The Owl Bar reopens Friday in the Belvedere


The owls are returning to rule the roost at the midtown Baltimore watering hole named for them.

Restaurateur Dion Dorizas is admitting he made a big mistake when he snatched these wisest of birds from their perch at the Owl Bar and replaced them with coyotes last summer as part of his attempt to increase business by changing to trendy "New American Southwest" fare and renaming the place the Taos Cafe.

On Friday, the Owl Bar will re-open in its spot off the lobby of the former Belvedere Hotel, a Baltimore landmark dating back to 1903. The grand reopening begins at 4 p.m. with free cocktails and hors d'oeuvres.

The Owl Bar had been closed about a year when Mr. Dorizas bought it, along with the John Eager Howard Room next door, in 1991. He reopened the Owl Bar in 1992.

He said business, not exactly booming last summer, fell off 90 percent after the opening of the Taos Cafe. He says he thought he could keep the dwindling, older clientele while attracting a younger crowd, but he was amazed to see customers spin on their heels and leave after arriving to find no owls.

Steve Whalen, hired a month ago to manage the bar, said he recalls more than a hundred people asking about the owls and at least 10 leaving in protest because they were no longer there.

"We tell them the owls will be back. They say we'll be back when the owls are," Mr. Whalen said yesterday. "It's like a love affair between Baltimore and this building with the owls in it."

Mr. Dorizas said, "We thought about it and realized there's a definite romance people have for the Owl Bar and for the owls."

Accordingly, the owls, with their glowing, red glass eyes, will return to their perches. Also, six leaded glass panels with an owl motif will return to the bar.

With the Taos Cafe riding off into the sunset, the Southwestern art will come down from the walls. The menu will once again emphasize bar food and traditional entrees, although Taos Cafe favorites such as fajitas and quesadillas will remain.

"My sincerest apologies to all the people I disappointed," Mr. Dorizas said. "What can I say? The Owl Bar belongs to Baltimore. It's not mine. I'm just renting it."

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