Peering over the second floor balcony of Recreation Pier on Tuesday morning, the strip of cobblestones on Thames Street suggest a stark dividing line: On one side, Fells Point, and on the other, a Hugo Boss commercial.
Black SUVs deposit slick suit after slick suit onto the front "stoop" (as designer Patrick Sutton calls it) of the Sagamore Pendry for the grand opening of Under Armour overlord Kevin Plank's inaugural venture into hotels.
Across the street, passersby look—among them a green-bearded dude holding a coffee cup, beer delivery guys doing their rounds, and Haitham, taking a break outside Mona Lisa Tobacco & Gifts, where he works.
"Right now, we're shifting to cigars," he says, taking a drag off a rollie. He points out the front windows, newly re-decorated with posters for the cigarette's sophisticated cousin. Inside, an iconic Romeo y Julieta cigar box is conspicuously placed.
Haitham says that since construction began on the Sagamore Pendry, the shop has recorded a 50 percent sales loss. But they've been preparing for the Pendry's opening, and a new type of clientele:
"Our usual customer is like, 20 something years old, buying glassware and cigarettes," he says. But now, instead of buying up more one-hitters, "we're aiming for top-shelf cigars," maybe $35 a pop, "hoping that's what they’re looking for."
A few shopfronts away, past the new Smoothie King and a Sagamore-branded tote bag shop, Fells mainstay Chuck Doering, who founded the original John Stevens bar decades ago, and in 2015 re-opened it as Penny Black, observed from his usual perch on the bar's Pendry-facing patio.
A MICA-trained painter and sculptor who has been on the Fells Point bar scene since the '70s, Doering says he could have done without the parking nightmare caused by all the construction vehicles, but looks forward to a pick-up in business.
"When it starts to attract the rich and the famous, people will come to the Point hoping to get a glimpse of these people. It's going to increase tourism," he says with his usual stoicism. "This construction job has totally annihilated Fells Point. But this is a vast improvement."
A bar regular strolled past and put in his two cents. "I don't know what to make of some of their choices. But it's good that it's here," he says, and shuffled on his way.
Meanwhile, stepping out of a black SUV at Recreation Pier, once the set of "Homicide: Life on the Street," Police Commissioner Kevin Davis somehow took on the air of a rock star.
Same for always-chic Mayor Catherine Pugh, in a scarlet dress and floral stilettos, looking every bit the prospective customer.
A bellhop in a burgundy uniform swings open a side door leading to an enormous staircase.
"Good morning. Welcome to the Sagamore Pendry Baltimore," he says, as if they're entering another world—which in some ways they are.
Awaiting guest speakers inside the second floor ballroom, Mike Felts, a construction worker on the site, chats about the "young, cool" atmosphere that made Sagamore the "best customer [he's] ever worked for."
As fellow guests nibble on tiny chocolate chip cookies, he recalls with good humor about how his team struggled to build the entire waterfront pool area while wearing mandatory life jackets. One guy fell in, but no one was hurt.
Kevin Plank was a conspicuous no-show at the ribbon-cutting for the $60 million project, but his brother Scott Plank and a handful of other players introduced the "new luxury" facility in a string of speeches united by a few buzzwords: "amazing," "humbled," "incredible," "new luxury," and "passion." Many out-of-town partners described "falling in love" with the city.
"Is this not exciting? Is this not exciting?" Mayor Pugh asks the crowd to cheers, dropping a few inside jokes about historic tax breaks to the hoteliers.
"We look forward to your success in our city," she told them.
Scott Plank praised the "city of immigrants"—immigrants who filtered through Locust Point, once one of the biggest points of entry into this country; now home to Under Armour HQ. He boasted 200 new jobs at the hotel. Gov. Larry Hogan placed the project among those that have made Maryland a top-10 state for economic growth.
Visitors exit the ballroom to half-full glasses of bubbly, lemon arancini, and miniature beet crostini, and meet back on the street for the cutting of a giant red ribbon with a huge pair of gold scissors.
The 128-room property, with interiors by Fells Point local Patrick Sutton (a regular designer for Kevin Plank), aims to pay homage to the "gritty industrial heritage" of the area.
The rooms include carpet designs inspired by patterns on industrial rust. Ivory-colored reliefs of Kevin Plank's own horse hang on the bedroom walls. A signature-scented hand cream from a boutique apothecary sits on the bathroom basin—its scent lingers for hours. Rooms range from $300 to $12,000 a night.
Less prohibitive is the central lobby, billed as a "community living room." But it's not a free-for-all: "You should probably buy something," clarifies Hugh, a PR rep from New York giving tours of the space.
In the lobby lounge, otherwise dark and moody, he points out a large, custom painting by Baltimore street artist Gaia. The painter describes his murals as "responding to place," an approach that usually manifests in socially critical pieces that cloak the city's vacants, or jumbo-sized portraits of arabbers on the side of their stable in Sandtown. But, Gaia says, the brief for this project was actually inspired by work he did up in Jersey City.
"They told me to celebrate local American folklore in the format of some of the past work I had done, juxtaposing different historical figures with local flora," he told City Paper on the phone.
He did not attend the ribbon cutting.
About 50 feet away is a true marker of aspirational public, or semi-public, art: a Fernando Botero sculpture. The artist's unmistakable, comically bulbous-yet-regal pieces also hold court in the lobby of New York City's Time Warner Center, among skyscrapers in Singapore, and all over Botero's native Colombia.
After all, the Sagamore Pendry sees itself as a world-class facility that from the start has aimed, as Scott Plank told the crowd, to be "not just the best in Baltimore or in Maryland, but the best anywhere."
Continuing his tour out on the terrace, Hugh points out the finer points of the space: an infinity pool, plush cabanas, and shipping container-style fittings embellished with elegant wood, and a poolside bar that, in keeping with pier regulations, can be quickly dismantled at any time.