Angelos firm buys Marconi's, plans to relocate restaurant

New owners assure public it will retain signature style

March 01, 2000|By Rafael Alvarez | Rafael Alvarez,SUN STAFF

The fabled chocolate sauce at Maison Marconi on Saratoga Street will be running southeast toward the downtown business district, now that Peter G. Angelos has bought the 80-year-old Baltimore landmark and intends to move it to one of his Charles Street projects about a year from now.

The sale was announced yesterday by Angelos, who declined to comment.

Marconi's will be open at 106 W. Saratoga St. through the transition, and its last owner, Ilene Booke, has been retained to oversee the move. Insiders say there is no fear of stuffed grape leaves replacing lobster Cardinale on the menu.

"There is interest in keeping things pretty much the same," said Booke. "The restaurant is old, and it is traditional and considering [the decline of] this area, I'm excited that someone has interest in seeing it survive."

Booke's father, the jeweler Louis Booke, bought the restaurant in 1972 from the late John C. Brooks. Brooks began as a waiter in 1926 and was a fixture at Marconi's after he bought it from founder Fiorenzo Bo in 1947.

Angelos, a multimillionaire litigation attorney who owns the Baltimore Orioles and is at the center of several downtown revitalization projects, bought the restaurant and its building through Artemis Properties Inc., his development company.

Wayne Gioioso Jr., who heads Artemis, said last night that Marconi's will be moved to one of three Angelos-owned buildings on or near Charles Street.

Those properties, now or about to be renovated, are One Charles Center, at 210 N. Charles St. and 120 W. Fayette St.

"We bought it to resurrect it a [few blocks] away in a central business district, which we hope will increase its business and profile," said Gioioso, who last week enjoyed a fried oyster-and-ham lunch at Marconi's as the deal drew near.

"The idea is to take that great name and image -- its menu and its employees -- and update it with retro decor," said Gioioso.

An architect specializing in restaurants will be hired for the Marconi's project, he said, adding that the current Marconi's building will be incorporated into the west-side development plan.

"It will be new in the sense of new equipment and surroundings but it will still have an old Baltimore feel," said Gioioso.

"We don't want to lose the ambience. We're not going to take Marconi's and make it slick," he said.

Duplicating Oysters Pauline -- created by Brooks' wife and made with lobster, oysters, wine, butter and cream -- shouldn't be a problem.

But with its wallpapered plaster and the quiet, Depression-era ambience of a genteel lady's parlor, Marconi's is anything but slick.

Reinventing its aura, if such a trick is possible, will be no small feat.

Over the years, celebrities and literary lights such as H.L. Mencken (who favored lamb chops), publisher Alfred A. Knopf, actor and director Walter Huston, opera diva Lily Pons, writers James M. Cain, Alexander Woollcott, Sinclair Lewis and Joseph Hergesheimer and bandleader Fred Waring dined there.

Until the move is complete, Marconi's will be managed by Craig Lentz, who in the past has operated Angelos' Perring Place restaurant just over the city line in northeast Baltimore County.

Lentz said that as far back as a year and a half ago, Angelos had talked about buying a local restaurant with a strong history and moving it to his downtown law office complex. Several names came up, Lentz said, Marconi's among them.

"It's going to be a challenge," said Lentz. "Marconi's is a legend and since the [old] neighborhood hasn't done as well, it deserves a chance to live on in a place where it can prosper."

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