Travel
2 min

Gay morning, Baltimore

A city as campy and gay as its cinematic spawn, John Waters

Cult filmmaker John Waters made Baltimore famous to a legion of his fans.

Fanatical John Waters fans make the pilgrimage to his hometown of Baltimore, where he’s shot every one of his films. Stuck in between New York and Washington, it’s a city that’s as campy and gay as its cinematic spawn and unabashedly uses a shit-eating drag queen, Waters's muse Divine, as one of the faces of its travel advertising campaigns.

In this interview, Waters shares the inside scoop on his home turf, which is full of surprisingly fun haunts and kitschy attractions.

On hair-raising finds: We have great vintage stores in Baltimore. Where do you think all the New York vintage stores get all their clothing from? You can go to the worst-looking place and find great stuff.” 

Baltimore’s Hampden neighbourhood is a hipster’s paradise full of great curio shops and thrift stores that have provided costumes and props for some of Waters’s films. The nearby Café Hon (1002 W 36th St) is dedicated to the working-class hair hoppers seen in Hairspray, and the culture beacon Atomic Books & Atomic Pop (3620 Falls Rd) is the best shop for zines and DIY crafts and houses a display of Waters’s infamous annual Christmas cards.

On deadly tourist traps: “I’m trying to talk a lot of people into being buried there because we wanted one-stop shopping. A temple graveyard, a cult graveyard.”

Waters’s muse Divine died too young, and now fans visit her grave at Prospect Hill Cemetery (701 York Rd, in Towson, just north of downtown Baltimore) and leave trinkets, potato chips and cha-cha heels in homage to her filthy glamour.

For a more lively Divine tribute, the American Visionary Art Museum (800 Key Hwy), dedicated to outsider art, is home to a 15-foot papier-mâché Divine and has a gift shop that, according to Waters, is “one of the best gift shops in any museum.”

For more camp history lessons, stop by Geppi's Entertainment Museum (301 W Camden St), dedicated to all things pop culture, including vintage toys, posters and more featuring beloved idols from Wonder Woman to James Dean.

On barflying: “Baltimore does mixed bars really, really well. All the hipster bars are mixed, gay and straights together. I’m against separatism. I want to hear about everyone’s bad night. I wouldn’t advise you to go to all the bars I go to — you’d get beat up in them. I like the working-class bars with karaoke nights and people that are really kind of alarming.”

When it comes to bar hopping safely, Waters recommends his favourite haunt, Club Charles (1724 N Charles St), a bohemian booze joint whose original owner, Esther West, is featured in Role Models. Waters also recommends getting blitzed at the kitschy retro restaurant/bar Rocket to Venus (3360 Chestnut Ave).

If you’re hunting for local guys for some Waters-approved filth, check out the busy Club Hippo (1 W Eager St) or, once it reopens, The Eagle (9 W 21st St), which is under new ownership but “temporarily closed for renovations.”

For the most up-to-date travel information on gay Baltimore, see our City Guide, Listings Guide, Events Guide and Activities Guide.

For more information, check out visitbaltimore.ca.