Tavern is poised for strong market

Renovation: Ellicott City restaurant has flair in what was a humble building.

Restaurant profile

August 01, 2002|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,SUN STAFF

Winding along Old Columbia Pike as it snakes its way to Main Street in Ellicott City, it's easy to miss Tiber River Tavern - a restaurant-bar tucked neatly in a refurbished wooden building that began life as a horse stable many years ago.

But like much of the Main Street commercial area, the building has morphed over the years, first to a furniture storage space and in the mid-1990s to Mill Towne Tavern, which closed for renovations nearly a year ago.

Now, co-owner Greg Tolker says, he is eagerly awaiting the conversion of the former Oella mill building across the Patapsco River to 175 luxury apartments, as well as the reopening of Main Street businesses where fire struck in November 1999.

"I would think the climate for restaurants in Ellicott City right now is pretty strong," Tolker said. "We're trying to market Ellicott City as a primary destination, not a stop along the way." Residents moving into new homes and apartments will "certainly be the type of people we're looking to attract."

Tolker and partner Richard Shackelford also operate a more casual bar-restaurant called G.L. Shacks in the 500 block Frederick Road in Catonsville. They ran another establishment with the same name in Dorsey's Search, near Route 108 at U.S. 29, but sold that to Lee Stumpf, a former partner.

Tolker and Shackleford bought the Tiber River Tavern building in May, when it was being renovated.

"The kitchen is fully re-equipped," Tolker said, and the whole building is new inside, down to the sound system, which floats soft jazz into the three-level dining room.

The first level contains a bar-dining room for smoking patrons, separated from a more formal tablecloth dining area for nonsmokers that seats 55.

A gray, lighted stone wall sets off cream-colored side and exterior walls, accented in part with dark green painted wooden ceilings and side walls at the room's lower level. Antique-style ceiling fans and light fixtures and wooden window blinds help create a tavern feel, though the tables are adorned with formal settings. A bar built circa 1930 was bought at auction and installed downstairs.

An upstairs sports bar, equipped with electronic games, two giant televisions and a pool table, also allows smoking.

The new venture opened last week and employs 60 full- and part-time staff members. On Saturday evening, the restaurant was doing a brisk business, though advertising has been virtually all word of mouth.

Amazingly for Ellicott City, parking is no problem because a large parking lot behind Main Street is just across Old Columbia Pike from the tavern.

"We're trying to have a soft opening. We're staying away from advertising. It gives you an opportunity daily to get better at what you do - a smooth progression," Tolker said, though advertising will begin sometime this month. The menu will change, too, as the staff experiments with various dishes and seasonal changes.

"We want to take the time" to get things right, Tolker said.

Tiber River Tavern

Where: 3733 Old Columbia Pike, Ellicott City; 410-750-2002.

Hours: 11 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily.

Prices: Appetizers , $4.25 to $9.95; entrees, $16.95 to $23.95.

Credit cards: Visa, MasterCard and American Express.

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