Late one Friday night, down U.S. 1, just inside the Howard County line, Michael Halkos entertains several regulars at Skorpios, his Greek/Mediterranean/American restaurant.
Glass and ice cubes clink from the bar; laughter drifts and mingles with gentle Greek music. Pictures and posters of Greek ports and the bright blue Mediterranean Sea cover the faux stucco walls.
Vicki Neher is one of the regulars who has been coming here for more than a dozen years. She likes the ambience and the food. Nearly every Thursday night, she journeys south from Ellicott City and joins friends and family at the bar. She came back this Friday night to enjoy chicken gyros, she says.
"The food is excellent, and the atmosphere is great," Neher says.
Halkos, the owner and chef, says he aims to sustain the Greek market while luring other diners by revamping the menu and adding a bit of American and Mediterranean flavor.
"It's a smattering, a taste of everything," Halkos says. Among the favorite dishes for regulars is Halkos' steaks.
Appetizers include a crab and tomato bruschetta. A house salad with bell peppers and tomatoes oozed with juices, as if Halkos had just picked the vegetables from a garden out back.
Among the entrees are pastitsio, a Greek dish with ground sirloin, macaroni and Greek cheese mixed together; and mousaka, another Greek dish that contains baked eggplant. There is, of course, baklava for dessert.
Though the service can be slow, the staff makes people feel like regulars. When you're a regular, you put up with the waitress and chef chatting with customers while you wait for your meal.
Skorpios has baby blue doors and a large scorpion painted above the front door to greet diners. Depending on the night, the food might take longer to reach tables because Halkos is chatting with his regular customers. "Mr. Mike," as he is known, has owned the building since 1973, when he opened the restaurant Chaucer House.
He closed Chaucer House and leased the property to a Greek family, which opened Skorpios. But Halkos says he was forced to close Skorpios in December 1997 when the family left.
Halkos liked the Greek feel. So instead of finding another tenant, he reopened the restaurant a year later, keeping the name.
"It was very intriguing to go back into business," he says. "It was an adventure I had to fulfill."
Halkos is hiring "an internationally known diva to sing" Friday and Saturday nights, and is contemplating adding a catering facility that can accommodate office parties.
The restaurant was a home, office and restaurant in the 1920s, and the owner sold crab cakes for 5 cents and rented cottages in the back, Halkos says.
In 1939, the restaurant became a dance club, Flamingo, Halkos says.
A year later, it reverted to the original owner and became a restaurant. It closed a few years before Halkos bought the property in 1973.
Skorpios has some of the original woodwork, including a door handle made in the 1920s. Halkos enjoys working there, he says, but is looking for a reliable chef, someone who "comes to work and is sober."
Where: 10024 Washington Blvd., North Laurel; 410-792-2200.
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 5 p.m. to 10 p.m.; Sunday, 4 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Prices: Appetizers, $2.95 to $8.95; entrees: $10.95 to $17.95; dessert: $1.50 to $3.75.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard and American Express.