Baltimore Glimpses: Where Gene Autry's horse waited outside

February 25, 1997|By Gilbert Sandler

BALTIMOREANS ARE fickle about restaurants. Survivors are few; among them: Marconi's, (since 1928), House of Welsh (1900), Haussner's (1926), Velleggia's (1934). But history is rich with the memory of restaurants that in their time were a part of who we were and the way we lived.

Miller Brothers was on the south side of Fayette Street between Charles and Liberty Street. It seated 450 on one floor, and was famous for green turtle soup and for elk, buffalo and whale steaks. Most people ordered without looking at the menu; it never changed. Miller Brothers was a ''man's restaurant.'' The -- waiters were men, the bartenders were men serving men, and the raw bar was patronized only by men. Opened in 1913, closed in 1963.

Horn and Horn, East Baltimore St. between Guilford and Holliday, was famous for its eclectic mix, from the blue-suited gentry of brokerage and law firms to the guys and dolls from The Block. The waitresses could take the order for a table of six without writing down a word, and deliver it all without a mistake. Opened in 1891, closed in 1977.

Schellhase's at 412 N. Howard St., is remembered for its heavy draperies and even heavier food. H.L. Mencken made it famous as the meeting place for his Saturday Night club. Mencken's influence led many in the world of the arts to gather there. Henry Fonda and Margaret Sullavan were married in Baltimore and had their reception at Schellhase's. Opened in 1924, closed in 1980.

Sess's, at 1639 Division St., was the most popular restaurant for Baltimore's African-American community. ''For half a century,'' Westley Johnson, now proprietor of the Five Mile House on Reisterstown Road, recalls, ''Sess's was easily the number-one restaurant for black Baltimore.'' All the stars from the Royal Theater used to go there for dinner -- Pearl Bailey, Billie Holiday, Sarah Vaughan, along with the black doctors, lawyers and business types. Opened in 1931, closed in 1976.

Oyster Bay, originally at 2 N. Liberty St., then 9 Hopkins Plaza, offered 22 main dishes and all but three were seafood. The decor was nautical, with a 9-foot marlin hanging on the wall. Ambience was red-carpet with tuxedoed male waiters. It opened in 1946 and closed in 1985. Where in the world is that 9-foot marlin today?

Jimmy Wu's was not the restaurant, but the owner, his name being more famous than his restaurant's. The New China Inn at Charles below 25th was never the best Chinese restaurant in Baltimore, but for more than 40 years it was surely the most popular.

Maria's was the most popular of Little Italy's restaurants from 1934 through 1974, when Maria died. It owed its popularity to the brassy personality of Maria Allori herself: ''I brought all the celebrities to Little Italy. That's how Little Italy became famous. I was the first to serve lasagna, veal Maria, sweet bread Maria, fettucine bolognese, crab Sorrento -- which I made for Henry Mencken. Do you know that Gene Autry always ate here? He tied up his horse outside on Albemarle Street.''

Dickman's on the corner of Charles and Preston was, unapologetically, for 20 years, Baltimore's most expensive and only 4-star restaurant. A review in 1983 noted, ''Dover sole is flown in, magical beef that can be treated incomparably is assured, caviar and $250 wines appear. Service was expert, swift and alert.'' The reviewer added that the wine list is ''completely beyond the budgets of Baltimore diners.'' Opened in 1961, closed in the mid-1980's.

Munder's, at 4536 Harford Road, opened in 1912 as a saloon, thrived underground during Prohibition and afterward became Northeast Baltimore's most popular dining room. Its menu is best remembered for crab cakes, sour beef and dumplings. Evelyn Munder Owen, granddaughter of founder John Munder, told us that in its glory days Munder's was serving as many people as Miller Brothers downtown. Munder's closed in 1962.

The Chesapeake on Charles at Lanvale introduced Baltimore to charcoal-broiled steaks (''cut your steak with a fork, or tear up your check and walk out''). Sidney Friedman in 1936 came back from a Chicago food show with a gadget to do the broiling. The Chesapeake also introduced Baltimore to the Caesar Salad. Opened in 1904, closed in 1982. The sign, tauntingly, is still on the building. Other departed restaurants, banking on novelty, came and went before we got to know them.

Circle One, atop the Holiday Inn on Lombard Street, was heralded as Baltimore's first revolving rooftop restaurant when it opened in the mid-1960s. It turned out also to be the last. The dining room revolved 12 stories up, offering diners an ever-changing and spectacular view of the city. But the ride was a bit bumpy, and the restaurant closed in 1974.

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