The 167-year-old building at 6 Oella Ave. at the edge of historic Ellicott City has been a boarding house, seed company and a biker bar with Saturday night brawls so common that the locals nicknamed the place the "Bloody Bucket."
Today, the Fields family wants the Trolley Stop restaurant to be known as a place of good food and cheap prices.
In the year and a half since father Bob Fields, son John Fields and daughter Mary Fields purchased the Trolley Stop, they have continued the work begun by previous owner Joe Morea to turn it into a family restaurant.
They have banned rowdy bar patrons, reduced the smoky atmosphere with exhaust fans and updated the menu with nightly specials and homemade desserts.
The tavern, at the Ellicott City end of the No. 9 Trolley Trail, was christened by Morea theTrolley Stop in the early 1990s. Today, it is a casual restaurant focusing on regional cuisine. The floors and tables are wood; brick fireplaces dominate the dining room and trolley pictures adorn the walls. Fresh flowers grace the tables.
Here a couple can order appetizers, entrees, dessert and wine and escape with a bill under $50. A children's menu lists selections that will feed youngsters for less than $5 apiece.
The Fieldses, who live in Catonsville, purchased the restaurant in 1998 in support of John's culinary interests and are gradually changing the restaurant to focus more on food and catering.
"The location was obviously very attractive to us," Mary Fields said. "It's the gateway to historic Ellicott City."
While expanding the menu, the Fieldses have tried to hold down prices. One of the most popular specials is Tuesday night lobster, featuring a 1-pound Maine lobster and baked potato for $10.99.
"You can't beat the pricing," said Mary Fields, who calls the special "customer and employee appreciation night."
The strategy seems to be working. Instead of the brawling bikers who patronized the restaurant in the 1980s when it was known as Valley View Inn, the Trolley Stop is filled with families and senior citizens.
No one seemed to pay much attention to the Keno games on the television monitor above the bar, and no one touched the video poker machines in the back of the dining room during a recent visit.
Besides the Tuesday lobster special, the Trolley Stop boasts of its prime rib, crab cakes and homemade desserts, especially bread pudding.
Some folks are partial to the restaurant's hamburgers, and the place attracts a loyal lunch crowd during the week and breakfast regulars on weekends.
Working to overcome the smoky barroom atmosphere, the Fieldses have devoted two upstairs rooms to smoke-free dining on weekends. On weekdays, the rooms - one that can seat 65 people and the other 20 - are often used for community meetings and private functions.
The downstairs restaurant, divided into two sections, seats about 50.
In the coming months, Mary Fields said, the Trolley Stop will boost its catering business and improve its air-filtering system to further reduce cigarette smoke. Music may be on the agenda as well, along with menu changes.
The Trolley Stop
Where: 6 Oella Ave., Ellicott City; 410-465-8546.
Hours: 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Monday through Friday; 7 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays; 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. Sundays. Bar is open until 2 a.m. daily.
Prices: Appetizers: $1.50 to $3.95; entrees: $8.95 to $14.95.
Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard.