I might be prone to exaggerating when slightly drunk, writes Steve Zacharanda.
So when propping up the the bar at the brilliantly named Bad Decisions (the sign just says Make Some) I was quick to say: "Fell's Point, Baltimore is the best place to drink in the whole of America."
And I meant it. And when I woke up the next day I felt it.
Baltimore's historic cobbled neighbourhood dates back to the 18th century which in American terms is like finding a cave with Neolithic paintings, with a bar. The Charm City will not be the top of any UK tourist USA bucket list, except Wire fans, but it should.
The Maryland port is close to Philadelphia, Washington and New York and is a great base for a trip to the Eastern seaboard. The city has some of the most significant historic sites in America but more importantly one the world's greatest places to get drunk - Fell's Point.
It doesn't take much imagination to imagine hard-drinking sailors from across the world stumbling from tavern to tavern and fleshpot to fleshpot in the 19th century avoiding press gangs who could ensure they woke up on the slow boat to nowhere instead of in the arms of wench.
It helps some of the bars are still standing, The Horse You Came In On says it is oldest bar in the union, I'm sure I've drunk in three others which claim the same but this one has another claim to fame. Baltimore's famous son Allan Edgar Poe was last seen in there before wandering to a mysterious death.
The Bard of Baltimore's seminal poem The Raven is immortalised by the city's double Superbowl winning team the Ravens. When I was there bars were packed with purple clad fans cheering their team on against the hated Pittsburgh Steelers, it was always going to be a good night after they won.
The regeneration of Downtown Baltimore and the Inner Harbour was kick-started by the Ravens and baseball team the Orioles (a bird not a biscuit) building stadiums. There is an indoor arena too which attracts the world's best musicians, Mary J Blige and Maxwell were performing on the Saturday night I was there and the whole of downtown seemed to be partying.
Baltimore's food scene has bucked up in recent years, the ingredients grown in Maryland are seen more on menus and street food vendors have multiplied. However, crabcakes is what Baltimore is known across the USA for. Made from Maryland Blue Crab caught from the giant Chesepeake Bay (imagine a bay as big as the UK on America's east coast). Faidley's in Lexington Market (a great place to wander round) is renowned for its crabcakes but every bar has the delicacy on the menu.
Crab cake at Bertha's bar in Fell's Point
A great way to see Fell's Point is through a walking food tour (www.baltimorefoodtours.com), and not just to line one's stomach, the variety of food and history was fascinating and delayed the inevitable of the megabooze.
If walking is a bit to pedestrian for you then a cycling tour of Baltimore really reveals the city's secrets, shames and suprises during a ride through the city's diverse neighbourhoods Federal Hill, Sharp-Leadenhall, Otterbein, Pigtown, Sowebo, Union Square and Little Lithuania. Light Street Cycles (www.lightstcycles.com)was set up by Penny Troutner 26 years ago and she was a captivating and warm-hearted authority on Baltimore.
Penny told us all about Baltimore, from its pivotal part in the American War of Independence and thes US Civil War all the way up to the dignified response of the people after police shot dead an unarmed man Freddie Gray. The world saw images of a night of rioting but not the peaceful protests day after day which rich, poor, black and white marched for peace, including our guide Penny.
Historic landmarks on the tour include Carroll Park and the grounds of the Mount Clare Mansion, the B&O Museum, the Babe Ruth Museum, the home of H.L.Mecken (Baltimore's journalistic curmudgeon), and Westminster Cemetery, where lies Edgar Allen Poe and some of Baltimore’s most notable historic figures. The tour starts with M&T Bank Stadium where the Ravens play, and ends with Oriole Park at Camden Yards - an award-winning archtectural wonder with a baseball stadium seamlessly built around a historic port building.
One of the most iconic relics in America is the star spangled banner, currently taking pride of place in Washington's Smithsonian musuem, and in Baltimore you can see where the legend which spawned the national anthem started - Fort McHenry, where the bravest of the brave fought off a British Navy bombardment in 1812 as the giant flag flew above them inspiring everyone in the city and country. It was the last time the star-shaped fort would be attacked and after another 100 years it became a national monument. Wandering around the battlements really gives you a feel for the birth of a nation.
Baltimore is in Maryland which state capital is Annapolis, home of the USA Navy, and is full picturesque towns and natural beauty, read all about them here.
Thankfully after killing an inordinate amount of brain cells in Fell's Point, Baltimore has plenty to nourish the old grey matter. The American Visionary Art Museum, the Baltimore Museum of Industry, Maryland Science Center, Geppi’s Entertainment Museum and Ripley’s Believe it or Not, The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum are all within walking distance of each other. The Baltimore VIP Pass is the most cost-effective way to cram in attractions.
The National Great Blacks in Wax Museum
You get more for your buck at hotels in Baltimore than nearby Philadephia, New York and Washington D.C, which makes it the perfect place to stay to visit all three. There is a good variety of hotels including the high end Monaco Baltimore Hotel, which used to be the headquarters of the giant B&O railway company, the trendy boutique Hotel Indigo, to the usual offerings of chains like Hyatt cheaper Red Roof, Oconolodges. We stayed at the Lord Baltimore and you can read my review here.
The city also is a key city in African-American history, from slavery, underground railway to civil rights. It was the first "red-line city" - sadly the disgustingly simple practice of drawing a red line on a map in 1910 to mark out black and white neigbhbourhoods was copied by other cities, leading to racial problems which still exist in America to this day. The city is still segregated, with the black 67 per cent of the 650,000 residents mostly living in the poorest neighbouroods with the worst transport links.
Tourists would of course, never have any reason to venture into those parts of the city, but the greatest television of all time - The Wire - changed that. Taxi drivers ended up giving up saying: "are you sure?" when tourists, some who must be a walking cash point to robbers, asked to see the low rises, high rises, "Hamsterdam" or some "real corners." Thankfully, most don't leave the safety of the cab. The docks featured in the second series are safer to walk around albiet a lot quieter when the bustling port made the city one of the most important in the country.
David Simon's incredible love letter to the city where he worked as a crime reporter brought all aspects of the city alive in vivid detail and my heart skipped a beat whenever I heard the instantly recognisable "woop woop" Baltimore police siren. But, I was struck by the humour of the people of Baltimore, black or white, young and old, whether in a bar or on the street asking for directions, a joke and a laugh were only a sentence and smile away.
Baltimore is a ballsy city and has a certain edge. The city was a power house during the industrial revolution, fell on hard times at the end of last century and is now back on the up, a bit like my home town Birmingham.
And I've been known to get raring drunk in Birmingham and exaggerate but if conservation turns to places to booze - I will proclaim again: "Fell's Point, Baltimore is the best place to drink in the world."
"It's never a bad decision to come to Baltimore" - AJ the barmaid
For more information about Baltimore visit www.capitalregionusa.co.uk
Factbox: Four nights in Baltimore (two nights at Hotel Indigo and two at Lord Baltimore) Return direct flights with British Airways from London Heathrow To Baltimore. From £869 per person based on 2 sharing including all taxes. To book call Purely Capital Region USA on 0844 80 444 80 or visit www.purelycapitalregionusa.com