Landmark restaurant closes in Westminster Workers greeted with notice on door

September 15, 1993|By Kerry O'Rourke | Kerry O'Rourke,Staff Writer

Cockey's Tavern, a Westminster landmark long rumored to be haunted, closed its doors yesterday without warning to employees, suppliers or customers.

"We have been abandoned," said Carole Cook of Westminster, a waitress at the historic restaurant and bar for almost 17 years.

Employees who reported for work yesterday were stunned, she said.

A handwritten sign tacked to the front door said, "Cockey's Tavern will be closed until further notice." A similar sign on the back door said, "Cockey's Tavern is closed!! Paychecks will be mailed to you."

The locks on the building at 216 E. Main St. had been changed and the phone was disconnected.

Owners Robert E. and Alida A. Lowry were gone.

"He never called us. He never gave us notice. He never said he was sorry," Mrs. Cook said of Mr. Lowry, who had owned Cockey's for about seven years.

Mrs. Cook said Mr. Lowry had been at a condominium he owns in Naples, Fla., since last week. His wife had been running Cockey's since then. They could not be reached for comment last night. The couple lived above the restaurant.

The restaurant was last open on Sunday. It was normally closed on Mondays.

Cockey's, one of Westminster's upscale restaurants, had been a tavern or an inn since the early 1800s. Regulars liked to tell the story of a resident ghost who rearranged artwork on the walls.

Mr. Lowry had been trying to sell the building for months. Mrs. Cook said employees believe he made a deal, and that's why the tavern closed.

"It's really strange," said another employee who didn't want her name used. "It was a lousy way to let us go. There could've been a meeting."

Waiter Bradley Baker, who had planned to quit working at Cockey's next week to open a restaurant in Silver Run, said he expected Cockey's to close, but not so soon. He had worked there for eight years.

He and Mrs. Cook said Mr. Lowry had conducted many "secretive" phone conversations in recent weeks.

Business had slowed at the tavern in recent months because construction work had closed parts of Main Street.

In the spring, Mr. Lowry complained that he was losing several hundred dollars a day because customers couldn't get to and from the restaurant easily.

Last December, he complained when the county doubled its restaurant license fee without warning owners.

Mr. Baker said business had been off and that Mr. Lowry did not want to make repairs ordered by the county Health Department.

Health Department records show that sanitarian Kirk G. Engle inspected Cockey's on Sept. 2 and wrote a five-page report listing violations and remedies.

Mr. Engle said yesterday that the Health Department did not close Cockey's. One of the violations was considered "critical," and the inspector said he had planned to make an unannounced visit to the restaurant yesterday to see if the violation had been corrected.

The critical violation was that a refrigerator was not operating properly, he said. At the inspection, a chef transferred food stored there to another refrigerator, Mr. Engle said.

Mr. Lowry had 30 days to correct other violations, which included repairing floors, walls and ceilings.

Competitor Joe Munch, owner of Munch's Court Street Cafe, less than a block from Cockey's, said he was sorry to see the restaurant close.

He and his wife, Robin, liked to eat there on their anniversary, he said.

"Cockey's was always a landmark," Mr. Munch said.

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