FOR DECADES, the corner saloon inside Baltimore's House of Welsh was the classic stag bar -- men only. Small and dimly lighted, it didn't even have bar stools because its patrons were just as happy to stand.
"Women patrons would put a damper on the men-talk," owner Thomas Welsh groused to a reporter in 1970. "The bar provides some place where men can hide."
The bar finally was forced to admit women in the early 1970s, after a federal judge in New York ruled that it was illegal for bars to keep out female patrons.
This year the House of Welsh is undergoing another transformation: New owners are spending nearly $1 million to convert it from an old-time tavern and steakhouse to an upscale dance club and lounge.
The three-story building at Guilford Avenue and Saratoga Street -- closed since early 1998 -- was sold for $200,000 last year to a partnership headed by Andrea Moore-Burkert and Stephen Carullo, who plan to reopen it by fall. The state Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City approved a request this year to transfer the liquor license for the new venture.
Contractors recently tore down the back rooms of the old restaurant to make room for a contemporary addition. The interior of the main building, which dates from the 1830s, is being rebuilt to contain bars on the first level and a dance floor and VIP room on the second.
Carullo, the general manager of Fletcher's nightclub in Fells Point, will be the new club's full-time operator, according to an application on file with the liquor board. The location is ideal for a nightclub, he said this week, because it's easily accessible from the Jones Falls Expressway and has plenty of parking nearby but no residences.
Carullo said he and Moore-Burkert don't have a name for the operation and plan to open only part of the week -- perhaps Thursday, Friday and Saturday. He said they want to create a club that will attract a "broad, eclectic" crowd and provide an alternative to other city nightspots, many of which have a beach theme.
Run by three generations of Welshes since 1900, the House of Welsh was one of the oldest taverns in the city continuously owned by the same family. It was known for its sizzling steaks, Maryland rye whiskey and 20-cent draft beers. Its clientele ranged from lobbyists and bookmakers to lawyers, judges and politicians from nearby City Hall.
The Formstone-clad building -- three 1830s rowhouses that were connected -- not only survived the Great Fire of 1904 but provided a link afterward between downtown Baltimore and the outside world. Western Union set up an emergency signal station there so reporters could file stories about the fire and the city's efforts to rebuild.
After the renovation is complete, Carullo said, the interior will have few traces of the old dining rooms or the stag bar.
"This will be a place where couples can go, a place where you can take your wife or your girlfriend," he said.
Demolition permits upheld for Redwood St. buildings
Baltimore Housing Commissioner Patricia J. Payne has decided that a Bethesda-based developer may proceed with plans to raze two buildings in Baltimore's financial district to make way for a 125-room hotel, even though preservationists say the city's renewal plan for the district calls for the buildings to be saved.
According to Housing Department spokesman John Milton Wesley, Payne's department notified the developer and preservationists this week that the commissioner concurs with an administrative panel that reviewed the case. The panel concluded that the housing department acted properly in granting demolition permits for the early 1900s buildings at 109 E. Redwood St. and 17 Light St.
Attorney John Murphy, who challenged the legality of the demolition permits on behalf of Preservation Maryland, Baltimore Heritage and property owners Peter and Nancy Kimos, said he filed an appeal yesterday with the Circuit Court for Baltimore City, seeking a trial to determine whether the city was right to issue the demolition permits. Murphy said he also intends to seek a court injunction blocking demolition of the two buildings until the trial is over, because the appeal does not automatically prevent demolition.
The developer, Donald Urgo, notified the city last month that he has obtained financing for the project and is eager to proceed.