The owls of the Belvedere

Baltimore Glimpses

March 03, 1992|By GILBERT SANDLER

YOU CAN'T keep the Owl Bar down.

Just as it seemed the venerable watering hole at the Belvedere Hotel would join the long list of Baltimore has-been's, word comes that "serious money" is planning to reopen it. If you're over 40 and have been around town awhile, that'll be news that jogs your memory. The Owl Bar, like the hotel above it and the restaurant beside it, is a big part of Baltimore lore.

The Owl Bar was where teen-agers went after the movies, the debutantes after their parties and the ageless after their youth. The place had a rather heavy look: dark brick walls, dark wooden benches, dark leaded glass windows and maybe the highest bar ceiling in Maryland. Two blinking owls perched high on either side of the mirror behind the bar. The patrons (the uptown crowd and the downtown) gave the place panache, but the owls, forever blinking amber as if sharing the patrons' secrets, gave it the wisdom of the ages.

The hotel closed for the first time in 1971 (to become a rather tawdry college dormitory), and so, of course, did the Owl Bar. At some point in the early '70s, the owls disappeared. The mystery of the disappearing owls was unsolved for years.

Then in 1976, contractor/developer/entrepreneur Victor Frenkil bought the hotel and reopened its bars and restaurants. Still there were no owls. The patrons gave Mr. Frenkil no rest. What kind of an Owl Bar was it without owls?

In those days Mr. Frenkil had a publicity man named Ed Hanrahan. Mr. Frenkil charged Mr. Hanrahan with finding the owls. Perhaps it was a publicity stunt, but no matter. After a long "search," the owls reappeared one night in April 1977. There was a note pinned to the door of the room:

"Where we've been, what we've seen

No matter the din, no one will glean.

But if your eyes are clear today, you can tell

The owls of the Belvedere have returned from hell."

How did the owls get through the doors of the locked room, past a watchman, in the middle of the night? Where had they been all those years? No doubt it will always be a mystery.

The Belvedere, of course, closed again. But now the hotel rooms, refurbished, are selling as condominiums, and serious money is said to be ready to reopen the Owl Bar later this month.

We trust the owls will be back again, blinking inscrutably.

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