The main reason for dining out in some Washington restaurants is to see people eat who may be famous; the main reason for dining out at Harbor Place in Baltimore is to watch people eat who probably aren't famous, but oh how they eat.
Harbor Place, the commercial anchor of the beautiful revitalized Inner Harbor area, is, on a summer evening, a glorious mass pig-out. It's a shopping mall for gourmet and glutton, with carryouts featuring everything from anchovies (chocolate-covered) to zucchini (fried puffs). There are more than a dozen restaurants, most with balconies or terraces for drinking and watching the dusk settle in and the lights come on (particularly on the masts and rigging of the War of 1812 frigate Constellation). The pedal boats and water taxis scoot about, and the ferries and sightseeing boats come and go. And people eat.
There's remarkably little formal entertainment -- no night clubs where jazz or singers command attention. The people who frequent Harbor Place are interested in each other partying, so the closest thing to formal entertainment is Phillips' saloon where a rickytick band plays sing-alongs.
Many of the restaurants started out with entertainment when Harbor Place opened two years ago, "but it soon became obvious that most patrons either paid no attention or even resented it," said a ma.itre d' at City Lights. Itinerant jugglers and acrobats do draw gatherings on the dock, and the party mood seems to promote generosity for them when the hats are passed.
And, compared to Washington, the cost is much lower, starting with parking -- a flat $3 for an entire evening. The tab for two at City Lights recently for drinks, dinner, wine and tip was $55.20. The main course was a "Maryland bouillabaisse," crab soup with lobster tails, clams, mussels, scallops, flounder . . .
"They should provide doggie thermoses," one participant commented as the leftovers were cleared away by the busboy. GETTING TO HARBOR PLACE -- Take I-95 (there are construction delays on the Baltimore-Washington Parkway) to its very end "Downtown" and bear right at the first intersection and go right (east) on Pratt Street, the second traffic light. Parking lots abound on the north side of Pratt Street or within half a block on any of the streets running north.