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You've Come a Long Way, Station North

OutTakes Cafe General Manager Keith Gilchriest. Photo by Arianne Teeple
OutTakes Cafe General Manager Keith Gilchriest. Photo by Arianne Teeple
Station North has seen its fair share of changes over the years. Before it got its name, the uptown Baltimore neighborhood was merely a collection of run-down commercial buildings and vacant rowhomes, stigmatized by the crime the area seemed to foster.

Now, ten years after it was designated an arts and entertainment district, Station North is seeing new businesses, affordable artists residences and events that draw evening traffic -- a major turnaround from the place it once was.

Lost City Diner, Liam Flynn’s Ale House, and OutTakes Cafe are just a handful of the establishments that the occasional Station North visitor might not recognize. As some of the newest additions to the neighborhood-- all three opened their doors just within the last year-- they’re giving hope to Station North supporters.

“This area has always attracted creative, entrepreneurial people, and it has been regaining that,” says Ben Stone, executive director of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District Inc. “People are willing to try out new ideas, and other people are willing to follow them.”

The owner of Joe Squared is still planning to open a Mexican restaurant and the area could also get a new theater. (See related story). 

Meanwhile, two long-dormant properties appear to be getting new life. The Baltimore Development Corp. last month issued a bid to redevelop the Parkway Theatre to support film and live performances. And Station North Development Partners LLC is revamping the long-vacant Chesapeake restaurant at 1701 N. Charles St. and an adjacent lot.

New businesses will hopefully bring more nighttime traffic to the area -- some of which will be lost once Everyman Theatre leaves in the fall to a bigger space on the west side.

The local resident behind OutTakes Cafe, which opened in February, wanted to get in on the action, too. General Manager Keith Gilchriest says he is happy with the profits so far, especially considering the cafe wasn’t supposed to actually make any money in the beginning.

“Business is good,” Gilchriest says. “For a start-up business with no reputation, it’s been a good first year.”

And while the earnings might be modest to start, it’s all a new business can ask for to be in the black in a neighborhood actively pushing for its success.

In addition to the new businesses popping up, major projects and renovations nearby have piqued interest in Station North. The City Arts housing project-- renovated, low-rent apartments located on the corner of East Oliver Street and Greenmount Avenue -- offers an affordable place for artists to live and work.

MICA’s renovation of its soon-to-be graduate building on North Avenue has also generated excitement in the area. The building will feature a new lecture hall, gallery and café in the fall. These changes alone will hopefully bring more students and artists to the neighborhood.

“One of the real strengths of Station North is that it is so many different things layered on top of itself,” Stone says. He uses a metaphor to explain the importance of varied attractions in the neighborhood: “Landscape architects and horticulturists know to diversify the kinds of trees they plant so they’re more resilient. The same is true with any neighborhood.”

Final Fridays events, which started in October, encourage commuters going in and out of Penn Station to hang out a little later by providing live entertainment, food, and art. of live entertainment. Getting more nightlife in the neighborhood will be crucial once Everyman moves.

“There’s more theater activity going on now than there was eight years ago when [Everyman] made the decision to leave,” Central Baltimore Partnership Director Joseph McNeely says. McNeely looks at the move as an opportunity for “fresh blood” in the space as a positive. “We’ve grown in net terms, so even when there’s turnover, it’s good. That’s what makes for a lively arts district.”

In spite of the persistent perception that Station North is an unsafe neighborhood, you see more folks spending their Friday and Saturday nights on North Avenue-- something that you wouldn’t have seen a few years ago, Stone says.

It’s a far cry from what the neighborhood was as recently as 2005 when Joe Squared first opened.

“It was lonely when we first got up there,” owner Joe Edwardsen says. Now, he says, it’s a neighborhood full of proactive people pushing to make things happen. Just this year, he opened second location in Power Plant Live and was featured in Food Network Magazine and, soon, on will Guy Fieri’s TV show "Diners, Drive-ins and Dives."

And he is still interested in opening a Mexican restaurant called Barbacoa on North Avenue, though it is several years out. While negotiations for one spot fell through, he is in preliminary talks with the developer about opening in another location across the street from Joe Squared.

Cassie Paton is a Baltimore freelance writer who wouldn’t mind experiencing city life one day. She blogs at www.wittytitlehere.com and tweets @WittyCassieHere.

Photos by Arianne Teeple

OutTakes Cafe General Manager Keith Gilchriest

OutTakes Cafe

Joe Squared Owner Joe Edwardsen

Joe Squared in Station North

Joe Squared in Station North

Everyman Theater in Station North

Liam Flynn's Ale House
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