The Allview Inn & Restaurant in Columbia -- a neighborly watering hole favored by area golfers, softball teams and nearby residents -- closed its doors suddenly last weekend after 33 years in business.
Burdened by debt, the business is for sale. But the sudden closing of the bar and restaurant by longtime operators Joseph Novak Sr., known to patrons as "the coach," and his son, Joseph Novak Jr., surprised and saddened loyal customers.
"It was so sudden; it's a real disappointment," said Grover "Buddy" Delp, an Ellicott City resident and thoroughbred trainer for such horses as Spectacular Bid.
Mr. Delp has patronized the Allview since 1989.
Through Thomas Jarvis, a Catonsville real estate agent who is negotiating to buy the business, the Novaks declined to comment on the closing.
Mr. Jarvis said both men are looking forward to leaving the trade and that he and other investors hope to revive the restaurant and liquor store this summer.
"We hope to restore the Allview to its prominence as a premier place to eat and gather in the community," Mr. Jarvis said.
Meanwhile, longtime patrons say some of the Allview's down-home color will be missed. Mr. Jarvis would hold court during the day on a reserved stool at the bar called "coach's corner," and old-timers would haggle afternoons away over friendly games of dominoes or gin rummy at dining tables.
"I liked to go there after work," Mr. Delp recalled. "It was a good place to let down and see people you knew before heading home. They had a woman there that could cook like nobody else. On the weekends, the place would be packed."
And on summer evenings, the bar would draw members of local softball teams eager to quench their thirst and replay game highlights.
The Novaks had attempted to improve business by adding an outdoor cafe area with a Southwestern decor and by offering meal specials.
But in recent months, business seemed to have slipped, several patrons said, though no one is certain why.
The elder Mr. Novak, who launched the business in 1962 with a now-deceased business partner, is in his late 80s and has had some health problems, said several longtime patrons.
Debt also may have played a role in the closing. Howard County court records show that in March, state and federal agencies filed liens against the Allview Inn and Novaks Inc. totaling more than $70,000 for unpaid sales and employment taxes.
Mr. Jarvis, an occasional patron over the years, said he thinks the Allview still has potential, largely because of its reputation as a neighborhood haunt with good food and a highly visible location near two major roads.
The business is just off Route 108, west of the U.S. 29 interchange.
Mr. Jarvis said he and the several other investors who are negotiating to buy and reopen the Allview hope to lease the restaurant, which seats about 50 inside, to a group of experienced restaurant operators from Catonsville.
The Allview -- its neighborhood charm and flair for tasty, lumpy crab cakes and jumbo fried shrimp -- became known to many through golf.
Mr. Jarvis recalls frequenting the restaurant in the 1970s, when he was a caddy at the old Allview Golf Course, across Route 108 from the restaurant in what now is the Dorsey's Search neighborhood of Columbia.
The Allview course closed in 1983, but a new 18-hole golf course is being built on the site by the Columbia Association, Columbia's management arm, and is set to open as the Fairway Hills Golf Course around Labor Day.
tTC After playing their rounds, many golfers would head to the Allview to relax and recap the day, said Mr. Jarvis. The Allview also was favored by patrons of the Rolling Road Golf Course near Catonsville, he said.
Donald Dunn, an Ellicott City resident and president of the Howard County Golfers Association, said he recalls the Allview during its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s as something of a roadhouse for the local golfing set.
In those days, tee time on the Allview course was determined through a system of placing marked balls in a rack. On weekends, golfers would begin arriving at midnight to place their balls for early tee-off. Some then spent the night in the parking lot guarding their positions in the rack.
"People with a late tee-off would head over to the Allview for breakfast, and those that finished their rounds early would head over after their round to have something to eat and lie about their game," Mr. Dunn said. "It really served as a substitute clubhouse, since there wasn't one on the course itself."
He and others said they think the new course could benefit business at a reopened Allview Inn, because the new course, too, will lack a full-service clubhouse.
Mr. Jarvis said he hopes that he and other investors can reopen the Allview in early July.
"There are a lot of good memories there," Mr. Delp said.