The Brass Elephant, a landmark Mount Vernon restaurant known for its fine dining and elegant atmosphere, has closed.

Mounting expenses and a dwindling customer base contributed to co-owner Randy Stahl's decision to shut the restaurant this week. Stahl and the other owners recently put the four-story building up for sale with the intention of using the money to help keep the restaurant afloat. Though there are interested buyers, they haven't completed a deal yet, he said.

If the building sells, Stahl hopes to reopen the restaurant under the same name but with a new direction, he said. For now, the cost of operating a high-end restaurant in a recession was too much.

"There's a lot of bills," Stahl said. "If we find a buyer for the building, then we have people to operate the restaurant. If not, there's just not enough cash to go around."

For decades, the Brass Elephant was known as one of the most beautiful restaurants, if not the most beautiful, in Baltimore. Sometimes the food - which started off as northern Italian but changed over the years and then changed back again - took a back seat to the setting. The place was on most critics' lists of romantic and special-occasion restaurants.

Sunday, Stahl looked at the books, saw there were no reservations for this week and decided to close.

"It's a little difficult to continue to prepare food and have it sitting there when you have no reservations," he said. "It's almost impossible."

The Brass Elephant had a lucrative contract with the Baltimore Opera Company, which ended when the company was liquidated this year. That also deeply hurt the restaurant, Stahl said.

"When they went out of business, not only did we lose the contract with them, we lost all that revenue," Stahl said. "That's huge."

Stahl and the other owners are still deciding how to honor Brass Elephant gift certificates, he said.

Given investment money, Stahl would like to install an elevator, convert fourth-floor offices to conference space and perhaps add a rooftop dining area and bar, he said. For now, he's waiting to see whether the building sells.

"Nothing's final at the moment," Stahl said. "It just requires capital."

Sun restaurant critic Elizabeth Large contributed to this article.

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