TANEYTOWN - Come Nov. 26, Joseph E. Fitzgerald may be raising a glass to toast the new owner of his restaurant and bar.
"May you live long and prosper with this business my family and I have built over the past 15 years," Fitzgerald might say in his best Irish way to the new owner of Fitzgerald's Havilah Inn.
The inn, on Route 140 outside this North Carroll town, will go on the auction block at 11 a.m. that Monday, because Fitzgerald is plagued by health problems and no longer can run the business.
"I can't handle the aggravation any more," he said.
Since last November, Fitzgerald, 59, has spent 180 days in hospitals with heart, kidney and leg ailments.
"I haven't been able to be here and take care of the business," he said last week, sitting at his favorite table near a front window. Business had been good, but dropped off in the last year when he was away, he said.
"People want to see you here when they come. They want to see the boss," Fitzgerald said.
His wife, Bonnie, three sons and one daughter work at the inn, but the children can't afford to buy it, he said. His oldest son, David, will continue to operate Fitzgerald's Classic Catering.
The rustic inn, which sits back from the road on a hill, boasts "Maryland's finest seafood east of the Monocacy." It's a comfortable place where the waitresses know many of the customers by name.
A display case in the entrance way contains Elvis Presley decanters, a row of porcelain leprechauns and autographed pictures of Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Dan Quayle. A mural of Fitzgerald's grandfather's farm in Emmitsburg is on one wall in the dining area.
The restaurant and bar, named for a Gaelic word that means "rolling hills and hollows," seats about 150 people and employs about 30.
Darren Fitzgerald, 28, has been managing the inn for his father for the last month. He used to work at Evapco Inc. in Taneytown and said he would like to work as a butcher if the inn closes.
"I'd like to see it stay as a restaurant," he said, adding he wants "whatever works out best for Dad."
Barry Fitzgerald, 30, tends the bar. He said he hates to see the business go on the auction block, but that he can't afford to buy it.
J. G. Cochran Auctioneers & Associates of Boonsboro, Washington County, will auction five acres and the inn. The land and building have been appraised at $635,000, Leslie Cochran said.
Fitzgerald said the property was on the market for the last seven or eight months, but interested buyers couldn't get financing.
The auctioneers have received at least 25 calls about the sale, Cochran said. The auction has been advertised in area newspapers, The Wall Street Journal and restaurant magazines, she said.
"The bar is a neat atmosphere, and the smell of the food is just wonderful," she added.
At the auction, Fitzgerald said he will have the right to reject any or all bids.
He said he plans "to take it a little easy" after the business is sold, possibly traveling with his wife, whom he met when he owned a truck stop in Thurmont, Frederick County.
"We've worked together the last 35 years in this business," he said.
Doris Harner, 62, lives across the street from the inn and has worked there as a waitress since it opened.
"I'll be upset if it closes. It's too pretty of a place to stand empty," she said.
"I waited on the first table, and I hope I don't have to wait on the last table," she said.