The Wire Tour
The Wire Tour is a grand tour of Baltimore, taking you past various important filming locations for the highly acclaimed HBO TV series, The Wire. It is a driving tour 48.5 miles long (78 km), and should take about three hours without any major stops.
First, watch The Wire. The whole thing. If you haven't watched it, do not read beyond this section, as major spoilers follow! If you haven't watched it yet, many major news organizations and arts and entertainment journals have called it the greatest TV series of all time, on par with great literature. Entire classes devoted to studying the TV series are becoming common at top U.S. universities. You won't likely regret watching the full five seasons.
There's really only one thing you need to bring along (aside from a printout of the itinerary): a car with a full tank of gas. There is a surprising dearth of gas stations in the city, so fill up first! The only other thing you might find useful to bring is a camera to capture some of the more interesting surprises you'll find along the way.
The tour begins on Martin Luther King Jr Blvd, heading north from I-395 off I-95. To get there from Downtown or the Inner Harbor, take any major road and head west, then turn right (north) onto the boulevard.
If you want something to eat before you start, Lexington Market is just east of MLK Jr Blvd on the western edge of Downtown. On the Paca St Entrance you'll find Faidley's (M-Sa 11AM-5PM), which serves magnificent crabcakes—the virtues of which are extolled by every food review, everyone in Baltimore, and of course McNulty, who brings some for a couple cops on a stakeout. They liked them too—"Faidley's? You all right, McNulty." They run about $18 each, so for a cheaper Bawlmer option, you could try a coddie, a $2 codcake sandwiched between saltines with mustard.
Bring your car. This is a driving itinerary, as there simply is no other realistic way to tour the various filming locations—Baltimore's system of public transport is lacking, and furthermore there are parts of this trip where it is safer and more comfortable to avoid traveling on foot, particularly in West and East Baltimore, as well as the eastern portion of the North Central section. Granted, chances are fairly slim that anything bad would happen to you, but if you are unfamiliar with the city and walking around snapping photos in areas that wouldn't dream of being a tourist destination, prepare to feel extremely visible, stared at, and uncomfortably out of place!
Portions of this tour are easily visited on foot, particularly those Downtown and by the Inner Harbor, but this will leave you picking and choosing among a select few of the filming locations, and you will not be able to complete the grand tour.
This is a meandering and complicated itinerary through many of the city's lesser known streets. You'll have a much easier time if you bring a friend along, who can be your navigator and read the itinerary as you go!
There are lots of great places to eat filmed in The Wire, all of them dripping with local character and a real sense of place. Look for them in the following sections of the tour, and plan to finish on a full stomach!
West Baltimore is where it all begins, right on Lexington and Fulton Ave where Snot Boogie, the man of unfortunate name and unfortunate life lay dead in the street. While nearly the whole of the drug gang plotlines theoretically take place in West Baltimore, only the first season was extensively shot here. The directors found East Baltimore's relatively treeless streets much easier to film in, as they could film throughout at least three of the seasons without losing seasonal continuity. To reach the series opening scene, head up MLK Jr Ave, turn left onto W Fayette St, then after going a ways, right on Fulton Ave and up two blocks to Lexington. The scene was filmed on Lexington on the block just to the left. As you drive through West Baltimore, keep a lookout for the famous horse cart fruit vendor in good weather—he's very much real, and quite the living legend.
Head back east on Lexington St. Once you reach Amity St, look left—the second building on the right is the famous Poe House. In the show, a lost tourist asks a local kid where the Poe House is. The local accent pronounces Poe and poor the same way, so the perplexed boy responds, "uh, take your pick!" Fortunately, you brought your Wikitravel map, so you won't have to reenact this silly scene. While closed for winter, the house of Edgar Allen is open for a small fee and tour April–early December Th-Sa noon-3:30PM daily—just go up to the front door and knock. Street parking right on Lexington couldn't be easier.
Continue east on Lexington and turn left onto Fremont. You are now in the thick of The Terraces, a mixed use public housing complex that replaced the once blighted and now demolished Lexington Terrace high rise public housing projects, which served as inspiration for Franklin Terrace, the high rises controlled by the Barksdale Organization.
Make a left on Saratoga St and then a right onto Arlington Ave. When you reach Lafayette Ave, turn right and look immediately on your left for the church where Bubbles attended AA Meetings. You can't miss the brightly painted red doors. Continue east on Lafayette to Pennsylvania Ave and turn right. While not a filming location, it's worth a short drive down the street to get a sense of history. Pennsylvania Ave was once the heart of African-American culture and commerce in the city, but still has not quite recovered from the devastation of the 1968 riots following the assassination of Dr Martin Luther King Jr. In recent years, though, things are slowly but surely improving.
Turn left on Preston St to enter the McCulloh Homes, the low rise housing projects that served as location for much of the drug trade in Season One. It's hard to see from the street, but The Pit, where D'Angelo plied his product is just behind the fourth building on the right.
Turn left on McCulloh St to continue your tour through the McCulloh Homes and look left in the middle of the first block for the harmonica and dance statues of a boy and girl, featured several times throughout the series.
Continue up McCulloh to Lanvale St and turn left. On the third block look right for Bethel Church, which was home to one of the prominent and politically powerful church groups throughout the series. Go another block and turn right onto Division St, then turn right back onto Lafayette, which will take you into Bolton Hill, which while not featured on TV, is undoubtedly Baltimore's most beautiful old neighborhood, former home to the Sage of Baltimore, HL Mencken, and a great place for a little aimless drive.
At the north end of Bolton Hill is Mt Royal Ave. Turn right and head back east into Midtown until you reach Maryland Ave. Turn right, then left on Chase St, and then left again onto N Charles St. This section of Charles St has as good a claim as any to being the hippest stretch of Baltimore, largely unknown to anyone but the locals. Immediately on the left is the Brewer's Art, quite possibly the best place for dinner and drinks in the city, and the swanky place where Marlo was seduced by Devonne. Mark this place down for a later point in your trip—it's a true local favorite and for good reason.
Head north on Charles past Penn Station, where Herc tried and failed to catch Marlo, and its giant Male/Female Statue. Once you reach North Ave, look right for Pearson's Florist, where Bodie headed into "the back room" to get his gangster flower arrangement for D's funeral. Look left for an oft-filmed location of New York Fried Chicken. NYFC begs a bit of background. It started in New York, run by Afghan immigrants, under the name Kennedy Fried Chicken, looking to impersonate both the initials and the look of the giant Kentucky Fried Chicken chain. KFC objected to this, and has tried, rather unsuccessfully, to stamp out all instances of that name. Owing to the Afghan connection, the franchise found itself in recent years investigated for terrorist connections, but fear not the chicken—the investigation was baseless and yielded nothing.
Turn left on North Ave and then right into the parking lot of the distinctive North Avenue Motel, where Omar shot Brother Mouzone.
Turn around and head east on North Ave until you reach Guilford Ave and turn right. Look right down the alley for Bubbles' garage in the later seasons. Keep going and once you pass Lanvale, the Middle School from Season Four will be on your right, now a Montessori school. Turn left on Federal St and then left up Barclay. The northeast corner with Lafayette should be instantly recognizable as Bodie's Corner, where he ultimately met his end. Head back up to North Ave, turn right, and that's it for the North Central!
Head east on North Ave until you reach Caroline St turn right. This area of East Baltimore, especially Bond St two blocks east, was the actual filming location for much of the whole show, including locations supposedly in West Baltimore. After about ten blocks, turn left on Chase St, then left on Bond St. Look immediately on the right for the very hard-to-find hangout spot for the Marlo gang. Hop out of the car and into the square (Faith Ln) to take some pictures if you like, but bear in mind that this is a legitimately rough neighborhood.
Continue way back up Bond to Lafayette Ave, and admire the familiar scenery along the way. Turn right at Lafayette and look left just before Bethel St for Hamsterdam, where Maj. Colvin legalized drugs! Turn right on Bethel, and once past Federal St, look left into the alley at the end of the block. This was the location of the infamous Bodymore Murdaland graffiti. The city decided this was bad press and, alas, removed the graffiti. We'll see how long it takes for someone to put it back!
A left on Oliver St takes you to Broadway. Turn right down to Biddle St and turn left on Patterson Park Ave to reach Collington Square Park, where the big East-West Basketball Game went down. Continue north on Patterson Park Ave for two blocks. The Saveland Food Mart on the left was used in a particularly disturbing scene, where Marlo stole a lollipop in plain view of the security guard, just to show that he can. The guard went to talk to him outside, asking him why he had to do that, to put his job in jeopardy for no reason. And for that act of bold honesty, Marlo later had him killed.
Turn left here onto Federal St, and you will see a very distinctive and beautiful building just behind the Saveland—the recently renovated American Brewery Building. Just behind the building was an abandoned area where the school kids hung out and played throughout Season Four. Turn right onto Gay St to head northeast. Turn left back onto North Ave and look left for The Rim Source, Marlo's store. At the end of the block, turn left onto Patterson Park Ave.
Head way down Patterson Park Ave all the way past Patterson Park and turn left onto Eastern Ave. Look left for that crazy pagoda. At the end of the park, turn left onto Ellwood Ave. Just past Gough St, on the left a little ways into the park is the spot where Vondas would meet up with Prop Joe and later Marlo to discuss business. It's a nice time to hop out of the car and stretch your legs. Afterwards, keep heading up Ellwood all the way to the Pulaski Hwy (US-40) and turn right to head to the far east of the city.
Just past Conkling St on Pulaski is the Executive Inn, where the Co-op would meet up under Prop Joe's aegis to organize their now peaceful drug trade. You have got to be hungry by now, so it's time for some Chaps Pit Beef, which will be on Pulaski on the right shortly after the second overpass. If the interior looks familiar, it should, as there was a great little Baltimore scene here at the main picnic table, where Wee-Bey piled the potent horseradish on his pit beef sandwich. His friends told him he was in for a world of hurt, but the ever tough Bey responded, "the trick is not to give a shit." Bad move—he cried from the pain! Chaps is generally considered to have Baltimore's best pit beef, a sort of local "barbecue" producing a soft roast beef sandwich, which begs for onions and horseradish. It is properly ordered rare. There's plenty of other good dishes, though, so make sure to eat here!
Head back down Pulaski to Conkling St and turn left. Just past Eastern Ave, look on the right for the old Carcetti Campaign Headquarters, which proudly displayed the campaign signs long after David Simon's film crew had moved on. There's a Vaccaro's on the right, a famous local Italian pastry chainlet, which should make for a decadent dessert if you so choose.
Turn left on Eastern Ave, then right on Haven St to head south into Southeast Baltimore. Once you get to O Donnell St, you'll see an overpass. Yes, this is the location where McNulty, drunk driving, to the tune of the Pogues' Transmetropolitan, somehow managed to crash his car twice in the same place. Do not reenact this scene.
Turn around and then turn left on Dillon St (since you can't turn onto O Donnell here). Turn left on Conkling and go down to O Donnell. Look just right and up for one of Baltimore's most famous icons, the neon Brewer's Hill Natty Boh guy! If you wait a little at night, he'll wink at you. Anyway, turn left and keep going west through the split around Canton Square, a gentrifying area full of crowded bars. Near the end of the split, St Casimir's Church is on the left, where the police and the stevedores' über-Polish feud over the stained glass window began at the outset of Season Two.
At the end of O Donnell St, turn left to go south and then left again onto Boston St. Turn right on Clinton St to head south along the harbor, into the territory of The Greek. Past Holabird Ave, start looking on the left for The Greek's Diner (Johnny's Restaurant). Just past it, you'll come to the so-called Port of Philadelphia (remember that all scenes were in fact filmed in Baltimore), a.k.a. the Bethlehem-Fairfield Shipyard, where Sergey removed a Turkish head and feet. This place has a great spooky, abandoned atmosphere at night. The big Liberty Ship, the SS John W. Brown, is today actually a museum ship , offering several living-history cruises throughout the year.
Just before the end of the road, turn left onto a little side street to find the ramshackle Major Crimes Unit HQ, used starting at the beginning of Season Two. Get back onto Clinton St and turn left, then bear left onto Haven St, which will turn into Keith Ave. To the right is Seagirt Marine Terminal, a giant terminal where the Sobotkas and the rest of the stevedores union worked throughout Season Two. Good luck getting into the complex, though!
Time for a good 20 minute drive to South Baltimore. Backtrack back up Clinton St to Boston St and turn right towards I-95, and get on southbound towards the Fort McHenry Tunnel. This guide apologizes in advance for the toll and any potential tunnel traffic. Get off at I-395 and stay in the right lane. Turn right onto Conway St and then right again onto Light St. Look right for the Intercontinental Hotel, where the Greek narrowly evaded capture at the end of Season Two.
Turn left on Warren Ave to go to Federal Hill Park, a green space full of history both real and fictional from The Wire. If you can find a parking space, and that's a big if, this is another great place to get out of the car. The views from the top of the hill are probably the best in the city. Carcetti loved to take strolls around the place to get away from politics and clear his head. McNulty's strolls were less successful, as he fell down the hill drunk while trying to stop some kids from vandalizing public property.
Turn right down Riverside Ave, left on Cross St, and then right back onto the Key Hwy. Follow the Key Hwy to Lawrence St and turn right, then left onto Fort Ave. Just before going over the Key Hwy again, turn right onto Ludlow St to reach the Wine Market. Part restaurant and part wine store, this is a great place for an upscale, but reasonably priced dinner. Senator "sheeeeiiiit" Clay Davis and Stringer Bell agree with this assessment, and met up for some lunch to discuss real estate.
Go back up to Fort Ave and turn right to get into Locust Point, home to the Sobotkas. Turn left on the side street just past Andre St to catch a glimpse of Nick Sobotka's house. Please do not disturb the residents. At the end of the street turn left on Clement and then immediately right on Andre St. Coming up on the right is the gigantic Grainery, which Nick remarked would soon be turned into upscale harbor-side condos to mark the end of blue collar Locust Point. And indeed, today it is condos.
Now take a left on Beason St, a right on Hull St, and then a right on Nicholson St to get over to Fort McHenry. You can't quite get to the filming location, but the very southeast of the fort area is where Vondas wised up to the fact that his texts were being monitored by the police, and then flung his cell phone into the harbor.
You're nearing the end of this long, grandiose tour of the city. Go back to Fort Ave and turn left, heading all the way to Light St, and turn right. Past the Intercontinental, as you are getting into the Inner Harbor look left for the Hyatt Regency, where Beadie stalked Vondas to room 520 on her reconnaissance mission. Light St will turn into Calvert St and take you into Downtown.
Look left down Redwood it's a one way street so you won't be able to turn right, but note that at the end of the block is Werner's Diner, a famous old Downtown diner, and a recurring filming location to show the politicians meeting up to talk shop.
Now turn right onto Baltimore St. At the end of the first block on the right is The American, the interior of which was used as Kavanagh's Irish Pub, where the police would have wakes for slain officers. Keep going straight, and between Commerce St and Gay St (really, those are the names of the streets by accident, not irony) is The Block, the infamously seedy one-block stretch of Baltimore St filled with nothing but strip clubs. Despite the look and the business, it's actually quite safe because, as you will see on the corner of the next block, the city put the real Police Headquarters right next to it. It's not clear that any scenes were shot right here, but rest assured that the spirit of The Block made its way into the series.
Turn right onto the small one-way Frederick St and go one block to Water St. Just left is the Ruth's Chris Steakhouse that former Maj. Colvin takes Namond, Zenobia, and Darnell to as a prize for doing well in class. It doesn't go so well, as the students feel uncomfortable and have no idea how to act in this new environment.
Turn right on Water St, and then right onto Gay St and then left onto Fayette St, where you'll find City Hall, used extensively on the show. Follow Fayette down all the way past Charles St to find the fictional location of the Police Headquarters on the right, which is in actuality an office building.
One last stop! Turn right on Park Ave, go up to Saratoga St, turn right, and follow it back to Calvert St and turn left again. After going under the US-40 overpass, you will see the Baltimore Sun Building, of Season Five fame, on the right.
Your grand tour is over! If you still haven't eaten dinner, remember the Brewer's Art from the North Central Portion of the tour? It would be hard to do better, although if you are in the mood for something else, there are a lot of good options right on Charles St nearby. Head north on Calvert past the Baltimore Sun building, then turn left on Madison St. You will turn right on Charles St, but first look left down Charles to see the beautiful Washington Monument square (this one predates the big monolith in D.C.). Anyway, turn right onto Charles and head north back to the Brewer's Art.
This tour purposefully ends in Central Baltimore. You've completed a tour around much of the city, including some of its more interesting and decidedly less visited neighborhoods. Pat yourself on the back and reward yourself with a drink by the Harbor, at the Brewer's Art, or in historic Fells Point! A couple rounds at a Fells Point faux-Irish pub would be a classic McNulty-esque end to the day. Just don't take a page from his drinking and driving handbook—not only is it immoral, but also rest assured that the police look hard for this type of thing in this bar-heavy neighborhood.
This part is crucial. The hand-wringing associated with the terribly distasteful and offensive term "ghetto tourism" is a bit overwrought and contrived, but there are pitfalls to be aware of. This tour will take you through some good examples of some of the more impoverished and alienated communities in the United States, and if your purpose is to "gawk at the poverty," you are here for the wrong reasons. These are real neighborhoods with a vibrant culture that the locals are proud of in spite of the obvious social problems, and as a sophisticated traveler you should accept them on their own terms. You should be here to reconnect with your favorite scenes from the TV series and to better appreciate that which is Baltimore.
Note that it would especially be highly inappropriate to photograph people without their express permission.
Don't worry. Yes, you are touring some high crime areas (although the vast majority of the areas on the tour are actually quite safe), but no one is going to bother you in your car. Period. As noted above, walking on foot around the East and West Baltimore sections of the tour could be more risky, but even then the dangers commonly warned about in the U.S. are grossly exaggerated. Yes, they are high violent crime areas, and a nighttime stroll would be ill-advised, but no one is likely to bother you beyond asking you what you're doing there, or possibly giving you a warning that it's not safe for you to visit. People here are used to minding their own business.