Frederick, Maryland, which is nestled between the foothills that appear in old photographs and the historically significant Monocacy River, is a jewel of a town. Its streets resonate with Upper as well as lower-case history. And it is a pleasure to stroll them. A lively arts scene has sprung up among clusters of Federal-era, as well as more flamboyantly ostentatious Victorian, architecture. And along Market Street, one might satisfy almost any legal appetite.
And that is what is also wrong with the place. A tourist destination needn't exclude ordinary citizens, though Frederick's self-image appears to be going in that very direction. While there, I saw pleasure-seekers, property owners, and the well-heeled working-class. But I did not see laborers, welfare candidates, or card-carrying rednecks. Or *rednecks who would never think of owning any card whatsoever. And don't - from their way of thinking - need to.
At least one artist-entrepreneur wants Frederick to become the next Santa Fe - which would, in my view, doom it as a place for people who may merely wish to live there; have home-ties that keep them coming back; want a smaller place to raise a family or to keep out of harm's way. If Frederick moves toward Santa Fe, there will two classes of people: pleasure-seekers and/or providers and the bottom-feeders who supply them with strong backs, sagging shoulders, and laminated menus.
I intend to review two different establishments and let you, the reader, decide on the sort of place Frederick's likely to become. I'm hoping that it can stop where it is today. If one walks away from the town center, he or she will find modest-looking row-houses that, in all likelihood, contain wage-earning folk who are not, and can never be, bound to the glittering economies of Santa Fe. They do not think of ballet lessons for their children; getting gold jewelry appraised; or whether Pinot Noir is too overrated to even talk about. They want to watch their kids frolic in Baker Park because it's good for them to get away from the TV. I’m hoping that this Frederick, as well as its more attractive town center, is not pushed aside. A place’s vitality is dependent, not only on its economic engine, but on the ordinary people who seem peripheral to it. Whatever their status, they are absolutely essential to any town’s overall character.
Go into Café Nola (4 East Patrick Street) and you'll find yourself in a pleasantly noisy environment with blossom-young baristas and a wait-staff that introduces itself by name. It is a hip place to be, but also family-friendly. Its menu is updated to reflect fussier palates, but it's down-to-earth as well. My significant other and I had granola sprinkled with strawberries. We poured soya milk over it while sipping herb tea. Across from us was a family group who ate heartily and acted as if it was not here, but in some greasy spoon – I mean the type with nickel counter-tops and a cash register that rings when the drawer comes out. Nearby, a group of young women signed to one another across numerous table-settings and coffee-cups. In order to be understood, these young women posted their orders on a small computer screen and passed it along to their waitperson.
I liked the place, though it reflected the local price threshold, which was on the high end of things. A bowl of granola shouldn't cost five dollars, but it did there. In Downtown Frederick, this is an average sort of place.
By contrast, there's Voila! (10 N. Market Street), a tea-shop where we purchased two ounces of an aromatic blend for ten dollars. And purchased a scone for almost half that. It was, however, a sensual delight and impossible not to credit with the attributes for which it was striving. It was exclusive, but not flashy. The quality of its wares was impeccable, though there was nothing for the low-wage earner who might care to cut down on his or her coffee with some herb tea. It was designed to produce an intimate experience that had no hard edges at all. The colors receded, the banks of tea and coffee samples exuded a sense of tribal order, and the service personnel were as knowledgeable as they were unobtrusive. Yet one doesn't go there to save money. Like so many places in Frederick, it delivered an experience as well as a physical object.
Thus the two Fredericks, for now, co-exist. But what will happen in the future? Lacking the gift of prophecy, I haven't the foggiest. And yet Frederick itself seems to want Santa Fe. I hope I'm mistaken. Frederick is a jewel whose sparkle is not yet blinding. Yet it very well could be.
*We saw one. Perhaps he was pretending.
For more information, contact Frederick’s Visitor’s Center at: (301) 644-4047
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