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Food & Drink

Bertha’s Mussels of bumper sticker fame to close after 50 years in Fells Point

Bertha's, a Fells Point institution famous for its mussels and its green-and-white bumper stickers, was included in a 2001 episode of the bygone Food Network series "FoodNation with Bobby Flay."

Bertha’s Mussels, an iconic Fells Point seafood restaurant and bar, is closing after 50 years in business, the owners announced Thursday on Facebook.

The restaurant will remain open through the end of the year and go to auction with bids to start Nov. 12.

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Three family generations have worked at Bertha’s Mussels since 1972 when Tony and Laura Norris, both musicians, opened the bar on South Broadway Street to create an outlet where local musicians can perform. They added a restaurant two years later and, over the decades, the establishment rose to celebrity status for its family charm and attention to music.

The restaurant is known for its fresh seafood, live music and recognizable green bumper stickers encouraging patrons to “Eat Bertha’s Mussels.”

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“It’s an exciting end of an era. We’re not looking back in any kind of negative connotation. This is all a positive thing,” said Andy Norris, an owner and the son of Tony and Laura Norris. “We really want to look at it like it’s a celebration of a lifetime’s achievement and the support of Fells Point and Baltimore in general.”

Norris, 43, who started working at his parents’ restaurant at age 12, said the family is ready to pursue other interests after running the business for half a century.

“It’s as simple as that,” he said.

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In the 1970s, Tony Norris, a classical guitarist, and Laura, a British violinist, became leaders in a campaign to protect Fells Point from a proposed highway development. The effort was successful in including the area on the National Historic Register. The historic waterfront neighborhood has since transformed into a tourist and nightlife destination.

Tony Norris came up with the idea of the famed bumper sticker in 1976. It started as a joke, Andy Norris said, but exploded in popularity. “Eat Bertha’s Mussels” stickers have been spotted on every continent and stuck on notable landmarks, such as the Great Wall of China.

“My mother begged him and pleaded to put something on it that said Fells Point, that we could use the business, we could draw attention to the neighborhood,” Andy Norris said. “And he said ‘Absolutely not.’”

“It takes away the mystery of the whole thing. It loses all of its charisma if you start putting the destination on it,” he said. “You want people to figure it out on their own. And that’s what they did, for sure.”

For the restaurant’s famous moniker, the couple settled on “Bertha” after “Bertha E. Bartholomew,” a name seen on a memorial stained glass window they picked up from a junk dealer. They operated under the full name until 1975.

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The restaurant’s five-day online auction closes Nov. 17 on Alex Cooper Auctioneers’ website. The auctioneer has handled other restaurant sales in Fells Point, including The Wharf Rat, a 300-year-old building and mainstay bar.

“We’ve been doing this for a very long time,” Andy Norris said. “At this moment, it’s just our time to make a change.”


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