3:28 PM EDT, June 11, 2014
John Waters is, at press time, the all-time greatest motherfucking Baltimorean ever. Over the years, he’s won plenty of Best of Baltimore awards, including “Best Local Eccentric” and “Best Role Model,” and inspired others, like “Best Bar That John Waters Goes To” and “Best Thing Everyone Says About Every Bar: John Waters Goes There.” He embodies everything we love about the city, lovingly yet honestly: He is classy and trashy, brilliant and vulgar, hated and beloved, queer and . . . well, queer. He is a champion of the eccentric and the weirdo, he stands up for what is singular and strange in the world. And he’s still going strong—he spent last summer hitchhiking around the country (and will publish his adventures next year). We have grown up with him over the last 36 years, and he has defined so much of what is alt about our alt-weekly.
Since Justin Fenton starting covering police and crime for The Sun, he’s been a Best of Baltimore regular, winning the “Best Journalist” and “Best Twitter Feed” categories in the Readers Poll multiple times each, and as an editors pick for “Best Journalist” in 2010 (with Peter Hermann). Fenton stands out because, even in a diminished newsroom serving a city with lowered expectations from its daily newspaper, he consistently turns in superior work, doggedly chasing down a volume of stories that in years past might have been covered by three or more reporters. Even better, he takes us, his Twitter followers, along virtually every step of the way.
The Hardware crown for Bestness has been duct-taped onto Belle’s Hardware-head at least three times, and as of now, we see no reason not to bolt it on permanently. Belle Hardware is where we go not just for the right kind of elastic caulk or a certain type of screw that we only need one of, or the Allen-wrench screw-thing that goes onto the thing that then screws into the thing on the hole-cutting saw blade we borrowed because we’re installing a deadbolt and no fucking idea what we’re doing, Belle Hardware is where we go for smart answers to dumb questions and a friendly but all-business staff that knows we love them but really don’t want to hang out all afternoon.
It’s hard to keep track of all the Helmand’s Best of Baltimore awards: Over the years the Afghani dining room on Charles Street has won “Best First Date Restaurant,” “Best Restaurant for Special Occasions,” “Best Middle Eastern Restaurant” (multiple times), “Best Restaurant for Vegetarians” (multiple times), and, simply, “Best Restaurant” (multiple times). That it has remained among our favorites for so long is a testament to its unmatched combination of exquisite food (the kaddo bowrani, or pan-fried pumpkin, alone deserves a James Beard Award, an Oscar, a Nobel, and an Olympic gold), elegant dining room, and deeply charming service, all for truly shockingly reasonable prices. Baltimore is lucky to have such a dining institution.
For us, perhaps the best thing about Max’s is not merely its beer selection (though we’ve awarded it “Best Selection” every year, save for one, since 2005), but that, despite being the undisputed champion of Baltimore’s beer bars, Max’s remains a bar you can hang out in as if it were your local pub. If you log enough hours and display enough curiosity, the knowledgeable bartenders here (we’re particularly fond of Bob Simko and Jamie Ritter) will establish shtick with you and key in on your stylistic preferences; they’ll also let you know if there’s something on the list you need to try. We’ve benefited from their wisdom at Max’s’ many annual celebrations: Belgian Beer Fest (including Sour and Wild Day), German Beer Fest, and HopFest, among others. But a festival doesn’t need to happen for you to sample some of the hardest-to-find beer in the nation here—it just needs to be a day of the week.
Baltimore Museum of Art
Under the guidance of art-scene dynamo Doreen Bolger (“Best Do-Gooder,” 2011), the BMA has transformed itself into a major player not only in the stuffier upper echelons of the art scene but down at the ground level. The museum reopened its Contemporary Wing this year and included work by street artist Gaia and Wham City wizard Jimmy Joe Roche, plus an impressive new collection of international work. We’ve, of course, quibbled with a few curatorial choices over the years and were saddened by the recent layoffs, but the BMA is exactly what a local arts institution should be. Over the years it has won “Best Exhibit” (2005), “Best Place to See Art” (2006), “Best Local Art Representing” (2007), “Best Museum Series” (2007), and more than one “Best Museum” (1999, 2001, 2003) or “Best Big Museum” (2000). It can even claim “Best Place to Score” (1999). With more renovations scheduled to be completed this year, we’re looking forward to seeing what else the BMA has in store for us.
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