt Altbier, Evolution Craft Brewing Lot #3 IPA, Burley Oak Bunker C Porter). The all-day restaurant, Rec Pier Chop House, and the lounge behind are run by the talented Andrew Carmellini, he of The Greenwich Hotel’s food, in New York.
I dined with the exuberant GM David Hoffman who, after years with Four Seasons and then Montage, is exhilarated by the opening and operation of this slightly younger new-look luxury hotel. It is full of culture and history, but also of today. As I left, back to the train station, I was fascinated yet again by an infinity art installation, the changing-colour Two Circles, by Chul Hyun Ahn. I cannot wait to return to this lovely city (next time I will borrow, free of charge, a Taylor Koa GS mini guitar, offered to all guests by Sagamore Pendry Baltimore). This place is REALLY fun.
Mary Gostelow travels over 300 days a year, doing one-night stands in top hotels around the world. Read her daily travelogue, www.girlahead.com