Driving on I-95 just north of the Fort McHenry Tunnel, you cannot help but notice the grinning, mustachioed cartoon character that appears to be winking at you. Though National Bohemian hasn’t brewed its beer at the intersection of O’Donnell and Conkling for 35-plus years, the company’s iconic mascot remains a ubiquitous reminder of this city’s industrial past.
» Brewers Hill boundary: Eastern/Haven/Conkling/O’Donnell
» Neighboring areas: South of Highlandtown, east of Canton, and north of Canton’s industrial area.
» Latest Brewers Hill news
Brewers Hill – the home of “Mr. Boh” and the former National Brewing Company – is a neighborhood that celebrates the commerce and production it was known for in a bygone era, while embracing development and growth. It’s an eclectic mix of young professionals new to the city, and older residents whose rowhomes have been passed down from one generation to the next.
Jason Lancaster falls into the former category. The 32-year-old engagement director at Mindgrub Technologies in Catonsville grew up in Parkville but rarely ventured into the city. In the late 1990s, a high school-aged Lancaster got a job in The Broom Factory on Boston Street and began familiarizing himself more with the area. When he decided to buy a house in 2002, Brewers Hill was an obvious choice for its location, its affordability, and its everyday conveniences – particularly compared to its neighbor to the west.
“I mainly chose [Brewers Hill] for the parking. I had worked in Canton, on and off, since 1997, and I just knew how parking had changed this entire area,” Lancaster said. “I knew that I did not want to be in the heart of Canton, coming home at 9, thinking, ‘Where am I going to park?’”
The Fait Avenue home Lancaster eventually selected “had a lot of potential” and was “on the cheaper end of the spectrum.” From the exterior, it is a fairly nondescript brick structure with stain-glass above the front door and front window. The interior, meanwhile, called for a full-scale renovation, something Lancaster said was “unusual” at the time in Brewers Hill.
“We were one of the first houses in Brewers Hill to fully renovate,” said Emily Lancaster, 32, Jason’s then-girlfriend and now wife. “There were others, but when you would talk to people, it was like, ‘Oh, really?’ Now every few months, there are more.”
A walk through the neighborhood with Jason, Emily and their 18-month-old son, August, reveals a hint of the development – both residential and commercial. On Conkling, Blue Hill Tavern and Of Love And Regret stand out as relatively new, trendy bar/restaurants that draw young families like the Lancasters and other Canton-area professionals. The neighborhood is also marked by old-school Baltimore corner bars, like Grundy’s and Knotty Pine.
“The interesting thing is sometimes those places have their regulars, but there’s a lot of crossover, too,” Emily said. “You don’t end up drawing the same types of people. Yes, they have regulars, but [there’s a mix of the neighborhood]. That’s what I think is cool about some of these older areas. … You do get a blend of people from a lot of walks of life.”
Other neighborhood highlights for the Lancasters include Baltimore Threadquarters (a fabric and fiber arts supply store on Conkling and Eastern) and the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s Southeast Anchor Branch, located right across the street. With plenty to do in the neighborhood, plus much-needed quiet and a relatively low crime rate, the Lancasters are considering staying in the area for awhile.
Jason, Emily and August Lancaster in Brewers Hill. (Kalani Gordon/Baltimore Sun)
“A lot of our friends [have] stayed in the area,” Jason said. “They’re all kind of young, [and] everyone’s looking for that hipish thing of living in the city and having that city life. For the most part, we just keep getting more and more friends” in the neighborhood.
A few remaining plants and warehouses still dot Haven Street, making the neighborhood’s eastern border a somewhat anachronistic answer to everything on Conkling. With the Natty Boh tower as its anchor, and a healthy mix of history and evolution, Brewers Hill remains an attractive Southeast neighborhood for Baltimoreans young and old.
This is part of an ongoing series from The Baltimore Sun about the history, culture, and future of Baltimore’s neighborhoods. Have a suggestion for what neighborhood to explore next? Let us know.