BALTIMORE – Guess who's coming for crab cakes? Baltimore — the Charm City — has managed to entice an unlikely pair of VIPs: first twin Jenna Bush and her fiancé, Henry Hager.
Hager, who reportedly accepted a position at a Baltimore-based energy conglomerate, has purchased a circa-1880 rowhouse in the trendy Federal Hill/South Baltimore section for himself and his bride-to-be.
"Customers have come in joking about our new neighbor," said Deborah Cogan, owner of Spoons Coffee Café, a favorite gathering place.
In a city where a glimpse of "Hairspray" director John Waters or Charm City Cakes founder Duff Goldman qualifies as a celebrity sighting, the news that Bush is putting down roots has generated some excitement.
Residents and business owners are wondering when they will spot the first twin shopping
for vegetables at Cross Street Market or dining at local eatery The Bicycle bistro.
"There’s a little bit of buzz," said Joanna Salas, manager of Federal Hill’s Holly G, a women’s clothing store that specializes in up-and-coming designers.
"People that I know at the other stores have been talking about it."
Salas said she spotted Bush a few weeks ago near the other Holly G store in the city’s Mount Washington neighborhood.
"I saw her and her mom, Laura, shopping at Garnish," Salas said. "That’s when I figured something was up."
Garnish Boutique, according to its Web site, is an appointment-only bridesmaid store that features "chic, cocktail-inspired silhouettes."
Bush, 26, and Hager, 29, are set to wed May 10 at President Bush’s ranch in Crawford, Texas.
After their honeymoon, they likely will spend a lot of time in Baltimore, the home base of Constellation Energy, a short walk or water-taxi ride from the couple’s new nest.
Hager paid $440,000 for the nearly 2,000-square-foot red brick rowhouse with a wood-framed storefront window, according to the Baltimore Sun. The home has a fireplace, hardwood floors, exposed brick walls and a highly coveted attached garage.
Bush and Hager are not unlike other young, urban professionals who have been snapping up houses in Federal Hill, which features 19th and early 20th century architecture, dog-friendly parks, views of the famous Inner Harbor and a variety of restaurants, bars and boutiques.
"It’s the trendiest of the neighborhoods in Baltimore," Salas said.
It may be hip, but it’s hardly a celebrity playground.
"I think that you really get a sense for Baltimore being a big small-town when you spend any time in the Federal Hill community," said Will Runnebaum, co-founder of Marcus-Boyd Realty and publisher of the SoBo Voice.
That small-town atmosphere, vastly different than the political rat race of nearby Washington, D.C., may be one of the biggest attractions for the president’s Lone Star State-bred daughter.
"It might be more like what she was used to in Texas," Runnebaum said. "Baltimore is a very comfortable town.
"You don’t feel there’s pretense and that you have to keep up with the Joneses."
Newcomers include empty nesters, recent college graduates and 30-something couples with young children, Runnebaum said.
"It’s just considered a really cool place to be," he said.
But choosing to live in a city neighborhood versus a suburb has its drawbacks, said Donnie Fair, the 31-year-old president of the South Baltimore Improvement Committee.
"It is city life here in Federal Hill and South Baltimore, which means there is property crime," Fair said. "But it’s certainly one of the more gentrified neighborhoods of Baltimore."
Glen Doss, founder of the South Baltimore-focused "Baltimore Grows" blog, said some suggested that the high-profile couple's high-level Secret Service entourage may even improve things.
"Someone had commented that it would be good for the area to have an increase in security," Doss said.
And although Baltimore skews more Democratic than Republican, Bush should feel right at home in Federal Hill.
Her home will be in walking distance of Rub, a restaurant that claims to serve authentic Texas barbecue. The menu features a chopped beef sandwich, "a little secret from Ruby’s," the famous barbecue joint in Austin.
After work, Bush and Hager may want to stop by Ropewalk Tavern, well-known as Baltimore’s Republican-friendly bar.
"I like to say we’re pro-America," said general manager Linda McFaul.
Ropewalk hosts an annual Ronald Reagan birthday bash and features a life-size bronze statue as well as a bust of the 40th president. There is talk that a bust of the 43rd president recently has been ordered.
"There’s probably not a bar in this city where Jenna and her family would be more welcome," McFaul said.
Ropewalk’s regulars are a young, professional crowd who hit the bar after a co-ed kickball match or Ravens game.
"It is the neighborhood bar no matter if you’re a Republican or Democrat," McFaul said. "You belong to a family here. We’d love to include her."