Sandy and Ramsay Stallman saw a good omen when they read the ad in the Wall Street Journal.
The description sounded so perfect - a meticulously restored Colonial inn, with upstairs suites and a basement tavern, in the heart of historic Annapolis. It sounded like the place they were looking for to open their second restaurant.
They knew they were right when they saw Reynolds Tavern. History buffs who enjoy living near the water, the Stallmans took one look at the inn on Church Circle and began planning the menu.
"We can't wait to get over here and get started." Ramsay Stallman said Thursday night, after winning the city's approval to reopen the brick tavern, which dates back to 1747. He and his wife left City Hall with big smiles, ready to tackle the permit process.
The city Planning and Zoning Commission unanimously approved the couple's request for a conditional use permit Thursday night. After settling on 22 conditions, the seven-member board enthusiastically endorsed the project.
"Welcome to Annapolis," board Chairman Thomas Hennesscy told the couple.
Owned by a prosperous hatter before the American Revolution, Reynolds Tavern became Anne Arundel County's library head-quarters before it was given to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975. The group leases the inn to the Historic Annapolis Foundation for $1 a year.
In the mid-1980s, Annapolis entrepreneur Paul M. Pearson II subleased the tavern and transformed it into an elegant restaurant. His partnership, Beaver and Lad'd Hat Ltd., spent more than $1.6 million restoring the inn and went bankrupt not long after it opened.
Farmers National Bank, which gave the group a $1.4 million loan to renovate the inn, foreclosed on the lease rights. The bank has spent several years sorting out the financial tangle and looking for another tenant.
"We feel really good about the Stallings," said Twaun Oakes, vice president of Farmer's National Oak. "They seemed to have the total commitment, the hands-on approach I think it's going to take."
The couple plans to serve seafood and traditional American dishes in the restaurant. Annapolitans, tourists and legislators will be able to quaff an ale and enjoy a lighter pub fare in the basement tavern. Courtyard dining will be available in the summer.
Sandy Stallman said the dishes will feature "fresh ingredients, fresh herbs - a more healthy, more '90s menu.
Responding to concerns raised by the planning commission, the couple agreed to install a second handicapped-accessible bathroom, to ban amplified music and to shut off the music in the courtyard at 10:30 p.m. The restaurant will be open seven days a week until midnight.