The large horse that stands guard over Bel Air's South Main Street a block from the Harford County Courthouse will be leaving its post next week when the Dark Horse Saloon closes.
After 2-1/2 years as a casual restaurant, the owners are changing the theme and decor of the restaurant and trying to make it a little more upscale, Chris Reda, managing member of the ownership group, said Thursday. Dark Horse will close Monday and remain closed for about two weeks while the restaurant is transformed into The Main Street Oyster House.
"We think Bel Air is missing a nicer fish house," Reda said. "We want to get something a little different Bel Air hasn't seen before."
Reda, who has been part of the management team with Dark Horse, will remain, but he recently added Pam Talley, whose specialty is seafood and oysters. With her came a new chef who has a lot of experience cooking with seafood.
"We want to do it right and be a little more higher end," Reda said.
A seafood house will be the fourth incarnation since the building was opened as a restaurant in January 2005, when the Baltimore-based Ropewalk Tavern opened a restaurant there incorporating the Ropewalk name, according to Judith Powell, administrative assistant for the Harford County Liquor Control Board. The building, among the oldest on Main Street, was the original home of The Aegis from the 1860s until 1905.
After Ropewalk, the establishment became The Greene Turtle in August 2007 before becoming Dark Horse in February 2010, Powell said.
Reda discussed his plans with members of the liquor board at their meeting Wednesday in Bel Air.
He said the fare on offer will be converted to a seafood menu and the interior decor will change to reflect the new menu, which most likely means the end of the horse on the restaurant's front porch on Main Street, he said. He also said they hope to have the main entrance on Main Street and the exit into the parking lot on the side of the building. Currently, the parking lot doors serve as the main entrance.
The decor will be more nautical, Reda said.
"We want it to look like you're walking into an old oyster house that has been there for 100 years," he explained, adding that he thinks it's a "great opportunity for Bel Air."
Hours at the new restaurant will change, as well. Because of the type of license they have, the restaurant is required to serve two full meals five days a week, which requires that it open by 2 p.m. those days.
The restaurant will remain open until 2 a.m., Reda said.
Dark Horse is one of several restaurants and bars that are a big part of the night life scene in downtown Bel Air, along with Looney's, Magerk's, Main Street Tower and Sean Bolan's. Reda said they still hope to attract a late-night crowd, but are hoping for one that is a little more mature.
He doesn't plan on having hip-hop DJs, but possibly dueling pianos or something aimed at an "older" crowd.
"We want to be restaurant oriented but still not lose that bar scene," Reda said.
The restaurant will hold its grand-reopening Oct. 12 with a Toys for Tots fundraiser from noon to 10 p.m. A tent will be set up outside with family activities including face-painting, pumpkin-painting a moon bounce and Halloween costume contest.
Whatever's Clever, a Harford County band, will kick off the entertainment at 3:30 p.m. Also outside for the event will be food and drinks as well as a plethora of oysters, wine, oyster shooters and beer. There is no cover charge for the event, but those attending are asked to bring a new, unwrapped toy for Toys for Tots.