REVIVING BELVEDERE NIGHTSPOTS Restaurant, 2 bars may reopen in spring


The Owl Bar and the John Eager Howard Room, two midtown nightspots where generations of Baltimoreans have wined and dined, might reopen by spring if a Baltimore restaurateur is successful in obtaining financing and a liquor license for his proposed operation.

Dion M. Dorizas, a Greek native who has been a partner in the old Cafe des Artistes restaurant in Hopkins Place and the Cafe Martinique operations on Calvert Street and at Perring Plaza, heads a group that is negotiating to buy the Owl Bar, the John Eager Howard and the 13th Floor bar inside the former Belvedere Hotel -- the Mount Vernon landmark that is being converted to condominiums.

Mr. Dorizas said he is selling his share in the Martinique operation in Perring Plaza and plans to buy the three dining rooms at the Belvedere. He said he will reopen the Owl Bar and the 13th Floor by March 15, and the John Eager Howard Room about a month later.

The 43-year-old restaurateur said he has been enamored of the Belvedere ever since he met former owner Victor Frenkil more than a decade ago and Mr. Frenkil offered his trademark gift, a dollar bill folded into the recipient's initials.

"The atmosphere, ambience, glamour and prestige of the Belvedere command respect, command credibility," Mr. Dorizas said. "It's always attracted a very colorful mix of people. I believe it can once again be an entertainment Mecca."

Built in 1903 at 1 East Chase St., the Belvedere was a hub of social activity for much of the century, drawing presidents and movie stars, as well as area residents holding weddings and receptions.

Its restaurants closed Jan. 1, 1991, after a Philadelphia bank foreclosed on the previous owners and put the building up for sale. The eventual purchaser, Belvedere Realty Corp., has sought to sell the restaurant spaces as part of its conversion of the building to condominiums.

Joel Michael, project director for Belvedere Realty, said his group was asking $275,000 each for the Owl Bar and 13th Floor and $250,000 for the John Eager Howard Room, but he and Mr. Dorizas declined to disclose the negotiated price for all three.

The state Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City is scheduled to consider an application for a new restaurant license for Mr. Dorizas' company, Marnatoni Restaurants Inc., at a meeting Feb. 20.

Mr. Dorizas said he intends to keep the lobby level Owl Bar essentially the way it always was, serving light fare and drinks seven nights a week.

He said he would redecorate the 13th Floor and operate it as a piano bar called the Skyline Cafe. Although the John Eager Howard Room will retain the name of the Revolutionary War hero, he said, the operation inside will be called Dunhill's Grill -- a reference to a childhood nickname he had.

Dunhill's Grill will be aimed at affluent diners, with Continental and contemporary American dishes at moderate prices. With the three rooms, Mr. Dorizas said, he will be able to offer casual and formal dining in one building. The three operations will result in the creation of at least 60 jobs, he added.

Mr. Michael said the restaurants are among the last spaces to be sold at the Belvedere, which has been on the market since last summer.

He said that 84 of the 112 residences have been sold and that his group recently launched a close-out sale, in which prices have been reduced by $4,000 to as much as $24,000, depending on the unit. The last 28 units range in price from $39,900 to $129,900, he said.

Belvedere Realty also has sold all the office condominiums it had on the 11th floor and 12 of the 14 retail spaces at street level. In addition, caterer Martin Resnick of Martin's Caterers is negotiating to buy the Charles Room on the lobby level and the 12th-floor ballrooms.

Mr. Dorizas said he is looking forward to Mr. Resnick's arrival because the crowds attracted to his catered events are likely to spill over into the restaurants.

"I'm counting on Mr. Resnick," he said. "Knowing the caliber and quality of his operation, it'll be good for our business. I think we'll complement each other very well."

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