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How to Take a Digital Detox in Baltimore

Go offline and get real with some of Charm City's old school and analog favorites

After years of increasingly rapid-fire communications—remember when asking a question meant calling someone on the phone, or heading to a library?—it feels like recently, we’ve all been trying to find ways to slow down. No one’s ditching their smartphone for a carrier pigeon, but the trend of “slow food” evolved into interest in slower, well, everything. As a result: An upcrop of throwback, hands-on businesses that focus on giving customers an in-person experience based on discovery, nostalgia, and tactile pleasure.

Baltimore’s certainly not immune to the trend. In fact, the city’s already home to a host of subcultural concepts: Take, for example, The Book Thing in Waverly, a book “store” devoted to giving out volumes of books, totally free. Charles Village recently gained Beyond Video, a crowdsourced, volunteer-run, and membership-based collection of VHS tapes, DVDs, and Blu-Rays discs created by the Baltimore Video Collective and funded on Kickstarter. The concept has resonated with locals who miss community-based services like video stores.

“We all spend so much time online, and browsing online can feel draining and isolating, whereas browsing an old-school book, record, or video store feels energizing,” says Beyond Video co-founder Eric Hatch. “People are realizing they miss the conversation and recommendations they get in person, which produce a shared sense of discovery that no algorithm can deliver; and they also miss engaging with the beauty of the artwork and packaging.”

The best way to get your analog groove on? Through old-school and immersive experiences alike. Whether you’re more interested in leisurely browsing books or bowling, Baltimore has something for you.

GET LOST IN A BOOK

Nothing online will ever replace that book smell. Prefer to soak it up in person? Baltimore is chock full of small, independently owned bookshops and historic libraries. Hampden’s Atomic Books (3620 Falls Rd.) is a neighborhood institution that’s known for its unparalleled collection of comic books and graphic novels, zines, art books, and pop-culture treasures. This place has quirk in spades—right down to the tagline, “literary finds for mutated minds—and rumor has it that John Waters receives his mail here.

Newer to the scene is Greedy Reads (1744 Aliceanna St.), a light-flooded book shop in Fell’s Point that was opened last year by Julia Fleischaker, a Maryland native who moved back after working in publishing for nearly two decades in New York. A deep love of books and desire to create community drives her store’s ethos and programming, which includes a book club and discussions.

The magnificent architecture of the historic George Peabody Library (17 E. Mount Vernon Pl.) is reason enough to visit this spot—but once you get your fill of the historic beauty, head into the six levels of stacks, which count more than 300,000 books, some of which date to the Renaissance.

Want to linger over books with a cup of coffee (and maybe follow with a delicious snack)? If that sounds like your ideal afternoon, check out Charles Villages’ Bird in Hand (11 E 33rd St.), a hybrid cafe-meets-bookstore concept from the culinary minds behind award-winning Woodberry Kitchen and established bookseller the Ivy Bookshop. A locally sourced menu meets a carefully curated book selection—the perfect pair.

TAKE IN THE TUNES

Perhaps you like the idea of Bird in Hand’s books-and-coffee vibe, but are more musicophile than bookworm. If so, head to the new record-shop-slash-cafe Baby’s on Fire (1010 Morton St.) in Mount Vernon, which serves up Stumptown coffee brews and a small menu of light food alongside new and used records. (It’s only appropriate that the name comes from the owners’ favorite song by Brian Eno.) Music debates welcomed.

Baltimore’s strong independent music scene means there are plenty of other music shops to check out, including Fell’s Point's The Sound Garden (1616 Thames St.), which has racked up more than 50 awards in its 25-year history, including ranking second best record store in the nation by Rolling Stone magazine. More than 100,000 new and used CDs, LPs, DVDs, video games and pieces of DJ equipment are available for browsing at the shop. New to the same neighborhood is Hare’s Breath Records (602 S. Broadway), which specializes in classic rock essentials and a truly eclectic, wide-ranging collection that’s informed by the personal taste of the owners, who operate a record label on the side and harbor a passion for unusual music projects. And over in Hampden, swing by Celebrated Summer Records (3616 Falls Rd.) for a selection focused on punk, hardcore, jazz, soul, and indie rock, plus a local section devoted to Baltimore-bred bands.

Travel back in time to the golden era of jazz at Keystone Korner Jazz Club in Harbor East. Inspired by owner Todd Barkan's former West Coast club from the 70s and 80s, Keystone Korner has live music seven days a week and a retro Americana menu created by restaurateur Robert Wiedmaier. The club joins others like An Die Musik, Germano’s Piattini, and Bertha’s Mussels in bringing back Baltimore's strong reputation as a jazz town.

CATCH A FILM

The instant gratification of streaming video may be great, but it can’t hold a candle to the glamour of yesteryear’s theaters. Baltimore has several historic cinemas that have retained their old-school style. In Station North, the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Parkway Theatre (5 W. North Ave.) combines its original Italianate architecture, which was restored in an $18-million renovation in 2016, with modern programming that showcases a diverse selection of independent, international, documentary, classic and cult-favorite films.

Find similarly historic chops at the Senator (5904 York Rd.), an Art Deco landmark near Belvedere Square that retains its original terrazzo flooring, sunburst decor detailing, gold screen curtain, and a “Walk of Fame” in the concrete outside the entrance. These days, the Senator screens classic revivals like The Princess Bride and a small selection of new releases.

Two blocks north of Penn Station is the Charles Theater (1711 N. Charles St.), which offers first-run specialty films, plus foreign and classic cinema, all in a historic building that began showing movies in 1939. The theater has a rich history, including roots as a streetcar barn, a reincarnation as a dance hall, and later, as one of the first venues to screen early works by Baltimore native John Waters.

For a more open environment, catch one of Baltimore’s free outdoor film screenings and enjoy a movie while sitting on a blanket under the stars. The American Visionary Art Museum’s Flicks from the Hill (800 Key Hwy.) is kicking off with a sing-along version of The Sound of Music. Films on the Pier pairs a waterfront breeze with screenings at the end of Broadway Pier in Fell’s Point. Pics in the Park at Center Plaza (110 W. Fayette St.) downtown offers screenings May through September.

GO OLD-SCHOOL

If getting unplugged means going old-school, check out some of Baltimore’s best throwback spots:

Anglophiles with a hankering for proper tea will be into Emma’s Tea Spot (5500 Harford Rd.), a Hamilton tea shop run by Surrey native and namesake Emma Canoles. Make a reservation for High Tea to experience a traditional English tea, right in Baltimore.

Launched as a nod to the 19th-century barbershop experience, South Calvert Street’s The QG (31 S. Calvert St.) has since expanded to become a department store that includes a spa, clothing boutique, speakeasy, and restaurant. The result: Six floors of options for escape into the nostalgia of yesterday—but with an eye toward today’s luxurious self-care. Stop by for a shoe-shine, a barbershop facial and hot-lather shave, or a massage, or shop the clothier’s high-style offerings and follow up with a sip of a classic Old Fashioned cocktail at the CLOCK Bar.

The birthplace of duckpin bowling may be up for debate, but legend has it that it was invented in the early 1900s by two local baseball players. Either way, Baltimore is home to the nation’s oldest duckpin center, Patterson Bowling Center (2105 Eastern Ave.), which celebrated 90 years in business in 2017.

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