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5 Places to Visit in Baltimore, Maryland, With John Waters

5 Places to Visit in Baltimore, Maryland, With John Waters

The 1998 John Waters film “Pecker” ends with an unlikely crowd carousing in a seedy basement bar/impromptu photo gallery in Baltimore. Strippers and one busty, enthusiastic art collector dance on tables as a talking Virgin Mary icon watches. It’s a jubilant, chaotic and naughty party open to anyone with a sense of humor, just the way the director likes it.

Mr. Waters, 78, gained a cult following in the 1970s with delightfully shocking films like “Multiple Maniacs,” “Female Trouble” and, of course, the raunchy “Pink Flamingos” before breaking big with “Hairspray,” in 1988.

Since then, Mr. Waters has built an empire of camp, now comprising more than a dozen films, spoken-word shows and numerous books, including his 2022 debut novel, “Liarmouth,” which has been optioned for a movie that Mr. Waters hopes will star Aubrey Plaza.

Mr. Waters, a Baltimore native, grew up in Lutherville, Md., a suburb he described in a recent phone interview as “upper-middle-class everything.” Yearning for escape, he had his mom drop him off at a Baltimore beatnik hangout called Martick’s, even though he was underage. “She said, ‘Maybe you’ll meet your people here,’” he recalled.

“I did find my people — bohemia!” he said.

Since those days, Mr. Waters has become an unofficial spokesman for all things Baltimore, which was one of The New York Times’s 52 Places to Go in 2024. The city has embraced him, too. It honored him with an official day, Feb. 7, 1985 (it was a one-off), and the all-gender restrooms at the Baltimore Museum of Art, the institution to which he has bequeathed his sizable art collection, are named for him.

Though Mr. Waters has apartments in San Francisco and New York and spends summers in Provincetown, Mass., he lives primarily in North Baltimore and has no plans to change that. “If I had to give up everywhere,” Mr. Waters said, “this is where I’d live.”

Here are his five favorite places in Baltimore.

A neon marquee graces the brick facade of the Charles Theater. First opened as an all-newsreel cinema, the Charles now screens primarily independent movies and hosts periodic revival series. Mr. Waters has a special place in his heart for the theater, which his friend Pat Moran managed for years. “That’s where ‘Polyester’ opened,” Mr. Waters said, referring to his 1981 film. A major Easter egg awaited those at the premiere, since a scene in the film had been shot at the theater. In the…

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