One reporter’s favorite Baltimore sites featured in ‘Homicide,’ ‘Hairspray’ and other famed productions

Published on: July 02, 2022 at 6:11 am EDT

Updated on: July 13, 2022 at 3:08 pm EDT

Camden Yards home of teh Baltimore Orioles baseball team.

I just had to be there, so badly that I begged to leave work early.

I was headed to Baltimore’s old Recreation Pier, a hulking structure on the Fell’s Point waterfront, a place absolutely wondrous to me because it was the set of NBC’s “Homicide: Life On The Street,” which was, at the time, my favorite TV drama. But now the show — MY SHOW — was canceled and there was an “Everything Must Go” fire sale of all memorabilia and costumes. I made a case to my then-bosses so emphatic and probably borderline pathetic that they just said “fine” and let me go.

That day in 1999, through bittersweet tears, I snagged a purple French Connection shirt once worn by Detective Rene Sheppard, played by Michael Michele. And two years later, when it was in my stolen gym bag, along with a pair of expensive week-old running shoes, it was that shirt I missed the most. You can buy more Adidas. You can’t replace fan history.

That was my first pop culture pilgrimage. Like the Elvis fans who flock to Graceland or the Harry Potterheads who fly to England.

As a Baltimore girl, I’m fiercely proud of city sites where pivotal entertainment moments took place. They’re the many places, featured in television shows and movies and more, that I have driven or ridden the bus past my entire life. I’ve chosen the ones closest to my pop culture heart.

The aforementioned former Recreation Pier, built in 1917, was also where, between 1993-1999, the fictional and mega-intense Detective Frank Pembleton, played by Andre Braugher, grilled hapless perps inHomicide.” And it’s where Detective John Munch, played by Richard Belzer, launched a lot of conspiracy theories, bought the bar right across the street and seemed to get dumped a lot. The former set sat empty for almost 20 years before it became a cool and pricey hotel, where I spent my 50th birthday. I told you I was a big fan!

Bonus “Homicide” spot: Across the street at Kooper’s Tavern, check out the white board, which logged solved and unsolved homicides from the show.

Most Baltimore-centric movie lists feature at least one John Waters-related film, many of them set in neighborhoods a long way from my childhood home in Northwood — neighborhoods not traditionally welcoming to people who looked like me. Mervo, close both to home and to Baltimore City College, my high school, was the scene in Waters’ 1988 “Hairspray” where heroine Tracy (pre-talk show fame Ricki Lake) plays dodgeball. “Hairspray” was not only the first Waters movie with a significant Black cast but squarely acknowledged, with music and good humor, the racism hiding under all the nostalgia and big hair.

Baltimore’s subway was the site of at least two memorable entertainment moments. The most memorable, to me, is the heartbreaking 1997 episode of “Homicide,” where a commuter (Vincent D’Onofrio) falls onto the tracks and gets stuck between two train cars. The other is 1987′s “No Way Out,” when dashing Navy Lt. Commander Tom Farrell (Kevin Costner) leads scary pursuers on a breakneck chase down into D.C.’s Metro system. As Farrell flees, he jumps on what’s obviously (at least to me) a Baltimore Metro train.

The gorgeous 1911 Beaux Arts building, which in the late ’80s and early ’90s was often a waystation for me and my laundry on the way home from University of Maryland, College Park, was also the site of more universally important moments. It’s in the “Margin of Error” episode of “The Wire,” where Herc arrests Marlo, thinking he’s meeting a drug courier, and screws things up. And in the “Law and Disorder” episode of “Homicide” — I will not stop talking about this show! — “Law and Order” NYPD detective Mike Logan (Chris Noth) delivers a fugitive to Detective Pembleton in the station’s familiar hallway, as the two debate the merits of their respective cities.

The former Baltimore Sun building

When “Sleepless In Seattle” was released in 1993, I had just moved to Miami after graduation from College Park and was missing my city something awful. I instantly identified not only with Annie (Meg Ryan), as a sappy single woman like myself, but as a features writer, also like myself. Annie works at The Sun, and can be seen outside the brick exterior of the former newsroom.

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The O’s headquarters has served as the backdrop for several movies and television episodes, from “Seinfeld” to “The West Wing” to “The Wedding Crashers.” But my favorite is 1993′s “Dave,” where a nice guy drafted into impersonating the comatose and caddish American president (both Kevin Kline) throws out the first pitch at an Orioles game. The stadium was almost brand-new, and the scene was shot with a real audience before a real game. So much joy.

This Fells Point bar was basically a co-star on “Homicide,” as several characters fictionally owned it. But it’s also a stand-in for a fake bar called The Huntsman’s Den in 2009′s “He’s Just Not That Into You,” my least favorite Baltimore movie of all time. The characters are whiny, their relationships are shallow and there’s a current of blithe homophobia running underneath. And the only thing more spectacular than the views of the Canton waterfront is that the filmmakers managed to make a movie in a majority Black city without ONE significant Black character. Like, zero. We aren’t that hard to find.

The former Fudgery, in the Light Street Pavilion of Harborplace

Every once in a while, I’ll hear a classic tune, like “My Girl” by the Temptations, and instinctively sing “My Fudge, talking ‘bout my Fudge (my Fudge!).” I’ve been programmed to do so since 1988, when my sister and I, dubbed the Fudge Twins, worked opposite registers at The Fudgery, that late, great bastion of touristy sugar bombs. My tenure as a candy hustler predated that of members of local R&B legends Dru Hill, who worked there in the 1990s and helped cement the pop culture cred of the shop, which closed in 2018.

PSINet Stadium (Now M&T Bank Stadium)

A statue of Pro Football Hall of Fame player Johnny Unitas stands outside M&T Bank Stadium, home of the Baltimore Ravens, in South Baltimore.

I was never discovered while working at The Fudgery. Nor was I plucked from obscurity when I was, later, among the sea of extras playing fans of the fake football team, The Washington Sentinels, in the movie “The Replacements.” The 2000 Keanu Reeves comedy, set in Washington, D.C., follows a team of scabs replacing striking football players. Ravens Stadium stood in for the fictional Nextel Stadium. Baltimore played D.C., and I played a fan of a team that doesn’t exist. I don’t even know if I made it into the movie.

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