It’s only fitting that the hyper-local approach to Baltimore’s annual Light City festival—which aims to spark social change through light, music, and innovation—is also reflected in the event’s food and drink offerings. For the third consecutive year, all concessions sold throughout the event around the Inner Harbor will be exclusively from Maryland purveyors.
“I didn’t understand why we would choose to bring in a circuit of people that go to all of the festivals and serve the same types of foods,” says Sandy Lawler, food and beverage manager for the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts (BOPA). “Those people aren’t from around here, and for a city as soulful as Baltimore, it’s very important to support small businesses and give them a place to shine."
What to eat at the festival
Running from April 6-21, the celebration will feature more than 25 local vendors organized by cuisine.
“This past year there has been a lot of work in our city to support individual communities,” Lawler says. “We have a big Latin culture, a great soul culture, and a large Asian community. So, to us, dividing the food vendors up like this made a lot of sense.”
Festival-goers will be able to find Asian-fusion favorites like Ekiben, Dooby’s, and Pinch Dumplings adjacent to Club Light City at Kaufman Pavilion, a selection of soul food from the likes of Big Bean Theory and The Urban Oyster near Pier 1, and Latin eats from DMV Empanadas and Restaurant Piquin outside of Mini Light City. There will also be a Zeke’s coffee and dessert bar featuring Berries by Quicha and Stupid Delicious Desserts at Bicentennial Plaza, and an ode to the Chesapeake near the National Aquarium highlighting seafood from Harbor Market Catering and DogFish Head’s SeaQuench Ale.
What to drink at the festival
Light City’s beverage program will also add to the local flair. This year’s official festival cocktail is the “Night Thyme,” combining rye whiskey, soda water, orange juice, and a special citrus thyme shrub from Baltimore-based juice maker Le Monade. It will be sold at various booths alongside the cleverly-named Lumen Ale, a citrusy, dry-hopped pale ale that The Brewer’s Art has brewed exclusively for the Light City.
Other craft beer options will include The Brewer’s Art Resurrection, Duckpin from Union Craft Brewing in Hampden, and 51 Rye from Monument City in Highlandtown.
“For BOPA to really recognize and embrace the local craft beer industry is huge,” says Monument City co-founder Ken Praay. “It just goes hand in hand with how Baltimore is always behind its small businesses. It’s something that we’ve seen from day one.”
Aside from selling the beer, Monument City has also partnered with BOPA to help put sustainable recycling and garbage collection systems in place for this year’s festivities. In keeping with the green mentality, BOPA is encouraging all vendors to use compostable serving dishes and utensils.
“My brother and I have always wanted to be a family-owned, community-based brewery,” Praay says. “And a big part of that is making sure that the communities in which we live and operate are clean, safe, and enjoyable. So naturally, this is something we jumped on.”
Light City specials around town
Outside of the festival’s footprint, other local bars and restaurants are getting in on the fun by offering food and drink specials of their own. Ampresea on the Fells Point waterfront is hosting a three-course dinner followed by a waterfront cruise to view some of the installations by boat on April 14. And the Royal Sonesta Harbor Court Hotel has created a special lime green cocktail in honor of the light shows, fusing sour apple schnapps, white wine, club soda, and simple syrup.
Additionally, the second-annual Lit City dance party is returning to the illuminated St. Paul Street tunnel on Thursday, April 19. The evening will feature music spun by DJ James Nasty, a full bar, and light bites from Cava Mezze, The Owl Bar, The Elephant, Sobo Cafe, and Gordon Ramsay Steak inside Horseshoe Casino.
Learn about food at Light City
For those who are interested in how the local restaurant scene impacts the community at large, FoodLab@LightCity will take place at the Columbus Center on April 21. Now in its second year, the discussion is one of seven social innovation sessions that will occur throughout the event’s three-week run.
This time around, Food Lab is bringing together change-makers in the food community including chef/owner Dave Thomas of Ida B’s Table, Dovecote Cafe owners Aisha Pew & B. Cole, and Baltimore-based food writer Allison Robicelli.
“The overarching theme of Light City makes this unlike any other conference I’ve ever been to,” Robicelli says. “There’s this huge cross-pollination of ideas. You get to see how all of these topics relate to things like healthcare, tech, social justice, and equity.”
Robicelli will lead a panel of female food industry professionals discussing discrimination in the workplace. Speakers will include New York chef and food historian Therese Nelson, culinary consultant Rachel Waynberg, and former Manhattan restaurateur Alison Price Becker.
“It’s an issue that is getting a lot of attention, but we’re still seeing hesitation to fix it,” Robicelli says. “In the media, you already hear about what women go through in the kitchen, but this is a huge industry. And there are so many women behind the scenes. There is a huge glass ceiling when it comes to ownership and how people view women.”
Robicelli says that Baltimore’s innovative spirit makes it an ideal place to fuel the conversation.
“The reason I moved to Baltimore is because it’s the kind of place where people are coming up with solutions to change the world,” she says. “We have some of the best minds in the country. We’re writing the script that can change every city.”