A representative for the company that owns Dick’s Last Resort said the recent closure of the brash restaurant and bar’s location in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor had less to do with the impact of the coronavirus pandemic than with the city itself.
“Downtown Baltimore is a complete hellhole dumpster fire of violence and danger,” Ryan Carlson, director of operations for Deja Vu Services, Inc., wrote in an email to the Baltimore Sun. “Nobody in their right mind would operate a business there.”
In addition to Dick’s Last Resort, the Las Vegas-based Deja Vu operates about 200 strip clubs in 40 states and six countries, as well as other bars and entertainment venues. Among those locations is Larry Flynt’s Hustler Club at 409 E. Baltimore St.
In a followup email, Carlson said the decision to close the Dick’s Last Resort location “was based on continued economic loss and the fact that foot traffic in Baltimore has plummeted because the City has failed to address widespread violence and crime problems.”
He did not address whether Deja Vu intends to close its Hustler Club location on The Block in downtown Baltimore but added: “I can’t imagine that many businesses will show positive cash flow this year (or next).”
Carlson’s blunt statements align with the schtick of Dick’s Last Resort, which is known for its servers being rude and obnoxious toward customers, often giving guests large paper hats featuring a joke mocking the wearer written in black marker. The restaurant lists nine locations on its website, including Las Vegas, Dallas and Nashville. The Baltimore location had been open for 10 years in the Power Plant across from the National Aquarium.
A spokeswoman for The Cordish Companies, which manages the Power Plant, said in a statement Wednesday that the restaurant suffered from decreased visitation because of the pandemic. The Barnes & Noble bookstore closed there last month even though tenants were offered significant rent concessions, which they declined, Cari Furman said.
In a statement, David Cordish, chairman and CEO of The Cordish Companies, said the Power Plant’s replacement for Dick’s Last Resort will be one that shares the generational Baltimore company’s passion for the city.
“The Cordish Companies successfully operate many businesses in downtown Baltimore, and the Inner Harbor is home to our corporate headquarters,” Cordish said. “Many of our partners and senior executives live in Baltimore City. While problems downtown are real and need to be addressed, we are committed to the City, and we will work to replace this tenant with a far better use, one that shares our love of the City and our optimism that the best is yet to come."
He noted that after Disney elected to close the ESPN Zone location in the Power Plant in 2010, it was replaced with “the equally spectacular and iconic” Phillips Seafood.
“History will repeat itself,” he said.
City Councilman Eric Costello, who represents Baltimore’s 11th District, where the Dick’s Last Resort was located, said he found Carlson’s statement “ironic” given the restaurant’s pride in its generally rude service.
“I find the narrative explanation from a company that runs strip clubs and prides itself on having poor customer service as a joke to be quite ironic,” Costello said. “[The Hustler Club’s] employees and clientele contribute to quality of life issues in the downtown central business district. Perhaps, they’re interested in taking another look in the mirror and reflecting on the way they run a business in our downtown and our city.”
Laurie Schwartz, president of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, pointed out that the bar operated in the city for a decade, "so they must have been profitable until the pandemic hit.
"Like too many other local and national retailers, they are closing as a result of the pandemic,” she continued in an email. "Their whole business model is around insulting customers. And now I guess they’re just extending that business model to insult cities as well. Their whole concept is to be obnoxious and their statement about Baltimore couldn’t be any more obnoxious.”
Costello noted that the hospitality industry is Baltimore’s third-largest job sector and that the city has worked to support those workers throughout the pandemic, which began in March.
“It’s frustrating to hear,” Costello said of Carlson’s comment. “Baltimore City certainly has our fair share of challenges, but that also to me sounds like deflection and trying to blame the challenges that everyone is facing across the city and across the country related to COVID to something that is not the cause of it.”