For decades, it was Baltimore's beehive -- a place where people celebrated weddings and bet on horses, schmoozed with politicians and spotted stars, munched on pickles and devoured chicken lo mein.
But the Pimlico Restaurant plans to close its doors for the last time on Sunday, ending 55 years of quirky Baltimore tradition and putting 110 people out of work.
"It's time," said Al Davis, the 62-year-old owner, whose father-in-law, Leon Shavitz, founded the restaurant. "We've had a long, glorious, successful run, but nothing lasts forever."
He announced Tuesday that he is selling the business to people who will renovate the Pikesville restaurant and change its name before reopening it in early 1992. Mr. Davis would not disclose the name of the new owners because the sale is not complete.
To Irma Cohen, it doesn't matter who owns it or what it's called. It won't be the Pimlico.
"Boy, I'm going to miss this place," said Mrs. Cohen, who lives in Northwest Baltimore and eats at the Pimlico at least once a week with her husband, Robert. Like many regular customers, their connection to the restaurant goes back to its earliest incarnation as a North Avenue deli called Nate's and Leon's. Leon Shavitz and Nathan Herr opened the deli in 1936.
Open seven days a week, 24 hours a day, the deli sold corned beef sandwiches for 15 cents. A cup of coffee cost a nickel. Vaudeville stars like Milton Berle and Jack Carter would drop by for something to eat when they finished their performances at the Hippodrome.
In 1950, Mr. Shavitz and Mr. Herr bought the ramshackle Pimlico Hotel at the intersection of Park Heights and Hayward avenues and turned the ground floor into a restaurant. Mr. Davis, a pharmacist by training, decided to help his father-in-law run the business after Mr. Shavitz had a heart attack in 1959.
By then, the restaurant was famous for its plates of pickles served with everything from crabs to Chinese food. On Saturday nights, everyone met at the Pimlico.
Mr. Davis has a box filled with glossy pictures of all the celebrities who have eaten at the restaurant. Sports legends like Johnny Unitas and Brooks Robinson. Entertainers like Sammy Davis Jr. and Mitzy Gaynor. Politicians like former Maryland Gov. Marvin Mandel and then-Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer.
The restaurant also hummed with activity when the horses were racing at Pimlico.
"At one time, we had seven pay phones in that building," said Rex Barney, the Orioles public address announcer, who worked as a bartender and maitre d' at the restaurant from 1963 until about 1970. "Why did we have seven pay phones? Because we had plenty of bookmakers who used them."
The restaurant moved from the hotel to its current location in the Commercentre building at Reisterstown Road and the Beltway in 1984. Loyal customers followed the Pimlico to its swank new home. Though the surroundings took some getting used to, the faces were the same.
Katie Walker continued clearing tables at the new restaurant just as she had done at the hotel since 1955. After 36 years at the Pimlico, it will be hard for Ms. Walker to leave the restaurant for the last time.
"I won't have anything to look forward to when I get up in the morning," the 61-year-old woman said.
Mr. Davis is concentrating his energies on helping Ms. Walker and other employees find new jobs. He said the restaurant isn't planning anything special to mark its final day and doubts that he will take any mementos from the restaurant.
"I'll take the memories," he said, "of the people I've met and had the privilege of serving."