There was much to admire Monday, Nov. 5 at 5700 Newbury St., from a charred American flag hanging triumphantly on a wall to donated jockey silks displayed in the white-tablecloth Pimlico Room.
One year after it was destroyed in a Halloween fire, Mt. Washington Tavern reopened for a preview for the media and for family and friends of co-owners Dave Lichty and Rob Frisch.
Most invited guests roamed the gleaming establishment with its skybar, horse-themed artwork and the flag that once flew overhead.
But some guests — and few people off the street who weren't turned away — headed straight for the downstairs bar.
At one end of the long bar sat 20-somethings Sean Gibbons, David Royer, Nick Cloyd and Ben Maizlish. They're all friends and former Hereford High School classmates of Frisch's son, Buck — and they were all tavern regulars before the fire.
"There were tons of us," said Maizlish, 23, of Sparks, now a student at Lyndon State College in northeast Vermont. "This is just four of us, representing hundreds."
At the other end of the bar, sitting quietly in a corner near the entrance, was Ray Hooper, 71, a long-retired Baltimore City firefighter. Before the 2-alarm fire Hooper was a patron of the tavern, and its predecessor, Sparwasser's, for the past 50 years, he said.
Hooper was sitting at home in Roland Park last October when he heard sirens non-stop. Years of experience as a firefighter told him there was a multi-alarm blaze.
Looking out his bedroom window, he saw flames lick the sky. But he didn't know where the fire was until the next day, when his aunt called him and asked, "Raymond, did your hear about the tavern burning down?"
On Monday evening, Hooper was back in his element at his favorite haunt, though it looks a lot different now. He'd been there four hours and said, "I'm here till I feel like going home — and I can be home in 2 1/2 minutes."
In the middle of the bar, watching longtime bartender Jimmy Ernest back in action, sat Stewart Crotty, 42, of Towson, who owns an interior design company and is a good friend of Lichty and his wife, Kathy.
"The tavern is back, bigger and better than ever," Crotty declared.
Mt. Washington Tavern was scheduled to reopen to the public for dinner on Tuesday, Nov. 6, just over a year after it went up in flames in the Mount Washington Village business district. It cost about $4 million to rebuild the nearly 10,000-square-foot, 2-story building, which is now is more spacious, is handicapped-accessible, features an elevator and sits a little higher off the ground, to meet flood plain code.
The only fires on Monday were in the tavern's three fireplaces.
The first floor, which once had a series of steps, is now all one level. One dining room, the Chesapeake Room, has a relocated raw bar and a Chesapeake Bay motif with decoys, oyster cans, buoys and other bay-themed decorations.
The heated sky bar can be used year-round and features a seasonal deck off the bar.
The Pimlico Room features silks and blankets donated by jockeys at Pimlico Race Course. The tavern was a favorite of the racetrack crowd before the fire.
A large mural of Old Hilltop at Pimlico Race Course was destroyed in the fire, but students at the Schuler School of Fine Arts recreated it. Another painting, which depicts a horse race, was done by construction contractor Jim Macko, who paints as a hobby.
An old favorite at the restaurant is back, too: the shuffleboard.
The fire was ruled accidental and unintentional, but the cause is still a mystery, Frisch said.
All four managers and all eight bartenders are back, as is the entire kitchen staff and 80 percent of the wait staff.
A happy hour to thank first responders to the fire, as well as nearby businesses for their help and support, is scheduled for Nov. 21.
Lichty and Frisch, former longtime employees who bought Mt. Washington Tavern about four years ago, were excited to be back in business.
"I woke up this morning and told my wife we're going to work to do what we know how to do," Lichty said.