It's been a tough year for several popular area restaurants and bars, and their clientele who think of these watering holes and eating establishments as extensions of their homes.

Last December, in a spectacular five-alarm afternoon fire, Donna's in Mount Vernon went up in smoke; a month later, the landmark Charles Village Pub in Towson burned.

And last week, the Mt. Washington Tavern became the latest establishment to be destroyed by fire, which caused an estimated $2.5 million in damage.

Tavern co-owners Rob Frisch and Dave Lichty have had better weeks during their 25 years of working together.

"On Thursday evening, the staff and a few friends got together at Souris Saloon in Towson, and we had a couple of cocktails. We had lots of laughs, and cried, too," said Lichty, who said it's been an emotional roller coaster of a week for him and his partner.

Right now, the two men are trying to find jobs for their staff of 40 full-time workers and 20 part-timers until they are able to rebuild and go back into business.

"We told them it'll probably take a year to rebuild and then we're going to come and get them," said Lichty, with a laugh. "The tavern was only a building. It's the people who made it what it is."

Lichty began working as a busboy in 1986 at the Mt. Washington Tavern when it was owned by Theodore W. Bauer and William H. Shriver 3rd, who purchased the business in 1979.

"Rob was a bartender, and I was his bar back," said Lichty of the friendship that developed into a business relationship as well.

The two men purchased the business four years ago.

The tavern's famous gold-leaf sign, which was not damaged in the fire, has been removed for safekeeping, said Lichty, who has begun the sad task of sorting through the wreckage, salvaging what he can.

"The round, oval window was OK and has been boarded in. The Beer Hall of Fame drinking board, which my dad built, has been removed and is now in his barn," he said.

"I found a few decoys from the Chesapeake Room upstairs, and the Employee of the Year Award board," he said. "I feel like I'm pulling things out of the Titanic. Once we get up and running again, we'll display them."

Lichty and Frisch have been holding parking lot conferences with a steady stream of faithful customers who have dropped by to offer condolences or swap memories, and the phone hasn't stopped ringing with fresh offers of support and help.

The village that was once known as Washingtonville, now Mount Washington, taking its name from a nearby public house, has survived periodic raging Jones Falls floods, the coming of the Jones Falls Expressway and other changes.

In the late 1950s, the coming of the new expressway destroyed the mill town just off Falls Road and Kelly Avenue, which dated to 1796 and stood in the new road's way.

Some 40 buildings, which once stood across from the Pennsylvania Railroad's Mount Washington station, were pulled down.

The product that put Mount Washington on the map was cotton, which was produced in the Washington Cotton Manufacturing Co.'s mill, erected in 1810. It was powered by the flowing waters of the Jones Falls.

In addition to the cotton mill, the village boasted a copper mine, another mill and two snuff factories.