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Annapolis

Fire rips through Sailor Oyster Bar in Annapolis: ‘We’ll get through this together’

Downtown Annapolis’ Sailor Oyster Bar suffered heavy damage during a fast-growing Wednesday evening fire that prompted restaurant employees to quickly escort patrons out of the business.

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As they assessed the damage Thursday, the popular seafood joint’s owners said they expect it to take months to reopen.

Heavy smoke could be seen billowing from the restaurant at 196 West St. on Wednesday evening, as 56 firefighters battled the blaze for about an hour to extinguish the two-alarm fire. No one was injured in the blaze.

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The call came in about 8 p.m. and the fire was under control at about 8:55 p.m., said Annapolis Fire Department Lt. Tony Williams, Jr.

The oyster bar’s owners, Scott and Gabrielle Herbst, had just settled in at their home around the corner when a staff member told them about the blaze.

“We just ran down here,” Gabrielle said as she stood in the alley behind the restaurant that still smelled of burned wood and fiberglass Thursday afternoon as fire and insurance investigators assessed the damage.

“The whole back was engulfed in flames,” Scott said.

The restaurant was in full service when the blaze started, he said.

“Everyone started to smell smoke and started looking around at each other,” said Sarah Schaffer, who lives across the street and was getting drinks at the oyster bar Wednesday when the fire started. “It was pretty subtle at first.”

The fire started in the back, and as the bright glow of flames started to become visible throughout the restaurant, staff started ushering customers out. Then, the blaze “really erupted,” Schaffer said.

A crowd of neighbors came and offered support, the owners said, hailing a quick and efficient response from the Annapolis Fire Department.

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There were no injuries reported. The two neighboring businesses, Light House Bistro and Nancy Hammond Gallery, were temporarily closed Thursday because of minor damage caused by the fire.

The Herbsts, who also co-own the nearby Asian fusion restaurant Tsunami with Mayor Gavin Buckley, said they didn’t sleep much Wednesday night. The couple “just looked at each other, like ‘what happened?’,” Gabrielle said.

They think it will take months to get back into business. They planned on holding an all-staff meeting Friday to “make sure everyone’s taken care of,” Scott said.

The cause of the fire and where it started is under investigation, Williams said. The estimated cost of damage will also be determined.

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“We’ll get through this together,” Scott said. “This is hard, but it’s just stuff. Nobody was hurt.”

Schaffer described the Herbsts as “community fixtures” in the neighborhood, noting many in the surrounding area are close with the couple and often visit the bar.

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“Scott and Gabby, they’re just great people,” she said.

An online fundraiser established by Melissa Lauren and Nicole Berg quickly surpassed its $10,000 goal on Thursday, and is still raising money for the restaurant’s recovery.

Annapolis Alderwoman Elly Tierney, who represents the downtown ward which includes the restaurant, said such a fire is her “worst nightmare,” knowing how easily the historic buildings can flame up. She said she was glad to see the business had fire sprinklers installed when she visited Wednesday evening.

“It’s almost like a personal thing when this happens,” said Tierney, Ward 1 Democrat, noting that the Herbsts are “very invested in their business.”

“It’s tragic,” she said.


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