Famous restaurants that came and went

Baltimore Gimpses

February 23, 1993|By GILBERT SANDLER

SOME departed Baltimore restaurants lasted a long time and provided many memories: Miller Brothers, Oyster Bay, the Chesapeake, Danny's. They all had to close, but they deserved a better fate.

A few came and went before we knew them. Others lasted awhile but never became a part of Baltimore lore. From the beginning the odds against their success were so great that in most cases it was just a matter of time. Here are three of them:

* The Mansion House in Druid Hill Park.

It opened with high promise -- in a lovely setting where one could (the advertising read) "sit on the wide verandas, dine leisurely under gaily colored umbrellas while listening to string music, and view the undulating green slopes of Druid Hill Park."

Only one problem: The operators opened and took for granted that they'd get a liquor license, receiving an exception to the prohibition of alcohol in city parks.

They miscalculated. It was 1939, only seven years after repeal, and the drys in Baltimore, led by the vocal Anti-Saloon League, were still smarting from defeat. The league raised holy hell -- and kept the park dry.

Even so, the Mansion House started well. The crowds came. But when patrons discovered that there was no alcohol to accompany their dining under those gaily colored umbrellas, they never came back. The place closed in about two years.

* Circle One, the revolving dining room atop the Holiday Inn (Lombard Street).

When the Holiday Inn opened in the mid-'60s, it offered the most elegant facilities downtown for its day -- including the city's first (and, it would turn out, its last) revolving restaurant.

The idea seemed a good one: As the dining room revolved 12 stories up, there was a new view of the city every few minutes. Fine idea, but it didn't work.

Elsewhere, revolving restaurants have done well. But the one atop the Holiday Inn gave diners a bumpy ride. Patrons found it annoying, not to say frightening, to be treated to a carnival ride during dinner. Trying to eat, sip a drink and watch the cityscape whirl around all at once was bad enough. The bumpy ride in the revolving restaurant made it all but unbearable.

Word got around that going around atop the Holiday Inn was to be avoided. To the surprise of no one, the restaurant closed in the mid-1970s. The space is now used for meetings.

* The S.S. Nobska, dining aboard a floating restaurant moored at Harborplace.

This idea, floated in the winter of 1976, sank in a hurry.

Baltimoreans should have known the Nobska wasn't going to make it as Baltimore's first floating restaurant when, minutes before the grand opening aboard ship on the evening of April 21, 1976, the city Health Department refused to approve the kitchen.

That wasn't the only warning sign. Shortly after the opening, a Sun restaurant critic wrote a prophetic review after her dinner on the Nobska. "Before I eat there again," she declared, "this restaurant has got to do something about the food!"

Patrons complained that the ship listed to starboard, that service was agonizingly slow, that the place was forever running out of the dishes listed on the menu.

The Nobska struggled on for another two years, but its fate was sealed. Sometime in the dark of winter 1978, despite heroic efforts to keep it open, the Nobska disappeared from the Baltimore scene.

Three Baltimore restaurants you'd like too remember -- if only you could.

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