By Alexa Hiken
It’s hard to imagine that just a few short years ago, Baltimore City’s Harbor East consisted of one building, H&S Bakery, and a parking lot. Today, this exact area is one of Baltimore’s trendiest locations and has become one of the most bustling parts of town. Some of Baltimore’s most exquisite restaurants and upscale stores can be found along the streets, calling Harbor East Home. Looking to escape Baltimore without leaving the city, Harbor East is the prime location for a local getaway filled with elegance and sophistication in Baltimore’s backyard.
When one thinks of Baltimore City, violence and crime often comes to mind. However, that is not the case in Harbor East. Full of tall glass and brick buildings with brick sidewalks paved to perfection, violence does not seem to be an issue. If one is nervous of the crimes of Baltimore City, men in bright yellow shirts, with security planted on the back, walking and on scooters can be found just about every two feet.
Before I traveled to Harbor East, I asked John-John Willams, Fashion Editor for The Baltimore Sun, what he thought the most attractive aspect about Harbor East was.
“It’s a trendsetter, filled with money. Harbor East is expensive to live or have a business in, but people go there simply because it’s chic,” he said.
As I spent time in Harbor East, his opinion couldn’t have been more accurate. After my days exploring Harbor East, I can say the up and coming area is one of the most sophisticated parts of the city. The upscale, chic, vibe present is one that can be found in places such as New York City, Georgetown, and can even have a South Beach aura. It is an affluent area so people who live there must have money with rent in some buildings roughly $5,000 a month and restaurants running on a market place menu. In a town that attracts wealth, it can only be assumed that elegance with follow.
As I walked around, I admired the structure of The Four Seasons Hotel. It was built of glass and tan brick, appearing flawless. I could see the level above where the pool is located. The building structure changed and the railings appeared to be barricading the balcony. Wit & Wisdom, the famous restaurant boasted outdoor seating was directly in front of me with jet-black modern couches; under a shaded tent that was so big it seemed like something that would be used during an outdoor party, and modern black dining chairs with a tan table with a glass top. I had plans to eat there later that day and was eagerly waiting.
For now, I was meeting my Mom at the Lululemon store. I’ve noticed that not only is Harbor East a lucrative area, but the stores and residents seem to be extremely conscious of health-and-fitness. There are a number of different gyms all within a few blocks of each other, including: the Maryland Athletic Club, a yoga studio, Harbor East Cross Fit, and a new spinning studio. Harbor East is Baltimore’s new fashion destination, yet at least half of the clothing stores are specifically athletic apparel with stores such as Lululemon, City Sports, and Under Armour, justifying the fitness mentality. Besides the top-notch restaurants, Whole Foods appears to be the go-to stop for a quick bite and grocery shopping. If these stores don’t shout health and fitness, maybe the fact that every street consisted of people walking, running, jogging, or biking, all in workout apparel does. Even moms with young children have jumped on the workout bandwagon in Harbor East; earlier, about a dozen moms went running past me, while pushing their children in strollers.
As I made my way to Lululemon, I couldn’t help but admire the exterior of the store. The double black doors, trimmed in bright red, were wide open, offering a welcoming vibe. I spot my mom inside the store and head over to her.
“What took you so long?” she asked.
“I was wandering around for a bit,” was my reply.
“They’re having a great sale; I’ve already had them start a room for you,” my mom said emphatically.
My mom loves shopping – especially a sale – and can tend to get carried away. But, at the end of the day, she always knows what I like and what looks best on me, even better than I do.
Rolling racks of merchandise were placed all throughout the store. As a frequent Lululemon shopper, I know they’re not typically displayed there, which can only mean it’s sale time. Lululemon’s display is organized to perfection, without a misplaced item or an unfolded sweatshirt. The back of the store houses all of Lululemon’s famous yoga pants and sales associate are constantly re-folding them. The yoga pants are organized in an impeccable manner. Each pair sits on a mannequin, for display purposes, and under each are all sizes available, folded on a shelf by size. This is the case for over a dozen pants and as I looked on my way back, I thought it could almost be a yoga pants museum. As I continued browsing, I noticed the positive energy with inspirational quotes written on the walls, employee profiles and goals placed on chalkboards, and the colorful apparel contributing to a shopping rush. The only negative is the obnoxiously loud music that continuously plays throughout the store. I’ve often wondered why stores insist on blasting music, when it gives customers a headache.
I was brought out of my observation when Joe, the sales associate, approached me with a wide grin on his face. Joe has helped me at Lululemon before and is their best sales person. He’s the typical yoga, store employee: friendly, enthusiastic, and health and fitness conscience. Wearing the new navy and blue sweatshirt and black running shorts, he looked the part.
“Back again?” said Joe.
“I haven’t been here in forever; I think it’s been a month or two. What are your favorite new pieces? I love the shirt you’re in, by the way,” I replied.
“So many awesome new basics have come in for men and women, a lot of statement pieces too. These tee-shirts are a no brainer, you can wear them out or lounge around; they’re easy,” Joe told me.
Joe’s right: those tee-shirts are great. I have a few and live in them. I noticed they had new colors and wondered if my mom had seen them, I called her over. Of course, my mom already saw them and had set aside a red one for my brother.
My mom had walked to the pant section, and I joined her in the back of the store. I had picked a black pair with a green and blue waistband. After I was finished trying on the pieces in the inviting dressing room that was big enough for two and had eight hooks to hang clothes on along with a bench, I headed to check out. I had decided on the yoga pants and black tee shirt that my mom had suggested; a plus being both were on sale. Joe spotted us and came to check us out.
“You guys are still here, maybe you should work here,” said Joe.
We had only been there about forty-five minutes, but I laughed anyway. I asked Joe about the health and fitness obsession within Harbor East. He replied, “People in Harbor East want to look good and dress well. They’re weight conscious and are always exercising like crazy. People who shop and live here have money so when focusing on fitness; they belong to gyms and don’t wear rags when exercising.”
After we left Lululemon, my mom and I were off to meet my aunt, Nancy, for lunch at Wit & Wisdom. We passed the gorgeous Katyn Memorial Fountain; it didn’t look like a fountain dedicated to a war memorial. It was exotic with tall gold swirls surrounded by a waterfall.
My mom and my aunt were across the street so I knew it was time to catch up to them. We entered the outdoor area of Wit & Wisdom and were seated right away. We had all eaten there last summer and fell in love with the restaurant. The price may not be worth it for the small portions, but sitting outside at The Four Seasons, overlooking the harbor, on a gorgeous October day with family, is beyond worthwhile.
We sat on contemporary black couches in a shaded area. Our waitress introduced herself as Lindsay and brought us waters and menus and all three of us ordered ice teas with them. As we waited for Lindsay’s return, we glanced at the menu. When Lindsay returned we asked for her recommendations.
“My favorite is definitely the tuna tartar for an appetizer and for entrees it’s a toss between the New England Lobster Roll and fish tacos.”
Lobster is by far my favorite meal; anytime I can have lobster, I’ll order it. Served on a small, square, white plate an abundance of fresh pink lobster sat in the middle of a toasted, thin, white roll and surrounded by a jalapeno sauce. Each bite filled with a sweat and lightly buttered taste and a hint of jalapeno, adding a spicy kick.
My mom ordered the crab salad, an abundance of crabmeat on top of field greens. My aunt chose fish tacos, two small tacos filled with fish with a side of tomatoes and beans. All three meals looked and tasted delicious, as to be expected at such a prominent restaurant.
Lindsay came back to the table, giving us the check. It was a little pricy for such small portions, but as my mom said, did we really need more? Probably not.
After lunch at Wit & Wisdom we walked inside The Four Seasons. I hadn’t been inside before and was dying to see the pool, spa, and gym. As we entered doormen, in their black uniforms instantly greeted us as the opened the door. Walking into the crisp, clean, tan interior brought a sense of relaxation, as expected. I walked to the concierge desk that had a slick, brown appearance, and two people working who were eager to assist us. I asked what floor the pool, gym and spa was on and they happily told me, the fourth floor.
As we loaded the elevator, we couldn’t help but notice how gorgeous the interior was. The contemporary decor entailed paintings and statues; you couldn’t help observe. I even thought they would be neat to have in our house, but that’s dreaming big. The elevator was spacious and played calming elevator music. It was hard to believe that we were in Baltimore; so far The Four Seasons felt more like mini-spa getaway.
We arrived on the fourth floor; the spa aroma hit us instantly. The smell of lavender, salts, and oils filled the air. The spa was to the right, the gym to the left, and straight-ahead the famous infinite pool. Since we could still smell the spa aroma, we headed to the spa to take a look around. As we entered, my mom told the receptionist that we were interested in spa treatments and taking a look around. She handed a brochure where we glanced at treatments. We asked if it would be possible for us to take a look at the steam room and sauna. The receptionist, rudely, responded, “You can only go back if you are receiving treatments today.” Disappointed that I wasn’t able to see the entire spa, my mom eagerly told me that we’ll have to schedule treatments and come back soon for a girls day, something I am looking forward to.
Since it was October, the pool was closed for the year; I had been to the pool once in the summer and could still picture people lounging, swimming, pool assistants setting up chairs and serving guests. This time the pool was empty. Not a soul was in sight, but luckily I was able to take in the view. The pool deck is a little small, but has a quaint charm. The pool wasn’t too attractive at this time of year, but then I walked over to the balcony at the view in front me. Baltimore was staring me in the face, the sun shinning bright, and I could see for miles. M&T Bank Stadium was in the distance; I could see the Ravens flags at the top of the stadium. I had a view of the entire Inner Harbor, the pavilion at Pier 6, The Rusty Scupper across the street, as well as The Ritz-Carlton Residences. For a breathtaking image of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, The Four Seasons poolside view is one of the best I’ve seen.
While walking around the pool, the gym could be seen through the glass windows and doors. Spotting the gym, it was our sign to go to the fitness center. We walked back inside through two, heavy, double doors and entered the gym. As you entered, on a table to the right were an abundance a fresh red and green apples, cold water bottles in buckets filled with ice, and towels to use during your workout and cold ones to cool you down after. It was a small workout room, with a grey and yellow interior, surrounded by glass walls and windows. All the treadmills and elliptical machines were facing the glass windows; as one exercised they had a magnificent view of the Inner Harbor. It definitely doesn’t feel like Baltimore City from this view.
“I wish I was in my exercise clothes. I would love to workout,” I said to my mom and aunt.
“We have the Lululemon purchases in the car if you want to,” my mom replied always ready to work out and loving the fact that I initiated the plan.
My aunt, on the other hand wasn’t too keen on the idea.
After a joyful day of shopping, eating, and relaxation, I still hadn’t had enough of Harbor East. I ventured back the following week with my cousin, Max. We were dressed in our exercise clothes with plans to workout at the new spinning studio. When we arrived, we were disappointed to hear that it’s not opening until January. It was a little chilly, but at least the sun was out.
“Are we going to Lululemon? You know how much I love Lulu,” said Max.
“If we have time, but I really need to shop at different stores today; let’s go to the new Under Armour store,” I said.
“I’ve been wanting to check it out; I heard they have better merchandise,” said Max.
Off to Under Armour we went; we parked in the same spot by Lululemon. As we walked towards Under Armour, we instantly noticed a huge Under Armour logo statue outside the store. Black metal rises above the store, covering the entranceway, with Under Armour spelled out in huge white letters. At night, the statue and letters light up, filling the store and streets with energy and brightness.
Walking up the steps and through the glass doors, we entered the store. With tan, wood walls, and a slate floor, the room was appealing to both Max and me. Bright colors filled the racks with athletic clothes of all types. Merchandise was sectioned off by gender and use, which made for easy shopping. Max and I both spent time browsing, but weren’t approached by a sales person, unlike my experience at Lululemon.
Since our exercise plans were ruined by the spinning studio’s construction, we had to come up with plan B. We walked around and envied the residents as they came home from a day of work, in their perfectly tailored suits, and into their luxurious apartment buildings, they call home.
As the sun was setting, the night sky began to cover the clouds. Streetlights lit up Harbor East, bringing a bright light of energy to the streets. Walking along the Harbor, we walked past the Under Armor store, and the lights were magnificent. The shiny brightness reflected along the water could be viewed from streets ahead. Down the street bright, electric, blue lights filled the distance. As I walked closer, they were streaming from Ouzo Bay, one of Harbor’s East prominent restaurants.
All aspects of Harbor East showed light on the town’s character. Being the future of Baltimore, Harbor East has become a trendsetter, bringing Baltimore a sense of style and fashion, fitness and health, and elegance and sophistication. Just a matter of years ago, there was nothing to do in Harbor East, and has now it has become the most sought out part of town, transforming itself. As I spent time in Harbor East, I enjoyed the finer things in life. Realizing that a little self-indulgence never hurt anyone, I took advantage of the shopping, fine dining, and relaxation at my disposal. Harbor East is proof that a former one-building town has turned into Baltimore’s get-a-way without getting away.