I feel for Baltimore. As with other former industrial cities like Detroit, Cleveland, and St. Louis, the past several decades have been anything but kind to the city. Baltimore locals may make sour faces at any mention of The Wire and be quick to point out why it’s a misrepresentation, but for the first-time visitor, the show’s overtones are clearly felt, and once you get in the downtown, often heard, in the buzzing of police choppers overhead.
Which is a shame, not only considering the amount of wonderful sights in the city (292 listings on the National Register of Historic Places), but also the resilient Baltimore pride that still exudes from locals no matter what the conditions. Indeed, much energy is being funneled into rehabilitating the tourist industry, which can be seen in action at Brookshire Suites, one block north of the inner harbor.
Unless directly overlooking the harbor itself, it’s hard to imagine a more convenient location for this Best Western Premier hotel in Baltimore, within easy walking distance of several major sights (along with the harbor itself), including the National Aquarium, Federal Hill Park, Maryland Science Center, The American Visionary Art Museum, and with a bit of gumption (29 minutes worth, as the Google flies), Fell’s Point neighborhood.
Stepping through the front doors of the hotel, hopes for a unique, trendy accommodation are indeed raised, with a boutique-meets-rock ‘n’ roll appearance that blends large-sized photos of Frank Zappa, Mama Cass, and that dude from Counting Crows (all born in Baltimore) with globular lighting fixtures suspended from the ceiling, graffiti wall splatters, and modern Italian-style furniture.
It’s all in line with the parent company, Modus Hotel’s, aim of “offering guests unique experiences in defined environments that cater to all aspects of a guests’ stay in inventive, personal and approachable way.” Taking over the hotel in July 2012, Modus sunk $3 million renovating the 12-story building before reopening in early 2014.
Unfortunately, the charm largely begins to subside after leaving the reception area. Suite 902 (starting at $189 per night) is indeed spacious, with a two-room layout that follows roughly the same design sense as the lobby. The living area comes with a long white leather sofa, again topped with the Counting Crows dude, a kitchenette in the corner, and desk with TV. From the window, the view extends about 100 feet before crashing into the site of the adjacent brick building. In the bedroom, it’s more of the same, with a queen-sized bed, second TV, and large changing mirror.
Start to look closely with a nitpicky eye, however, and a number of negatives begin to add up, from the previous guest’s hair stuck to the ceiling of the shower and peeling wallpaper to the lack of bottled water and tea promised at check-in. It wasn’t the only unfulfilled promise, too. In the elevator, there’s an advertisement (complete with attractive women and leering men) for evening wine and beer tastings nightly at the “Red Bar” in the reception area. Yet in the three evenings I stayed, there was nary a beer, wine to be found, nor any info from the hotel explaining why not.
Perhaps it’s simply the same sort of terminology used for the daily $9.95 “destination fee” per guest the hotel charges, which inexplicably covers the two “complimentary” bottles of water along with “free” local and domestic long distance telephone calls, access to the 24-hour wellness center, and “a refreshing hot breakfast buffet.” The last two are on the top floor of the building in the dining area, which does offer the first real view of the harbor down South Calvert Street.
As for the breakfast, it’s as basic as continental gets, with nothing memorable apart from the long lines for the one toaster for the entire hotel. As for the wellness center, it’s just a few cardio machines and weights tucked in a tiny room next door. However, the hotel does have a partnership with MV Fitness in Mount Vernon, which provides access to spin classes, yoga, and more for an additional $5 per visit.
For a mid-range, 3-star stay in Baltimore, Brookshire Suites Inner Harbor–now a Best Western Premier property–does well-enough, and unless you are difficult to please, you’ll probably be happy enough. But it’s impossible to overlook the fact that for about the same price, you could get a standard room at Renaissance Baltimore Harborplace Hotel, which comes more amenities, including a pool and more expansive water view.
Yes, the concept of a “lifestyle” hotel is a good one, and if achieved, it could indeed persuade guests to book their rooms at Brookshire Suites Inner Harbor instead. However, much like Baltimore itself, Brookshire Suites still has a ways to go before it gets a wholehearted recommendation. But it’s getting there.
Review and photos by Mike Dunphy, who stayed as a guest of Brookshire Suites