Jacques Kelly: From pork to Pilsener in Hampden

A now-empty set of interconnected structures on Falls Road in Hampden features dark stone chambers connected by steel ladders. It’s spooky looking — so much so that architect Chuck Patterson, who is now working on the building, describes it as a “call-the-exorcist kind of place.”

For decades, the back part of 3622-3626 Falls Road was home to the Henry Heil meatpacking operation, from which pigs emerged as smoked hams, sausage and scrapple. The deceptively large complex also once held a pair of retail operations facing Falls Road — most recently, Dave’s sports bar, and in the 1990s, the Falls Road Dairy Store. Atomic Books and a storage facility are its neighbors on either side.

“The building is a maze, a rabbit warren,” said Patterson, a partner at SM&P Architects in Mount Vernon. “It’s a massive undertaking, but the place has great bones and it’s exciting to see. … You don’t know from the Falls Road side how large a place this is.”

Brown paper now covers the front windows of what is soon to become the Nepenthe Brewing Co., which will fit into the shopping-retail section of this idiosyncratic collection of old spaces and stout stone walls. Look for brewing tanks to fill the spaces where the completed sausages once sat in huge refrigerated walk-in rooms before they went off to breakfast tables and backyard grills.

Brian Arnold, who now operates a home-brewing supply store in Woodberry’s Meadow Mill complex, will be joined in the new operation by his wife, Jill Antos, and Brendan Kirlin, a former owner of Le Garage, a Hampden restaurant.

They envision a 150-seat taproom and restaurant facing Falls Road. The rear of the building, reached by the back alley that parallels Falls Road, will contain the brewing space..

Nepenthe, Arnold said, is a Greek word for a fictional “drug of forgetfulness” to deal with sorrow. The word appears in Edgar Allan Poe’s poem “The Raven”: "Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe and forget this lost Lenore."

Arnold would not discuss the cost of this projected transformation. “It will be a combination of personal investment, investment from the building owner and a Maryland Small Business Development and Financing Authority loan.”

He said that parts of the structure will remain as possible expansion space.

“Something could happen there down the road,” Arnold said.

He described another part of the building as “the catacombs.” Once renovated, it will house a restaurant kitchen visible from the taproom,” he said.Work is slated to begin after the first of the year and the taproom to open by next summer.

As recently as three years ago, workers were still transforming scraps of butchered pigs and bags of cornmeal into slabs of scrapple. The Henry Heil Co. was one of Baltimore’s enduring pork packers. The Heil family raised their own pigs on Ridge Farm, about 12 miles due north in Baltimore County.

Surviving within the the buildings are an old York brand safe in the former firm’s office and a machine of rotating gears and spinning paddles that churned the ground pork mixture.

The back of the building remains a maze of conjoined chambers and smokehouses. The Heil operation was sold to Caribbean Products, whose owners used the site to make meat pies. Caribbean moved out in 2014.

A century of smoking meat has left an aromatic legacy. On a visit to these old rooms, where the sage, fat and pork innards once were mixed, the smell of a Sunday breakfast remains unmistakable.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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