A Baltimore dining dynasty went out with a whimper yesterday as the closed Danny's restaurant was sold to a finance company that was foreclosing on a $650,000 deed of trust.
Chrysler First Business Credit Corp. paid $375,000 to repossess the 30-year-old restaurant at North Charles and Biddle streets, once Baltimore's leading gourmet establishment.
But the scene in Danny's dining room yesterday was as dated as the 1977 Craig Claiborne review of the restaurant's crab cakes posted inside the front door and as sad as the tale of family strife that helped force the restaurant to close.
Under a water-damaged ceiling, auctioneer Jack Billig evoked Danny's glory days to a crowd of bidders and spectators seated in a room whose walls were half-covered by paneling that has been out of style for years.
"This restaurant was not only the prime restaurant of its kind, a gourmet restaurant, but it had a real following," said Mr. Billig, of A. J.Billig & Co. Auctioneers.
Bidders refused to pry their wallets open more than a little in bidding on the 150-seat restaurant, its equipment, its liquor, liquor license and the seven apartments upstairs.
"Folks, you couldn't buy this building for $350,000," Mr. Billig said. "Forget the seven-day liquor license, which you couldn't get if you stood on your head."
But no one was willing to top Chrysler's $375,000 bid, so the lender took it back. Daniel M. Billig, another employee of the auction company, said the disposition of the building and equipment would be up to Chrysler, which lent money to the restaurant's former owners last June.
The restaurant had been declining for years before founder Danny Dickman sold it to his son and daughter-in-law last year.
The younger Dickmans soon became embroiled in a nasty divorce, a conflict that heated up in November when the younger Mrs. Dickman called Baltimore County police to say that her husband had come to her house with a gun. He told police she had shot at him.
Neither of the younger Dickmans could be reached yesterday.
The restaurant, which once received a four-star rating from the Mobil Travel Guide, was known for blending heavily sauced French cuisine with homey touches such as popovers and pickles.
"Few restaurants have fresh caviar or a wine list that includes 1949 Lafite Rothschild (albeit at a price only the Shah of Iran could afford)," Sun restaurant critic John Dorsey wrote in 1975.
But by the mid-1980s, Danny's reputation was fading.
About the only ones who came away happy yesterday were those at the Pinehurst Gourmet & Spirit Shoppe on Bellona Avenue, which made a side deal with Chrysler First to buy the liquor inventory for $5,500.