Like a long-lost friend coming back to town, Mt. Washington Tavern will be selling oysters, beer and wine in a side parking lot at the merchants-sponsored Mount Washington Village Block Party on Sept. 30.
The popular restaurant and bar at 5700 Newbury St. is on schedule to reopen Nov. 1, a year after it went up in flames in a 2-alarm Halloween fire in the business district.
But after spending more than $4 million to rebuild it, co-owners Rob Frisch and Dave Lichty don't want to wait to re-introduce themselves to the community.
The tavern sold oysters and Octoberfest beers on the street during the first annual block party in 2011, and are eager to join in again — "just so we can keep in touch and let people know we're reopening," Frisch said Sept. 20, as he gave the Baltimore Messenger a tour of the just-under 10,000-square-foot, 2-story building.
Mt. Washington Tavern will be mostly the same, but with some important differences, Frisch said. It's now built a little higher off the ground, to meet flood plain code, and is handicapped-accessible and has an elevator. It will also have three fireplaces.
The first floor, which once had a series of steps, is now all one level.
One dining room, the Chesapeake Room, will have a Chesapeake Bay motif, with decoys, oyster cans, buoys and other decorations on shelves and sepia-toned prints of Aubrey Bodine photos on the walls, showing Chesapeake scenes such as oyster dredging and skipjacking, Frisch said. The raw bar will be relocated to that room, Frisch said.
The heated sky bar can be used year-round and features a seasonal deck off the bar.
The other dining room, called the Pimlico Room, will boast silks, saddles and blankets donated by jockeys. The tavern is a favorite of the racetrack crowd.
A large mural of Old Hilltop at Pimlico Race Course was destroyed in the fire, but students at the Schuler School of Fine Arts are recreating it, Frisch said.
An old favorite at the restaurant will be back, too.
"We kept the shuffle board," Frisch said.
Frisch was upbeat as he walked around the restaurant. Construction crews were hard at work at noon, as the song "Saturday Night's Alright for Fighting" blared in the background.
It's a much happier time than it was when Frisch got the news that Mt. Washington Tavern was ablaze.
"It's not a phone call you want to get at 4 in the morning," said Frisch, a former Mt. Washington Tavern employee, who bought the now 33-year-old tavern in 2007 with co-worker Lichty.
They were approaching their fourth anniversary as owners when the fire started.
The Baltimore City Fire Department has never fully ascertained the cause of the fire.
"Believe it or not, they're still hashing it out," Frisch said. "They ruled it accidental and unintentional."
Business interruption insurance, "the best thing ever created," Frisch said, kicked in, allowing Frisch and Lichty to keep paying the management.
Demolition began a month later and construction was under way by January, Frisch said.
All four managers and all eight bartenders will be back, as will the entire kitchen staff and 80 percent of the wait staff, Frisch said.
The Mount Washington Village business community, which has suffered from the loss of foot traffic from the tavern since the fire, is glad to have it back, said Koula Savvakis, president of the Mount Washington Village Merchants' Association.
"All the businesses really felt a difference," she said.
She is also happy to have Mt. Washington Tavern serving oysters at next week's block party to give the relatively new event some extra publicity. The block party, from noon to 6 p.m. on Sept. 30, will also be a fundraiser for the public Mount Washington School, she said.
Frisch said he is planning to have four or five cases of oysters on hand during the fest, which will close Newbury Street and Sulgrave avenues in the Village.
But Savvakis worries about limited parking when the mad rush by the public begins on Nov. 1 to check out Mt. Washington Tavern in its new incarnation.
"I'm sure it's going to be mayhem in the first month," she said.
Frisch said for now, he is only taking reservations for holiday and wedding reception parties of 25 people or more to rent rooms.
He said he has invited Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
"I'm pretty sure she will, because she was there the day of the fire," he said.
Frisch also plans to hold an open bar to thank first responders to the fire, as well as nearby businesses — "for putting up with us," he said.