Table Talk: Lights flicker at Hollywood Diner

You'll laugh, you'll cry, but will you eat?

News came last week that a musical inspired by Barry Levinson's "Diner" is being prepped for Broadway. Meanwhile, the diner that Levinson used to film his 1982 breakthrough film was last seen tied to the railroad tracks, a steaming locomotive headed its way. Again.

The Hollywood Diner, located downtown near the grounds of the Baltimore Farmers' Market, has been operating since March as Hollywood Diner presents Red Springs Cafe, under the management of chef and caterer Cheryl Townsend. Townsend posted notice last week that she was shutting down her cafe but would continue using the facility for her catering operations.

Then, a plot twist. Red Springs must, by the terms of its operator's agreement, use the facility as a cafe, and not just for catering. Red Springs' agreement is with the Chesapeake Center for Youth Development, a social service organization for at-risk youth that leases the diner from city. Operators of the diner, like Townsend, are also contractually obligated to collaborate with the organization's workforce development program.

The diner building, which is now owned by the city of Baltimore, gained cinematic fame as the principal setting for "Diner," Barry Levinson's 1982 ensemble movie about a group of Baltimore guys on the verge of adulthood. The building was subsequently used as a set in other movies filmed in Baltimore and by Levinson again for scenes in "Tin Men" and "Liberty Heights."

The diner, which was built on New York's Long Island, was discovered in a New Jersey "diner graveyard" by movie producers, who purchased it and brought it to Baltimore. It stood in for the old Hilltop, the Woodmere diner that inspired Levinson's nostalgic piece, which had been dismantled.

The various remakes of the Hollywood Diner — it was known during the Schaefer administration as the Kid's Diner — have only sporadically attracted a steady stream of customers, and its two most recent editions have been notably rough. Before Red Springs Cafe, the diner operated as Crema Cafe.

Townsend said competition from food trucks was the main reason her cafe business has failed to take off. One of the city's five new food-truck zones, dedicated parking areas for licensed food trucks, is in the 400 block of Fayette St., a few blocks from the Hollywood Diner but a shorter walk from City Hall for city employees.

News of the cafe's troubles came, coincidentally, shortly after the announcement that Levinson was prepping a musical stage adaptation of the 1982 movie, with music to be supplied by Sheryl Crow.

Fleet reduction One less food truck will be showing up on the city's streets. Curbside Cafe, which specialized in burritos, has driven off into the sunset.

The owners of the popular food truck, one of the first to ply Baltimore's streets on a regular basis, posted a closing message on its Facebook page last week. "This will be the last week for our little red truck as Curbside Cafe," the message says. "The perfect opportunity has come along that is beneficial to us and the new owners."

Dining with Brio A Brio Tuscan Grille will open in the Inner Harbor's T. Rowe Price Building, where a Legal Seafood operated for a few years before closing in spring 2008. This will be the second Brio for Maryland; the first opened in Annapolis in March 2009.

Brio is one of two brands out of the Columbus, Ohio-based Bravo Brio Restaurant Group Inc. Brio is the upscale brand, while Bravo is described by the company as "polished casual." The planned 7,800-square-foot restaurant will include indoor eating for 230 with outdoor patio seating for approximately 30 more.

The restaurant will offer lunch, dinner and weekend brunch, as well as its popular $2.95 Tuscan Taster bar menu on weekdays in the bar. Danielle Terreri, a spokesman for BBRG, said the restaurant hopes to create 50 full-time and 50 to 60 part-time jobs.

Brio will open in the spring 2012, Terreri said.