Bun Penny Market Bar, a Harborplace watering hole that has been fondly compared to the "Cheers" of television fame, will close tomorrow, much to the sorrow of its loyal customers.
"It's terrible, absolutely terrible," said Peter J. Bradford, a regular customer for the last five years. "Its the only place in Harborplace that has any style or class," he said.
The bar, which also includes a gourmet wine and food shop, is the closest thing to an English pub -- minus the warm beer -- in downtown Baltimore, said Bradford, a Englishman who moved to America 10 years ago.
The object of Bradford's affection is located on the middle of the west side of the Light Street pavilion at Harborplace. It has been a fixture of the festival marketplace since the complex opened in 1980 and has won a number of awards for its cosmopolitan air and unique menu offerings.
Tomorrow is the last day for the operation. Then, the furniture and equipment will be sold at auction on Thursday. About 12 people at the bar and gourmet shop will lose their jobs, according to Robert Levy, manager of Bun Penny Market Bar.
A related Bun Penny deli and coffee shop, also in the Light Street pavilion, will continue to operate, a Harborplace spokeswoman said.
The beginning of the end of Bun Penny Market Bar began in January when the owners of the operation, Rhoda and J. Malcolm Snape, abandoned their business, leaving behind debts of more than $260,000.
In addition to owning the Bun Penny Market Bar, deli and coffee shop at Harborplace, the Snapes owned another store at the Cross Keys complex on Falls Road. Both Harborplace and Cross Keys are owned by the Rouse Co., the Columbia-based development company.
After the Snapes deserted their businesses, the operations were put into receivership in late January by Baltimore Circuit Court. Rouse was appointed manager of the operations and has been running them since then. The Snapes are now living abroad, according to court documents.
A Bun Penny operation in Columbia is separately owned by Charles Sachs, Rhoda Snape's son, and is not involved in the receivership.
Since taking over management of the Bun Penny Market Bar, Harborplace management has been trying to find some business to either take over the bar or put another operation in its place.
Joan N. Davidson, a spokeswoman for Harborplace, said she could not reveal what company is taking over the space because negotiations are still going on. However, it is widely understood among the bar's management and patrons that a Johnny Rocket's will be the replacement. The Los Angeles-based Johnny Rocket's chain features a fifties-type soda shop decor, complete with a jukebox, paper-wrapped hamburgers and cherry cokes.
Officials at Johnny Rocket's in Los Angeles were not available for comment.
Besides offering unique food and imported beers and wine, the Bun Penny bar offered its regulars a "refuge" where they formed a small society of their own, according to Bradford. "It is definitely unique. It definitely has class," he said.
Janey M. Gregory, an architect, called the Bun Penny Market Bar "the best shop and bar in this entire area. I'm very upset," she said, citing the quality of the food and service.
Besides the disappointment, there is a strain of bitterness toward Harborplace for not trying to keep the bar and shop in operation. "It's extraordinary that they [Harborplace] are doing this," Bradford said.
The decision to close the Bun Penny bar was not done hastily, Davidson said. "This is a decision we made with a lot of care," she said.
The bar's unique nature has not gone unnoticed by the outside world. It was named the best wine bar in 1982 by Baltimore Magazine. Five years later, the magazine named it the best downtown pub. The bar was again cited in 1987 for being one of the 10 best pubs in the United States by All About Beer magazine, a trade publication, according to Bruce Troupe, the bartender at Bun Penny for the last 8 1/2 years. "It is known around the world, believe it or not," he said.
"It's like walking into someone's living room," Troupe said of the bar and its atmosphere. "It's genuine."
In addition to being recognized for its food and spirits operation, the shop also was known for its gourmet food and wine section.
Geraldine A. Watchinsky, the manager of the gourmet shop, said she was known as "the basket lady," for all the gourmet food baskets she would prepare. One steady customer was the mayor's office, which regularly ordered baskets for ships arriving at the Inner Harbor.