Historic Annapolis tavern prepares for comeback

November 02, 1992|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,Staff Writer

Historic Reynolds Tavern, where Annapolis merchants and lawmakers first quenched their thirsts 250 years ago, is set to reopen Nov. 23.

The tavern, painstakingly restored several years ago, has been closed since summer 1989. The new operators, Sandy and Ramsay Stallman, plan to open the tavern for lunch and dinners, featuring American cuisine "with a different twist."

"We're staffing up now," Mrs. Stallman said. Hiring began about two weeks ago.

Business leaders and preservationists have been awaiting the opening of the tavern, which stands on Church Circle in the heart of the historic area. "We're happy the building is going to be used," said Penny Chandler, executive director of the Greater Annapolis Chamber of Commerce. "At a time when positive business happenings are hard to find, this is a positive situation."

Annapolis entrepreneur Paul M. Pearson II carefully restored the tavern in the mid-1980s, analyzing 22 layers of paint to determine the original color and carefully numbering each brick. But delays and cost overruns eventually caused his partnership to default on a $1.4 million loan from Farmers National Bank, which still retains a business interest in the property.

The inn has been empty since then. The bank selected the Stallmans, who operate an Italian restaurant in Montross, Va., to reopen the tavern.

"We liked the tavern. We are both history buffs," said Mrs. Stallman. She and her husband, who both have degrees in city planning, are living in the upper rooms of the tavern until they buy a house.

Mrs. Stallman said they had hoped to open the restaurant in mid-October but were delayed by some needed cosmetic repairs.

The red-brick tavern was built in the 1740s by William Reynolds, a prosperous hatter, who named his inn the Beaver and Lac'd Hat. Rumor has it that George Washington was once caught in bed with another man's wife there, but St. Clair Wright, a local preservationist and founding member of Historic Annapolis Foundation, says there is no truth to the story.

The history of the building, though not as titillating, nevertheless is significant, Mrs. Wright said. "There's nothing to equal it," she said.

She said the building is a prime example of Colonial architecture. All of its bricks are placed ends-out, rather than sides-out, which was unusual, she said. On the tavern's third floor is the only known pre-Revolutionary mural in the nation.

The tavern also contains an architectural mystery, Mrs. Wright said. When the building was being renovated several years ago, construction crews discovered a large pit in the basement with brick dividers.

Preservationists took pictures of the pit and sent it to experts in the United States and England, but none of them had ever seen anything like it. Some speculate the pit was a storage area for gunpowder or weapons during the Revolutionary War.

The pit has been filled in with sand to preserve it, but its purpose is still unknown, Mrs. Wright said.

The tavern operated until the early 1800s, when it was purchased by Farmers National Bank and used as a home.

In the 1920s, the building was threatened by plans to tear it down to construct a service station. But a group of preservationists banded together, purchased the building and turned it into a library.

The building was given to the National Trust for Historic Preservation in 1975. Historic Annapolis Foundation leases the tavern from the national trust for $1 a year.

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