TIPSY TOURIST: Spiked Cider and Christmas Lights

Decorations in Baltimore's Hampden neighborhood are world-famous — and rightly so.

Decorations in Baltimore’s Hampden neighborhood are world-famous — and rightly so.

Hampden’s lights on 34th Street are one of those city traditions that attract hordes of people who cruise down the block for a quick glimpse of all the color, kitsch and sentiment or who find a parking space somewhere and take a leisurely walk past each highly decorated house.

2014 note: I checked …. Hampden’s holiday lights have been turned on and Rocket to Venus is still serving PB&J delight and Natty Boh Fries. Enjoy — and happy holidays!

Once you see it, you get it. Christmas trees decorated with hubcaps — or made out of white-painted bicycle rims,

Warmth on a cold night

Warmth on a cold night

Natty Boh and the Utz girl in lights, a tribute to House of Cards and VEEP, creches and train sets, holiday music blasting from one house and lights strung around houses and across the street from roof to roof.

It’s become, for my family, an absolute must at Christmas time.

This year we picked the coldest day in December to take our stroll. With temperatures in the 20s, the decorations may have warmed our hearts but our hands and faces were chilled to the bone.

As we reached the end of the street, a corner tavern called to us. Rocket To Venus is well-known for its cool vibe and its PB&J Delight dessert — one of our group had already raved about that — so off we went. Since we weren’t there for dinner, we found seats at the bar just as the bartender delivered a beautiful hot drink garnished with a slice of orange. “I’ll have what she’s having,” I said.

Hot, spicy, and sweet, the spiced cider spiked with Bulleit bourbon was my kind of drink on a cold night. You gotta like bourbon to like this drink. The whiskey aroma entices you before you even take a sip. And then, ahhhh. Cold!? What cold!?

Seasoned fries with Natty Boh gravy.

Seasoned fries with Natty Boh gravy.

Now warmed, I looked around. It was happy hour and as patrons ordered a beer, they got a 3-ounce pour on the side, a “toddler.” Tables were filled with friends and families, even little kids.

Suddenly hungry, we ordered a couple of appetizers to sustain us until we reached the rest of our group for dinner. They’ve got a good selection of small plates here: cheese plate, wings, vegan wontons, steamed shrimp. We elected to have fried pickles and seasoned fries with a slightly sweet gravy laced with Natty Boh. Thumbs up all around.

A miracle on 34th Street.

A miracle on 34th Street.

Hmmmm. Maybe we just found a new tradition to add to our annual visit to the lights on 34th Street.

© Text and bar photos Mary K. Tilghman
Photos of 34th Street by Gina Truitt

A Day Away has been to Hampden before: Shopping the Avenue