The Baltimore Hon An Eccentric Exploration of an Art World by Emily Hope Dobkin S M I L E , H O N , Y O U ’ R E I N B A L T I M O R E ! About Hon Culture Today Hon: As Seen on T.V. Analysis
In my six years living in Baltimore, Maryland, I found the most intriguing part of Baltimore’s culture to be the people. Though a city rich in cultural diversity, the lasting image of Baltimore seems to be that of a subculture of women, generally 40 years and older, who authentically embrace a 1950’s-1960’s style dress code with charisma and flair. Known as the Baltimore Hons, these women are most notably identifiable by their eccentric outward appearance; a typical Hon could be seen in tight spandex, gaudy jewelry, bright eye make up, red lips, a beehive to the sky (which often they claim “ t h e higher the hair, the closer to God” ), and usually a cigarette on hand; the higher, bigger, shinier, glitzier, the better.
This field guide will explore the origins of the Baltimore Hon, as well as both how and why this particular subculture remains a representation of Baltimore’s quirky sense of character and charm in society today.
"I would never want to live anywhere but Baltimore . You can look far and wide, but you'll never discover a stranger city with such extreme style. It's as if every eccentric in the South decided to move north, ran out of gas in Baltimore, and decided to stay." —John Waters, filmmaker About Introduction Key Terms Origins Setting
Hon [ huhn;-noun]: 1.) A subculture of woman established between the 1950s and 1960s representative of the the working class local woman dressing in brightly printed attire on the daily. Once scattered among Baltimore neighborhoods of Highlandtown, Canton, Locust Point, Hampden and Pigtown, today the Hons are most prominent in the Hampden neighborhood. 2.) [-adj.] A term of endearment.
Baltimorese [ Bawl-tuh-mohr-ees; -noun ]: The language or lingo of Baltimoreans; can be characterized as a combination of a dialect between Tidewater American English, a southern American English, and a Delaware Valley American English, i.e. “Bawlmore, Merlin,” for Baltimore, Maryland.
Hampden [ Ham-duhn;-noun ]: Neighborhood of Baltimore that reigns as Hon capitol of the world.
Natty Boh [ nat-ee bo;-noun ]: Abbreviation for “National Bohemian;” the locally brewed beer of Baltimore; a Hon’s drink of choice.
Berger Cookies [ bur-ger coo-kees; -noun ]: Traditional cookie of Baltimore distributed by DeBaufre Bakeries; consists of a vanilla wafer topped with a thick layer of ganache; derived from a German recipe.
About Introduction Key Terms Origins Setting
The name of this subculture of women originates from the often parodied Baltimore accent and slang, “H o n,” an abbreviation of “H o ney;” also a term of endearment.
The Hon culture overall represents the emergence of the working class woman, which began with the hard-working women of World War II. Even when their husbands returned from War, these women continued to work hard to help support their families during the baby boomer age.
After dedicating long hours to work during week in addition to maintaining the home life, these women had a reason to celebrate during their weekends. To them, that meant dressing up, and dressing up meant gaud and glitz galore. Between the 1950s and 1970s, it was quite common to see the working class local women dressing in brightly printed attire on the daily.
About Introduction Key Terms Origins Setting
HON Capitol: Hampden
History of the Hampden Neighborhood:
1800s: Hampden first came into being in 1802 as a cluster of houses built for workers who manned the newly built flour and cotton mills along the Jones Falls Stream Valley. By these cotton mills, Hampden grew economically; at the turn of the 20th century, the workers of Hampden-Woodberry made up one of the largest workforces in the nation.
1900s: Several labor strikes for improved wages and working conditions turned out to be unsuccessful; mill owners began to move operations to the rural South in search of lower labor costs. The mills in Hampden-Woodberry were able to proceed even with this setback as production at the mills increased to fuel the war effort during World War II.
1960s and 1970s: Many factories and mills either closed or relocated.
1970-1980s: During this time, many residents experienced a long-term economic downturn. Hampden became defined by negativity; crime and drug usage increased. Like other areas of Baltimore, school dropout rates increased along with rising illiteracy rates while illegal drugs and prostitution became prevalent.
1990s-Today: Hampden has experienced a revival. Since the early 1990s, an increase of new residents and business owners have been the driving force to the neighborhood's current thriving renewal. Artists and bohemians have rediscovered this section of Baltimore, transforming it from the mill section of town to a section of the city full of Mom and Pop businesses, funky boutiques, second-hand stores, art galleries, book stores, and several one-of-a-kind restaurants. Many tourists and visitors now travel to 36th Street, also known as the “Avenue” to dine, shop, visit art galleries, and experience a neighborhood offering traditional Baltimore character.
About Introduction Key Terms Origins Setting
Café HON…J’eet yet?
Among the unique restaurants and independent stores along the
Avenue, Café Hon represents everything and anything particular and
peculiar to the Hon culture. Considered the jewel on Hampden, this Café
was founded by the Hon mistress herself, Denise Whiting, in 1992. The
establishment of Café Hon has greatly assisted in bringing a sense of
pride back to the Baltimore community in need.
Café Hon features Baltimore’s best delicacies and comfort food, including: “Bawlmore” fries smothered in chili, onions, and cheese; hot crab dip, various sandwiches served with Utz potato chips and a pickle, “Bawlmar’s” best burgers, pork chops, oysters served every Friday, homemade pies, bread pudding and more. Not to mention, you simply cannot miss the Cafe with a 30 foot flamingo hanging on the front of the building, and of course, genuine Hons are at your service. (for a more extensive menu, visit Café Hon’s website ) Hon Culture Today Café Hon HonFest
In addition to founding Café Hon, Denise Whiting also created a celebration celebrating all things Baltimore; the annual HonFest. The Hons without a doubt take center stage every year at this annual festival held in the Hampden neighborhood. During this three day celebration, “Miss Hon” of the year is crowned, live local music is played throughout, as well as a live lottery drawing, trivia games, dance performances, all amongst a street fair of vendors selling everything from Hon sunglasses to kettle corn and grilled cheese (see what it’s all about here: HonFest ).
Hon Culture Today Café Hon HonFest
The Hon As Seen on T.V.
Several examples of the Baltimore Hon, as well as
Baltimore itself, can be seen throughout a
series of John Waters films, as the Baltimore
native has parodied the Hon culture
substantially throughout his movies.
1972: Waters directed the ever so controversial Pink Flamingos , where one can look at character Bab s Johnson (played by Divine) as a representation of a Baltimore Hon; though, a rather scandalous one. See for yourself on following clip from Pink Flamingos
1988: Waters wrote and directed Hairspray, an American comedy film featuring Ricki Lake, Sonny Bono, Debbie Harry, and Divine. Watch the trailer for the original Hairspray here
2002: Hairspray was adapted into a Broadway musical
2007: The remake of Hairspray was released featuring a star packed cast including John Travolta, Queen Latifah, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Jerry Stiller; take a look at the trailer of the remake of Hairspray
Hon: As Seen on T.V.
A key concept that resonates throughout my research of the Baltimore Hon
is that the development of this subculture continues to hold the ability to
honor, preserve, and celebrate the emergence of the working class woman in
Baltimore and beyond. Moreover, today’s existence of this subculture helps
maintain Baltimore’s authentic edge of kitsch, quirkiness, and eccentricity,
as well as providing an overall sense of pride and identity to Baltimoreans.
A significant factor that has helped sustain the Hon culture is the
establishment and ongoing expansions of Café Hon. Café Hon represents
everything and anything pertaining to the Hon culture. From the 30 foot
flamingo standing outside, to the Elvis statue dressed in a feathered boa, to
leopard print booths, it significantly embodies the Hon culture and the
distinguishing peculiar spirit of Baltimore.It has become a trademark of
Baltimore; ask any Baltimorean a restaurant to dine at that represents Baltimore
and Café Hon will most likely arise. Thus,it has become a sight for cultural
Cultural tourism differs from standard tourism in that it focuses on
communities who have unique customs, forms of art, social practices which
distinguishes it from other types or forms of culture (Gunlu 2). Café Hon,
as well as the annual HonFest, indeed offer visitors unique experiences
that are authentic of Baltimore culture.
Critical Analysis (continued)
In Dr. Ebru Gunlu’s writings on preserving cultural heritage and the
possible impact on region development, Gunlu remarks “preserving cultural
heritage appears a key factor in economic policies supporting tourism
development” (Gunlu 2). Café Hon has certainly impacted Hampden’s turn
around from it’s economic decline, and continues to attract both tourists
and local Baltimoreans. Café Hon has proven a restaurant provides more than
just food for nourishment;it has proven the capabilities of sustaining a
culture, as well as culminating a community together.
Denise Whiting continues to expand on Café Hon, as she is opening “846 on
the Avenue,” an art gallery across the street from the Cafe on December 3,
2010. The annual HonFest further attracts people of all ages from Baltimore
and surrounding areas to actively participate in the Hon culture.
Beyond Baltimore: Pop Culture
The Hon culture has been promoted and exposed worldwide by means of
pop culture and mass media. Specifically, John Waters offers
contributions of the Hon culture in his avant garde films. The most
successful of these films, “Hairspray,” exploded on Broadway as it won eight
Tony awards, including Best musical in 2003.
In relating from class discussion, I believe the Hons are exercising
their modes to different points of access in order to reach a more wide range
Critical Analysis (continued)
of fans. In addition to their website, Café Hon can be found both on
Facebook and Twitter. In 2009, Denise Whiting used the Facebook fan base as
a way of gathering a group together for an important cause. A major
controversy arose over the size of the 30 foot flamingo attached to the
fire escape outside Café Hon. Baltimore City told Whiting she was to pay an
extra fee of $800 a year to keep the flamingo up, or else she was to remove
the bird.Creating a Facebook page titled “Bring Back the Bird,” she was
able to bring together a group of supporters to stage a "Flock City
Hall protest.” For results from the flock, please see the flamingo’s return
In Bill Ivey’s “Cultural Bill of Rights,” he address the
“ right to explore and audition the cultural heritage of others, to observe
and accept difference through the expressive lives of those unlike
ourselves” (Ivey 1). The culmination of this field guide was
able to do just that, as it explains the art world of the Baltimore
Hon goes beyond the flashy fashion statement; with the beehive hairdo comes
a distinctive accent, fixation with flamingos, feasting on crabs, drinking
Natty Boh beer, and devouring Berger cookies. No, you will not encounter a
Baltimore Hon every day on the streets of Baltimore, but there certainly
remains of a vital subculture that offers a vibrant sense of character to the
community often referred to as the “Charm City,” and that is Baltimore,
Cafe Hon. Cafe Hon . Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://www.cafehon.com/
Honfest 2010 | What Weekly Magazine. (2010, June 17). What Weekly Magazine | Baltimore- Online Arts and Culture Magazine . Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://whatweekly.com/2010/06/17/honfest-2010/
Günlü, E. PRESERVING CULTURAL HERITAGE AND POSSIBLE IMPACTS ON REGIONAL DEVELOPMENT: CASE OF İZMİR. Region Studies Association . Retrieved November 22, 2010, from http://www.regional-studies-assoc.ac.uk/research-networks/past/trdpp/apr08_papers/Gunlu.pdf
Hampden, Baltimore - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia . Retrieved November 5, 2010, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hampden,_Baltimore
Harrington, R. (2005, July 8). Welcome to Baltimore, Hon - washingtonpost.com. Washington Post - Politics, National, World & D.C. Area News and Headlines - washingtonpost.com . Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2005/07/07/AR2005070700662.html
Ivey, Bill. A CULTURAL BILL OF RIGHTS. Art and Society . Retrieved October 16, 2010, from aaablogs.uoregon.edu/artsustainablesociety/files/2010/01/A-CULTURAL-BILL-OF-RIGHTS.pdf
Remesch, K. (2010, June 10). Baltimore Traditions: Cafe Hon, Food, Fun and Flamingos. All Baltimore, All the Time, Page 2 of 3 - Associated Content from Yahoo! - associatedcontent.com. Associated Content from Yahoo! - associatedcontent.com . Retrieved November 20, 2010, from http://www.associatedcontent.com/article/5475536/baltimore_traditions_cafe_hon_food_pg2.html?cat=3 )
Taragin, C. (2008, June 18). Taking John Waters to Task for Backlash Against Honfest - John Waters - Zimbio. Zimbio - Interactive Magazine . Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://www.zimbio.com/John+Waters/articles/2/Taking+John+Waters+Task+Backlash+Against+Honfest)
ArtisanNewsService. YouTube - Hairspray 1988 Trailer . YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. Retrieved November 16, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fdKTHL0PMGw
Benteric. YouTube - Divine - The Filthiest Person Alive . YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. . Retrieved November 26, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lPRKE0TKbTk&feature=related
CBS. YouTube - HAIRSPRAY Official Trailer . YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. . Retrieved November 26, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kkzcNF-jlWw
HonFest. YouTube . Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vWr4fXOSLxA&NR=1
Wbal. YouTube - 98 Rock Aids In Flamingo's Return To Hampden . YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. . Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z55RGV1s_Ac&feature=channel
wbal. YouTube - Cafe Hon Flamingo Taken Down . YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. . Retrieved October 11, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fs0qyXbzd64
wbal. YouTube - Baltimore's Honfest 2008 . YouTube - Broadcast Yourself. . Retrieved November 16, 2010, from http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bFhNK-FpV10