Baltimoreans still wax poetic about some of the city’s great-but-now-defunct eating spots.
There are certain Bawlmer bistros, restaurants and eateries that are long gone but somehow still hold a special place in our collective culinary memory. Just mention the names Haussner’s, the House of Welsh, Martick’s Restaurant Francais, Hutzler’s Colonial Tea Room or Fields Café to a native or longtimer and you’ll likely get a big smile in return.
I can still remember the smell of burgers sizzling on the grill and being delivered via countertop train at the Hamburger Junction; the cheese bread at Maison Marconi; the table-hopping at the Polo Grill; and the Pimlico’s “Coffey Salad,” named in honor of waitress Claudia Coffey, who worked there for three decades.
Some of the following tasty tidbits of nostalgia have been culled from the new book, “Lost Restaurants of Baltimore” (The History Press) by Suzanne Loudermilk and Kit Waskom Pollard.
The Pimlico Hotel The story of the Pimlico Hotel restaurant is one that is dramatic and filled with late nights, long menus and boldfaced names. But underneath the glitz and glamour, it’s
also a tale about the changing landscape of Baltimore.
In 1950, the fortunes of the building that would house the Pimlico took a turn for the better when Leon Shavitz and Nathan Herr, business partners who owned the North Avenue deli called Nates and Leons, bought it and transformed the ground floor into a swanky restaurant.
“The Pimlico was the first upscale neighborhood restaurant that existed,” said Charles Levine. Levine, who now
co-owns Citron at Quarry Lake at Greenspring with his wife, Susan, started working in the kitchen at the Pimlico
when he was young.
Glam as it was, the Pimlico was also, at its core, a family business. After several years, Leon Shavitz bought Herr out of the restaurant. In 1959, Shavitz’s sons-in-law, Lenny Kaplan (married to Gail) and Alfred Davis (married to Reta), both got involved in the business. Charles Levine fits into this story, too: he is Davis’ nephew.
The restaurant drew a starry crowd, including celebrities who came to town for shows or for the Preakness. “I served Arnold Schwarzenegger,” remembered Levine. “They all came — Jack Benny, Johnny Carson. People came to Baltimore and went to the Pimlico.”
My family used to go to the Pimlico regularly, and I had my bat mitzvah luncheon there. One time, a man asked if he could join us. He was the late actor Bill Macy, who was starring in the TV show “Maude.”
As the Park Heights neighborhood transformed, the Pimlico moved to a new location in Pikesville.
“The old Pimlico was a belated victim of suburban flight, of changing racial and economic patterns in Northwest Baltimore,” columnist Michael Olesker wrote in The Sun in 1985. “It was an oasis of culinary sumptuousness and schmoozy elegance that somehow lingered … long past time any wise-guy tout would have wagered it would last.”
Maison Marconi Maison Marconi was the kind of place that inspired loyalty
from its guests. From well-heeled businessmen to legendary personalities, like H.L. Mencken, generations of Baltimoreans made Marconi’s a part
of their life stories.
Originally opened in 1920, Marconi’s was purchased by Louis Booke, who owned Louis Booke Jewelers across the street. My mother worked at the jewelry store with Frances Booke for years, and we would regularly eat there.
I was addicted to the cheese bread. My mom liked the sole almondine.
Polo Grill From the day it opened in 1990, the Polo Grill was the place to
be. Reservations were hard to come by at the Hopkins-area hotspot, and, right away, it drew boldfaced names and beautiful people. The restaurant was a part of the Inn at the Colonnade, an imposing University Parkway hotel and condo building that was constructed in the late 1980s. With a masculine, clubby vibe and creative menu, it earned its popularity easily.
The restaurant was the brainchild of Lenny and Gail Kaplan, a Baltimore restaurant power couple with deep roots. Gail’s father was Leon Shavitz, the legendary owner of the Pimlico Hotel; she grew up in that restaurant.
Polo Grill’s executive chef Harold Marmulstein was heralded as a genius for his menu full of dishes that had classic roots but incorporated trendy touches.
My personal favorite was the fried lobster tail. The Polo Grill was the place to see and be seen with a happening bar scene and a crowded restaurant, where table-hopping was a “thing.”
Haussner’s “It was time,” said Francie Haussner George about the closing of her family’s restaurant, Haussner’s, in 1999. “It was old Baltimore.”
George and her husband, Stephen, live in Millsboro, Del., and spent decades working at the Highlandtown landmark that drew thousands of diners over the years.
While working for Mayor William Donald Schaefer’s office downtown, I visited the famed restaurant while showcasing the city to traveling journalists on familiarization tours as Baltimore was growing as a tourist destination. It had a bit of a heavy atmosphere. From the dimly lit rooms to the old-world type food — I liked the crabcakes — to the side-by-side art that covered every inch of wall space (not to mention the 825-pound ball of string and marble busts), Haussner’s was known as a place for fine food and fine art.
The restaurant, which got a nod in a 2009 “Mad Men” episode, was celebrated for its old-school menu of German dishes and comfort food, elaborate Old Masters artworks, white-uniformed waitresses and the stag bar, which people still talk about, even though its all-male policy ended in the 1970s.
The Haussner’s building was razed in 2016 to make way for an apartment building. Despite the restaurant’s closure, generations of Baltimoreans still think fondly of its baked rabbit, grilled bratwurst and the famous strawberry pie squiggled with whipped cream.
Hamburger Junction Located at Harford and Joppa roads in Carney, this railroad-themed eatery delivered dishes to counter customers by electric train. I still remember excitedly waiting for my buttered-bun hamburger and fries to come down the counter.
You had to sit at the counter if you had kids! If there was a birthday, they would turn down the houselights and the b-day kid received a flaming sundae via Lionel train.
I only remember the name because it was “a lion” car and I found that amusing as a child. I’m still easily amused and still love a good burger.
*Reprinted from Lost Restaurants of Baltimore by Suzanne Loudermilk and Kit Waskom Pollard (Arcadia Publishing, 2019).
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