Correction to This Article
An illustration that appeared with the June 7 Escapes column on Baltimore's HonFest ran without proper credit information. The image is a logo copyrighted by Leslie Smith of It's Art, Hon! and Smith Designs.

Baltimore Remains a Beehive of Kitsch Glam

Oh, beehive! Dolled-up revelers fill Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood for last year's HonFest, the city's annual nod to all things cat's-eye and bouffant.
Oh, beehive! Dolled-up revelers fill Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood for last year's HonFest, the city's annual nod to all things cat's-eye and bouffant. (Bill Ballantyne)
By Ellen Ryan
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, June 7, 2006

We love Baltimore for many things, from its baseball stadium to its harborside tourist haunts. But many of us love it best for its "hon" factor: the cat's-eye glasses, the bouffant hairdos, the boas and housedresses made immortal by local director John Waters and still found in certain diners, five-and-dimes and vintage clothing shops.

Saturday, the hon factor will go off the charts with the annual return of HonFest to the streets of Hampden, the most Hon-tense of Baltimore neighborhoods. Some 20,000 revelers are expected to celebrate the mystique of the kind of fun, sassy, melting-pot woman we imagine keeping a kitsch-filled house shaded by aluminum awnings.

I wanted to find these folks in their natural habitat as a way of paying homage to my own Hon roots. My grandmother was a soap-factory laborer whose jewelry jangled and whose Jean Naté cologne made my childish nose wrinkle. In photos, my young mom is wearing black cat's-eye glasses and an orange-print dress.

"The generation between went to college and tried to leave all that," says Susannah Siger, who owns two shops in Hampden. "When I got my hair done up and the chiffon scarf and the glasses, it made me think about my grandmother and how they struggled, and the closeness of the family and the neighborhood. And it's fun!

"It's even more important to get in touch with your inner Hon if you normally dress in a navy suit," says Singer.

Yes, Washington, that means us. Here, then, is a guide to some of Baltimore's Hon-ier locales:

· Jimmy's Restaurant, a famous Fells Point greasy spoon said to be frequented by scrappy Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski. Barb wasn't there when I dropped in, nor were any beehive hairdos, but a widely diverse line of hungry locals was -- waiting for big portions of plain pancakes, burgers, crab cakes and all-day booze with fries and slaw. "Probably the best cheap eats to be found in the neighborhood," Baltimore City Paper says. 801 S. Broadway, 410-327-3273.

· L.P. Steamers, a narrow crab joint in Locust Point, is a great stop on the way to Fort McHenry (and reachable by water taxi). Hot crabs, coated in Old Bay, are sold by size and whacked with mallets on rolls of brown paper. The TV is tuned to ESPN. Firefighters at the next table light up and call the waitress "baby doll." Two hefty crustaceans, a terrific crab cake sandwich, a side of broccoli and two brews came to $25 . 1100 E. Fort Ave., 410-576-9294,

· Obrycki's, in upper Fells Point, is more upscale but with a similar vibe: family-owned since 1944, with wood paneling, brick walls, brown paper and a crowd of regulars. Unlike L.P. Steamers, Obrycki's is open only March through November. 1727 E. Pratt St., 410-732-6399,

· Cross Street Market gives a definite taste of old -- and new -- Baltimore. Stalls in this long brick warehouse include Piedigrotta Italian Bakery, Nunnally Bros. Poultry & Choice Meats (131 years here), Kwon's Fresh Produce, Steve's Lunch (an L-shaped counter), Baltimore's Best Bar-b-que and Mondawmin Fried Chicken & Seafood. Buy a thick four-inch square of baklava for $2.75 and head for the far end: Nick's , a bar and grill with an open cinder-block kitchen, a raw bar and stained glass that spells "fresh fish" in Greek. At 3 on a gorgeous Saturday afternoon, the place was packed. On Cross Street between Light and Charles streets, .

(Bill Ballantyne)
· Patterson Bowling Center on the Fells Point/Canton line is one place where duckpin bowling is active in the city that gave birth to the game (reportedly invented at Howard Street's Diamond Alleys in 1900). Leagues are big in this city, and all ages enjoy duckpin, where holeless balls weigh less than four pounds. Bonus: You get three balls per frame rather than two. At Patterson, games are $4 each, shoe rental is $2. 2105 Eastern Ave., 410-675-1011,

· Hampden, Hon Central. This vintage 'hood just off of I-83 is slightly gritty and not entirely discovered, with four blocks known as the Avenue full of eateries, antiques and shops from thrift to high art. Waters filmed his 1998 movie "Pecker" here ("Hairspray," his best-known film that's full of bizarre Hon types, was filmed in East Baltimore's Highlandtown), and he picks up his mail at Atomic Books ( 1100 W. 36th St., 410-662-4444, ).

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