BALTIMORE, Maryland -- If the city of Baltimore serves as a convenient, easy-to-access neighbor of the chaotic hubbub of Washington D.C., the pretty little Scarborough Fair b&b serves as a convenient, calm, restorative inn nestled just far enough away from Baltimore's lively downtown center, the perfect resting place for a visitor.
Scarborough Fair is in one of the historic row houses of the gentrified Federal Hill district of Baltimore, now a neighborhood of young professionals who have brought it back from its desolate straits in the last years of the 20th Century.
Federal Hill was given its name in 1789 after serving as the location for the end of a parade following a civic celebration of the ratification of the new "Federal" constitution of the U.S.A. It is now a park overlooking the Inner Harbor, where mothers walk their toddlers in strollers, and in summer, picnickers spend the day off. It is on Key Street, named after Francis Scott Key, who wrote the words to "The Star Spangled Banner," and yet another talented native Baltimoran in a string of famous sons that includes Babe Ruth, Thurgood Marshall and John Waters.
The Scarborough Fair is right around the corner from Federal Hill and just two and a half blocks from Inner Harbor, the center of Baltimore's tourist activity with its aquarium, big hotels, boat rides, restaurants and clubs. It is about one and a half blocks from the Maryland Science Center and the American Visionary Arts Museum, the latter a delightfully quirky place where unschooled artists of all kinds -- painters, sculptors, weavers, quilters, woodworkers, you name it -- display their talents.
The front of the museum is decorated with mosaic windows created by some of Baltimore's underprivileged children, and the school bus that stands just outside the front door, encrusted with bunnies, glitter, angel wings and other assorted decorative elements, gives a hint of the fantasy that lies inside.
On the top floor, there's also a restaurant -- Mr. Rain's Fun House -- with a nice menu of local foods cooked with that special Baltimore-southern style.
Restaurants abound in this neighborhood, however, so your choice for dinner around Federal Hill is abundant; just ask Scarborough innkeepers Barry Werner and Jeff Finlay for advice on that score.
Werner and Finlay know their food -- and no matter when you arrive you will almost certainly smell the delicious aromas of their preparations for the next morning's breakfast. Everything in their establishment, including the biscotti and granola, is homemade, and their breakfast menus offer a stunning variety of imaginative combinations. We enjoyed gingerbread waffles topped with braised pears, blueberry muffins infused with mascarpone, and coconut granola while chatting with artist Barbara Chiminello of New York, who comes here on a regular basis to visit her two grandchildren in the Federal Hill neighborhood and stays at Scarborough Fair "to calm myself afterwards."
The rooms feature enormous four-poster beds, working fireplaces, Jacuzzi bathtubs and top-of-the-line Colonial decor. One touch we've never seen before in a b&b is a selection of Baltimore postcards already stamped. Also, each room, priced from $199 to $239, comes with an off-street parking place, which is valuable and appreciated in this downtown neighborhood.
Scarborough Fair b&b is at 801 Charles Street, and the telephone numbers are 410-837-0010 and 877-954-2747. Its website is www.scarboroughfairbanb.com and the e-mail address for the inn is: <email@example.com>