Buzz Beler

Buzz Beler, owner of Prime Rib on Calvert St., is pictured in his restaurant. (Algerina Perna, Baltimore Sun / March 6, 2012)

In the more than 45 years since the Prime Rib opened, precious little has changed at the iconic midtown restaurant.

Walking in is like stepping into a bygone era: Well-dressed diners carve into steaks the size of dinner plates while waiters in suits top off their wine glasses. The walls are black with gold trim; on them hang paintings, posters and framed covers of Vogue from the early 1930s. And who could miss that swinging '60s leopard print carpet?

The Prime Rib has been around long enough to see its style fall in and out of fashion. Lately, the TV series "Mad Men" has helped spark a renewed interest in the food and fashion of the time. When the Cordish Cos. wanted a steakhouse for its new Maryland Live Casino, the company turned to Prime Rib owner Constantine Peter "Buzz" Beler — the new location will debut this fall.

Formerly a lawyer, Beler and his brother, Nick, opened the Prime Rib in October 19, 1965, and other locations in Washington and Philadelphia followed. Though Nick died in 1995, Buzz still runs the Washington Prime Rib and oversees the other locations.

Where did you get the idea for this place?

They were building this building here, and [Nick] found it, and said "Buzz, let's open a restaurant." Initially he wanted to do designer English-type themes, like the Eager House. Center Stage had just opened on Preston Street, and at the time I was dating the costume designer. She said, "What do you want to do that for? Why don't you go to New York and do something different?" I agreed with her.

We went up there, looked around and stumbled on something we liked. It looked something like this.

What kind of decor did you want when you opened the Prime Rib?

We wanted a Manhattan-looking spot. Swanky. Leopard print carpet, black paneled walls, lithographs, paintings, posters. You see that Alice Soulie poster? He was a transvestite dancer, but he was beautiful.

Did you ever have leopard print carpet in your house?

Oh yeah. I had it in my apartment upstairs.

You're opening a Prime Rib in the Maryland Live Casino this year, right?

It's a joint venture. He's going to follow all my specifications. It's going to look like the Prime Rib. The food is going to be the same recipes — the same purveyors.

If Cordish Cos. wanted to put a Prime Rib in any of their other locations, are you open to that?

Absolutely. I'd like to see them do that.

Tell me about some of your more memorable diners.

Liberace was a good friend of mine. Whenever he performed in the area, he would come here after the show, and I'd stay open late for him. We would stay here until 4 or 5 in the morning.

Did Liberace ever play the piano there?

I never asked him to, and he never would play it anyway. He'd been playing it all night.