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Bits & Bites: The Wharf Rat sells for $1 million, Werner’s gets a reboot, lunch is served

Welcome to Bits & Bites, a new regular feature where we highlight news and notes from the area’s restaurant and dining scene.

Secrecy abounds in the restaurant world. Many business owners keep new projects under wraps until well after the interior designer and PR team have been hired. On the other hand, some places seem to be doing just fine until, one day, they’re gone. On that note, I have some questions. Such as: who just spent $1 million to buy a restaurant in Fells Point? Why did a beloved bread store shut down in Fells Point? And what the heck is happening in Harbor East?

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The Wharf Rat, a Fells Point corner bar, was recently sold at auction for nearly $1 million. The new owner is an experienced Baltimore restaurateur who prefers to remain anonymous for now.
The Wharf Rat, a Fells Point corner bar, was recently sold at auction for nearly $1 million. The new owner is an experienced Baltimore restaurateur who prefers to remain anonymous for now. (Wesley Case / Baltimore Sun)

Going once, going twice

The Wharf Rat, one of Fells Point’s oldest family-run taverns, sold at auction Thursday to an unidentified buyer for nearly $1 million. According to auction house Alex Cooper, the current owners are retiring.

The listing notes that the two-and-a-half story building “has been a bar/inn/restaurant (and brothel) consistently since the structure was erected” in the early to mid 1700s.

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Jared Block of Alex Cooper said the new owner wants to remain private for now, but said he is “an experienced restaurateur” in Baltimore.

Next up, look for the sale of Sue Island Grill & Crab House in Essex. That auction closes Tuesday; the opening bid for the waterfront property is $750,000.

Openings

Werners, a restaurant at 231 E. Redwood St., closed nearly a decade ago after being in business for more than 50 years. It's now set for a revival with new owners.
Werners, a restaurant at 231 E. Redwood St., closed nearly a decade ago after being in business for more than 50 years. It's now set for a revival with new owners. (Baltimore Sun photo by Algerina Perna)

Look for a return of Werner’s Restaurant under new ownership. Werner’s, a Baltimore institution going back to the 1950s, was featured in shows like “The Wire” and the movie “Liberty Heights” before shutting down in 2011. Now it’s set for a comeback under the leadership of owner Ray Crum of Pete’s Grille. The restaurant will anchor a multimillion overhaul of the properties at 225 and 233 E. Redwood Street.

EDR, aka, “Eat.Drink.Relax,” the new concept for the former City Cafe, has its official opening Oct. 8. The restaurant is the latest from owner Edwin Thomas, who also runs The Civil in Mount Vernon.

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Vacancies at Harbor East/ Fells Point

I recently learned that the H&S Bakery outlet, long a reliable destination for bargain-hunting bread lovers, has shut down permanently. Paper is covering up the windows and there’s a closed sign on the door; but you can still smell the bread from the neighboring plant. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Nearby, some other prime properties in Harbor East and Fells Point became vacant during the pandemic: The James Joyce Irish Pub and Restaurant, Roy’s Hawaiian Fusion, and even Bar Vasquez. The new Bar ONE was set to move into the former Gordon Biersch Brewery early this year but has yet to open. Harbor East Development did not provide a comment on the properties.

What about lunch?

The Pat LaFrieda Burger is dressed with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and pickles. The secret, chef Chad Gauss says, is the diced bacon, which spreads the bacon flavor evenly on the burger. Every bite's a winner. And it's available for lunch in Columbia.
The Pat LaFrieda Burger is dressed with lettuce, tomato, onion, cheese and pickles. The secret, chef Chad Gauss says, is the diced bacon, which spreads the bacon flavor evenly on the burger. Every bite's a winner. And it's available for lunch in Columbia. (Handout photo)

Just when I thought the pandemic had killed lunch for good, a few local restaurants have started serving midday meals, including the newly-opened Food Market in Columbia.

The Milton Inn posted a cryptic social media post last week. “Hint hint…sharing some news on Friday.” Turns out: they’re doing lunch. Indulge in a three-course lunch special for $39. The historic Sparks restaurant was recently taken over by Foreman Wolf, marking its first foray into Baltimore County. So far, it’s looking like they have a hit on their hands. The place was packed during a recent weeknight visit. The old stone building is also the first property that Foreman Wolf has actually purchased.

From tenant to property owner

I imagine property ownership is a trend we’ll be seeing more of as restaurant owners look to rein in their expenses and bring some more stability to their business models. I’m thinking of restaurants like Breaking Bread, which decamped from its Pigtown storefront last year before transitioning to a ghost kitchen model, which is now on pause. Owner Kimberly Ellis says she has purchased a property in Mount Vernon and plans to move in soon.

Red Emma’s recently posted that they’ve broken ground on their new property in Better Waverly. In the meantime, the Mount Vernon location remains open.

Have a tip? Email me at ctkacik@baltsun.com

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