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Hampden’s Birroteca, De Kleine Duivel reopen nearly a year after shutting down for the pandemic

Birroteca's Hampden location reopened earlier this month after nearly a year closed by the pandemic.
Birroteca's Hampden location reopened earlier this month after nearly a year closed by the pandemic. (Christina Tkacik)

Two of Hampden’s favorite places for a pint are opening their doors after nearly a year closed during the pandemic.

Birroteca, the Clipper Road spot also known for its artisanal pizzas and roasted Brussels sprouts, quietly reopened earlier this month. Meanwhile, De Kleine Duivel, known for its selection of Belgian brews, will reopen Thursday. Nicknamed “DKD,” the pub located just off the Avenue was purchased and renovated by Paul and Caroline Benkert, who run the neighboring Bluebird Cocktail Room.

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Birroteca’s co-owner and manager Mike Moran said the timing to reopen felt right with vaccinations becoming more widespread and coronavirus cases dropping. “There’s light at the end of the tunnel,” he said. “It just seems like there’s more hope now for things to get back to normal.”

Few sectors of the economy have been impacted by the coronavirus as much as the restaurant industry, and several eateries in Baltimore have pivoted to carryout or shut down permanently. Cases of long term hibernation have been somewhat less common. Late last year, Joe Squared, the Station North pizza spot, announced that it would return as an employee-owned cooperative after having been closed for several months.

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The future of Birroteca’s sister location in Bel Air, which opened in 2014, is uncertain. “For us to open up [in Bel Air] we’d have to have more capacity,” he said. Maryland restaurants are currently limited to 50% capacity indoors in most jurisdictions. Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott has put in place stricter limits in the city, including 25% capacity indoors with one hour time limits for guests. “Even with 50% its certainly not going to generate enough sales.”

The restaurant’s founder, Robbin Haas, died in 2019, and Moran said he’d thought of his late business partner often while reopening the place, which first arrived in Hampden in 2012. “He has an impact on what we do pretty much every day,” said Moran.

Despite being vacant for nearly a year, Birroteca’s Jones Falls area building, which is owned by the restaurant, was in good condition when staff returned, even if it lacked “that lived-in, loved look” Moran said. But staff worked hard to bring it back to life, cleaning the place thoroughly. In recent days, Moran said he’s been encouraged by visits from longtime regulars. “It feels nice when you hear that door open,” he said.

Returning Birroteca diners can expect a slightly shorter menu, with lower prices and smaller portion sizes to match, said Moran. Carryout orders must be called in and picked up in person. For now, the restaurant is offering limited indoor dining; Moran said they hope to add outdoor seating when the weather warms up. The restaurant’s chef will be Mike Broglio, who previously worked at the Bel Air location.

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Meanwhile, guests at DKD will be able to order beers, craft cocktails, natural wines and a wide selection of teas for dine-in and takeout. Visitors can no longer bring in outside food, but the kitchen will offer local fish and chicken as well as housemade cheeses, salami and preserves. The restaurant “explores ethical globalization of food and drink through preservation and fermentation,” according to a release.

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