First Look

A First Look at Dear Charles

By: Amber Chase

Nestled in the Charles Village neighborhood of Baltimore, a 100-year-old building is seeing new life. Formerly designated as student housing, the building stands on a prominent corner within the Johns Hopkins University Homewood campus. Towering above 33rd and North Charles streets, the building will embark as the fourth concept by Study Hotels, a hospitality concept group dedicated to immersive, cultural stays on university campuses. In the final months of 2023, The Study at Johns Hopkins opened the doors to its quaint, curated 115-room suites. Now, the team is eager to welcome Dear Charles, an approachable and authentic full-service restaurant to compliment the recent remodel. 

A plate of steak and greens sits on a table at Dear Charles

Paul McGowan, executive behind Hospitality 3 and Study Hotels, explained his impetus for the projects originated when touring colleges with his daughter. Trekking between campuses, they were often met with little to nothing when it came to quality accommodations, even at the most recognizable names. Thus, McGowan sought to create hospitality projects that could integrate within the college community but remain prestigious in taste, culture, and service integrity. Of his fourth concept, McGowan states, “This building has existed on this corner in Baltimore for 100 years. Our hope is to pay homage to the history and community that has flourished around it, and synergize the space so it fits the modern needs of the neighborhood.” Not only will Dear Charles provide a haven for university students and visitors to receive locally-sourced sourced fare, but will also cater to a large need within the Charles Village neighborhood for an approachable spot for everyday gatherings. “We envision the space as a sort of ‘village tavern,’ a ‘come as you are’ restaurant where you can have first dates, celebrate milestones, and just enjoy a weeknight meal,” says McGowan. 

When designing the space for Dear Charles, McGowan explained they wanted to modernize the restaurant’s historic building, but maintain its authenticity. “Strategizing a redevelopment is far more challenging than starting from scratch, but incredibly gratifying,” notes McGowan. Situated on a busy corner of the community, the team decided to create an open floor plan on the lowest level to host the hotel lobby and 85-seat restaurant. Natural light pours into the space, illuminating rich, warm pops of color, academic accentuations like large bookshelves, and modern lighting fixtures. With large windows towering on every wall, the space seamlessly integrates into the neighborhood; after all, the name, Dear Charles, pays homage to the neighborhood the restaurant seeks to serve. 

A pink drink topped with thyme is handed across the counter at Dear Charles

The menu at Dear Charles will be elevated, but without any extra fuss. Chef Michael Reynolds explains, “We want diners to feel at ease reading the menu, knowing they can satisfy any craving from short ribs to creamy mashed potatoes. You won’t find any unnecessary foams or powders, but the execution and technique will be pristine on every plate.” Reynolds plans to lean into crowd-favorites, paying special attention to vegetarian options. “I’ve just finished perfecting a smoked cabbage for one of our featured dishes. To me, it’s important to apply the same level of creativity, finesse, and complexity to vegetarian dishes as you would a protein-focused dish. Vegetarian plates are not an afterthought and deserve to be showcased,” saysReynolds. As a Charles Village resident himself, Reynolds is deeply in touch with the surrounding area and plans to partner with many local purveyors across the Mid-Atlantic. While Mid-Atlantic cuisine can mean something a little different depending on the region (think Chesapeake oysters, rockfish, and chowders), for Reynolds it’s “more than crabcakes and Old Bay” and all about garnering pure ingredients from neighboring land and sea. “‘Local’ means it was caught, gathered, or harvested within a day,” says Reynolds. 

General manager Kathleen Dombrowski explains the neighborhood is already rallying behind the space. “As a Baltimore native, we’re really meeting a community need here. People are ready to have a space they feel is their home away from home, a spot to settle in and become regulars,” explains Dombrowski. With a menu of elevated classics, Dear Charles is poised to become a local’s staple, a tourist’s haven, and a student’s favorite escape.

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