After an August 2019 natural gas explosion shuttered its doors, pizza and beer restaurant Pub Dog reopened Monday in Columbia.
More than 18 months ago, the explosion decimated the Lakeside Office building in the 8800 block of Stanford Blvd. No one was injured in the Aug. 25, 2019, blast, but the 22 businesses in the center suffered various levels of damage. Pub Dog is situated at the far end of the shopping center from where the epicenter of the explosion was.
Drew Walston, Pub Dog’s director of operations, announced on Facebook that Pub Dog would be the first restaurant in the center to reopen.
Social Security leases nearly half the complex space for an office, which closed briefly after the explosion but has since reopened though not to the public because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Other tenants included an Indian grocery store, coffee shop, sushi restaurant and pizzeria, none of which have reopened.
In December 2019, Walston said he was told two-thirds of the building would be torn down.
“Right after the explosion, there was a period of time where we weren’t sure if they were going to tear down the entire building,” he said. “We knew [after hearing about the demolition] that we were going to be able to come into the space.”
Demolition of the majority of the building began in February 2020 and, over the course of the year, Walston was told that Pub Dog would be allowed back into its space by the first of the year.
An August 2020 report by the engineering division of the Public Service Commission of Maryland pointed to problems with inadequate separation of underground gas and electric services by Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.
“Based on the response and evidence submitted by BGE, staff concludes that BGE failed to provide for safe operation and maintenance of the facilities,” the report on the explosion read.
And in January of this year, the state of Maryland fined BGE more than $437,000 for safety violations that caused the explosion and ordered the utility to follow through on plans to upgrade gas lines at more than 1,250 buildings to prevent similar accidents in the future.
Since December, Walston and his team have been putting together the pieces for reopening. Because the rest of the shopping center will be rebuilt, Walston said they took down Pub Dog’s exterior walls so they could match the new design of the shopping center.
Water and power were restored to the building at the end of 2020, and the reality of reentering the space became real for Walston.
“As we got closer and closer and the big-ticket items came together, it became more and more realistic for the March opening,” he said.
When customers come back into the space, Walston said it will look like they never left. New floor-to-ceiling windows replaced the previous walls and new TVs line the bar, but other than that everything else has stayed the same.
“It looks so similar that someone who hasn’t been here for five years might not even know that it closed,” Walston said. “People liked our space, we liked our space, so we’re very pleased to come back to what we had.”
Customers can expect the same menu the Maryland chain has offered for nearly 20 years. Walston said the one change they’ve made is to offer new beers every two weeks.
“As far as food and beverage experience, it’s going to be pretty close to what people remember,” he said.
At some point, Walston plans to host a ribbon-cutting ceremony with County Executive Calvin Ball.
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“If it wasn’t [for the pandemic], we would be doing the dog and pony show,” Walston said. “Because of all the restrictions, we want to be able to take care of as many people as we can and ease into things.”
Caitlin Fisher has worked as a bartender at Pub Dog for the past nine years. Since the explosion, she has anticipated the Columbia location’s reopening while working at Pub Dog’s other two sites in Baltimore and Westminster.
“We definitely took blows back to back in 2019 and 2020,” Fisher said, referring to the explosion and the pandemic. “Two years has felt like a long time, but looking back on it, it seems like time flew.”
She said she’s thrilled to work the first shift back Monday night and see loyal customers again.
“I’m so excited to be back in the same space that thankfully wasn’t damaged, and I’m so excited to see our loyal customers and meet new faces, too,” she said. “We’re just really thankful to be able to open and see everyone.”
Walston said he’s excited to see returning customers again, too. “For the past two weeks we’ve been having people come, pulling on the doors, thinking we’re already open,” he said.
Pub Dog will be open for limited hours — 4:30 p.m. to midnight Monday through Thursday, noon to 2 a.m. Friday and Saturday, and noon to midnight Sunday — for carryout and socially distanced indoor dining.