Crash Cafe proposed for harbor location; Developer envisions disaster-theme dining as 1st in national chain


After a two-year search, developer Patrick Turner has found a prominent harbor setting for his proposed disaster-theme restaurant, Crash Cafe.

Turner notified South Baltimore community leaders last week that he has agreed to buy the lease, liquor license and equipment of the defunct Globe Brewing Co. at 1321 Key Highway for $600,000. Although neighbors worry about parking and tastefulness, Turner plans to open the new cafe -- highlighted by an airplane piercing the front wall -- by summer.

The Baltimore-based developer heads Crash Concepts Inc. and wants to make the Key Highway Crash Cafe the first in a national chain of restaurants that would tap into the public's fascination with "crashes, collisions and other forms of destruction."

In hopes of making the restaurant a local landmark, Turner plans to buy a retired DC-3 airplane in Mexico and incorporate its tail-end into the front wall, as if it has just made a crash landing. Menus will be printed on sheets of aluminum designed to look like fragments of an airplane fuselage.

The 17,000-square-foot cafe will seat 300 to 400 in what was once a door factory on the harbor's edge. Around the dining areas, video screens will show clips of staged disasters, such as train wrecks and building implosions. A gift shop will feature accident-themed souvenirs.

Turner says roving stunt people will entertain patrons who want to see how movie stunts are done.

"It's evolved around people's fascination with crashes and disasters," Turner said. "It goes back to the beginning of time. How could someone drive by and not want to experience it?"

Reaction from Baltimoreans has been cool.

Dave Marshall, president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association, said his organization is opposed to the restaurant because "we thought it was glorifying death and destruction, and that's not good for the community." Leaders of community groups throughout the peninsula, including the Riverside Action Group and the Locust Point Civic Association, also have objected.

Even local businessmen, who generally have supported development along Key Highway, are wary. Sonny Morstein, president of the South Baltimore/Federal Hill Marketplace Business Association, said he found the Crash "offensive" and "inappropriate." Morstein lost a son in an automobile accident eight years ago.

"I don't know why anyone would want to eat and drink while they view accidents," says Morstein. "I'd be a little concerned about the kind of patron who is attracted by that."

Marshall said the community realizes it can't prevent the restaurant from obtaining a liquor license or getting construction permits because they're offended by the concept. But neighborhood groups have discussed fighting Turner on parking issues, or arguing that his stunt men constitute illegal live entertainment. Some activists might contest his liquor license renewal this year.

The state board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore approved the license transfer Jan. 28. Turner said he hopes to begin construction by next month and open the restaurant by June or July. While theme restaurants are struggling nationally, Turner said he would like to open Crash Cafes in other cities, including Orlando, Los Angeles and London.

While he tried for two years to secure a site in Baltimore for the restaurant, Turner's concept received extensive publicity, including reports in the Wall Street Journal, New York Post, Orlando Sentinel and Los Angeles Times and on CBS-TV.

Turner said his group plans to invest $2 million to build the Crash Cafe, above the $600,000 purchase price for Globe Brewing, and that about 125 jobs will be created.

Alphin Aircraft, a Hagerstown company that restored parts of a Boeing 737 for display at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, will put together the Crash Cafe's plane.

"We are not a theme restaurant attempting to glorify death and destruction," Turner said. "It is simply theatrics, like being on the set of an action movie. There is no gore or depiction of any real disaster which would exploit someone's death. That is not what Crash Cafe is about. Our video clips are those of staged events, building implosions, demolition derbies and action scenes from movies."

Turner said he is working to secure adequate off-street parking for the operation and is confident it will be in place by the time the restaurant opens.

"Everyone has a right to his opinion," Turner said of the objections to the restaurant. But "this is a commercial business. We have the funds. We're willing to invest in it. We're not asking for any city funds. We're hoping to be a good neighbor."

Turner added that the menu will not follow the crash theme and will include a wide array of gourmet fare.

"It's not gruesome or anything," he said. "It's no different than walking onto the set of a movie, pushing the rubble aside and creating a fine dining place."

Pub Date: 2/05/99

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