Hearths afire add warmth to love's day Valentine's Day: Romance, and a good meal, always seem a little better in a cozy room with a roaring fire.



As the saying goes: "Baby, it's cold outside!"

So come in from the cold this Valentine's Day and snuggle with your honey in the warm glow of a fireplace.

Is there anything more romantic than sharing a good meal with a warm fire crackling in the background? Plenty of people have popped the question under such conditions.

Others have rekindled the flames of their love or simply shared a laugh or two among friends. Take your pick from a number of restaurants in the area with working fireplaces that will light up a room -- and perhaps your love life.

The following is only a sampling and, of course, you will want to call ahead. Valentine's Day is a busy one for the hospitality business.

Our first stop is in Annapolis, which seems to be a hotbed of fireplaces, so to speak.

Among all of the wonderful, historic inns with fireplaces, there's Middleton Tavern (410-269-1256) located on Market Square with four old, brick fireplaces in a rustic setting. On Valentine's Day, "All of the ladies will get a carnation," says Mike Timm, the manager.

Also in Annapolis, there is Cafe Normandie on Main Street (410-263-3382), where tables surround the glass, four-sided fireplace. It's a small restaurant, but that only adds to the charm. "It's a casual, warm, homey atmosphere," says waitress Julie Keyworth.

In downtown Baltimore, the old, refined Belvedere at 1 E. Chase St. has a beautiful fireplace in a romantic room reminiscent of long-ago days.

The restaurant, Champagne Tony's in the John Eager Howard Room (410-347-0888), which houses the fireplace, is elegant to a fault, with its wood columns, large draped windows and sparkling chandeliers. You can dine to the sounds of a classical piano or harp while the fireplace sparkles.

If a full-blown meal is out of your price range and a little bit too highfalutin for your taste, all is not lost.

An adorable little place, with an adorable little fireplace, in Canton may fill the bill. It's called Needful Things at 2921 O'Donnell St. (410-675-0595), and it's been around for about two years. It offers a light menu featuring gourmet coffee, sandwiches and desserts.

Needful Things is pleasant, sunny and warm with a gas-burning fireplace. Note to the proprietors: You may want to re-think those oh-so-comfortable upholstered chairs. One can relax for a long, long time while staring into the fire and lingering over a decaf, double latte with a slice of fat-free apple cake.

On the other end of the spectrum is the Valley Inn (410-828-8080) in northern Baltimore County at 10501 Falls Road.

The rooms are dark and romantic, and the fireplaces are splendid. Yes, we said "fireplaces." The restaurant has three working fireplaces in three rooms, a hostess says.

The drive out to the Valley Inn can be nice. OK, we admit, the drive up Falls Road is much more pleasant when the weather is splendid. Or decent. But, no matter the weather, at least it's comforting to know there is food, drink and the warmth of a glowing fire when you reach your destination.

Also in Baltimore County is the Milton Inn, (410-771-4366) on York Road in Sparks. The 250-year-old stone inn is lighted by candlelight and three wood-burning fireplaces.

South of the city, the drive down Route 2 in Glen Burnie certainly isn't scenic. Unless your idea of pleasant scenery includes fast-food places, car dealerships and shopping centers. But not too far off that beaten path, near the Harundale Mall, is the Sunset Restaurant, 625 Greenway (410-768-1417).

The fireplace fits right in with the restaurant's jazzy background music, red carpeting and wood paneling. "This is our most

popular room," says Harriet Buttermore, a hostess/manager of the Sunset. "There are more proposals in this room than any other."

Ms. Buttermore especially enjoys recalling the time when a suitor dropped to one knee and popped the question on Valentine's Day about three years ago.

"There wasn't a dry eye in the place!" she says. "In fact, the waitress said, 'If she doesn't marry you, I will!' "

No telling what will happen this Valentine's Day.

Back in Baltimore, at 1710 Thames St. in Fells Point, there's the Waterfront Hotel Restaurant (410-327-4886) -- but it hasn't been a hotel for quite some time now.

It remains a restaurant oozing Old World charm, complete with white tablecloths, a brick fireplace downstairs and one upstairs. "We will be burning both fireplaces day and night on Valentine's Day," says owner Chester Tokarski.

Feeling daring? If the weather cooperates, the restaurant is perfectly situated for an after-dinner stroll to the waterfront. It could set the right romantic tone for the rest of the evening.

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