Harvey House sold, may reopen under new name

May 08, 1993|By Michael Dresser | Michael Dresser,Staff Writer

The Harvey House restaurant, a Charles Street stalwart named for a 7-foot-tall invisible rabbit in a Broadway play, has apparently taken its final curtain call.

Barry Baumel, son of one of the original founders, said yesterday that the 41-year-old restaurant served its final meals last Saturday and would reopen in several months under new, local ownership.

Mr. Baumel said he was prohibited under the terms of the sales contract from disclosing the new owner's identity and that he does not know whether the restaurant would keep the Harvey House name after renovations are complete.

That prospect is unlikely, however, because the restaurant -- distinguished by its sign of a rabbit in a tuxedo -- was a bit of a relic of a bygone day.

The Harvey House opened at 920 N. Charles St. in 1952, during an era when the street was lined with clothing and specialty stores that catered to Baltimore's elite. It offered diners large portions of mainstream American fare in a quirky but comfortable setting, with no risk of encountering an exotic sauce or a strange vegetable. Its bar was a popular hangout during a time when "happy hour" was a ritual for businessmen.

Back then there was no Jones Falls Expressway to carry downtown workers past the stop-and-go of Charles Street, said Mr. Baumel, who is 42. Visiting teams stayed at the nearby Belvedere hotel when they came to town to play the newly major league Orioles, who came in 1954.

In recent years, Mr. Baumel said, business has been OK, "but it's not like it used to be." Profitability, he said, has been "marginal."

"The cost of doing business has changed, and you don't find too many people visiting white-tablecloth restaurants any more," he said.

Mr. Baumel said most of the original partners have died and that his 77-year-old father, Lou Baumel, wants to retire. The younger Mr. Baumel said he was the only member of the second generation who wanted to go into the business but that the restaurant is too much for one person to run.

He said he would stay in the business as general manager of Henry & Jeff's, a more casual restaurant in the 1200 block of North Charles St.

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