At Black Olive restaurant, there's room for an inn

ARCHITECTURE

Building would accommodate patrons visiting city for the food

February 03, 2003|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN ARCHITECTURE CRITIC

Many inns have their own restaurants, but how many restaurants have their own inns?

At least one in Baltimore will soon, if owners of the Black Olive restaurant in Fells Point finally move ahead with plans to build a $2.4 million inn and market, one block away.

Baltimore's Design Advisory Panel last week approved preliminary plans for a four-story building at 803. S. Caroline St. that would contain 14 to 16 guest rooms, a bar, a "Dean & DeLuca style" market and a rooftop cafe and lounge.

Named one the best Greek restaurants in the United States in a recent Zagat's dining survey, the Black Olive attracts many patrons who come from long distances and want to stay overnight in Baltimore, said co-owner Dimitris Spiliadis. The inn was designed to address that need while providing room to expand the restaurant at 814 S. Bond St., he said.

"There are a lot of hotels with restaurants that don't make money," he said. "This is a restaurant that does well. We just want a place for some of our out-of-town customers" to stay.

The model is the Inn at Little Washington, in Washington, Va., Spiliadis said. International travelers visiting the Johns Hopkins Hospital represent another potential market for the inn, he added. "International travelers are often looking for something that has a little different culture."

The 17,000-square-foot building is being designed by Riley & Rohrer of Baltimore to be a slipcover of sorts for a six-level garage that opened last year on Caroline Street, between Lancaster and Dock streets.

It will rise on the west side of the garage, concealing an unattractive concrete block wall, and just south of the offices of Whitman, Requardt and Associates.

"The community is very anxious to see that wall go away," said designer Dianne Rohrer.

The inn is one of the first downtown commissions for the firm, which was launched nearly four years ago by Rohrer and Paul Van Riley and has begun to draw attention for its design work.

Last year, the principals won a prestigious international award for their first project, conversion of an old John Deere distribution center at 2524 Kirk Ave. to offices and a showroom for Total Office Interiors. They also have won three local awards in the past two years from the Baltimore chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

They're working on the inn with Southway Builders, the general contractor and construction manager.

The Inn at the Black Olive is a straightforward building that will have a concrete base, white stucco walls reminiscent of the white-washed buildings in the Greek isles, and wood-slat sunscreens.

The first floor will contain a receiving desk for the inn, a bar, lounge and a market featuring gourmet Greek foods and wines. The mezzanine level will contain another lounge, conference space and a library. These first two levels will have clear glass windows featuring views toward the Inner Harbor skyline.

The third and fourth floors will contain the guest rooms, which will cost $335 to $400 per night. The design calls for the rooms to be cantilevered out over the entry level to maximize the amount of square footage on the site and take advantage of the harbor views. The underside of the cantilever will be accented with a wood surface and pendant lights.

On the roof will be a terrace for outdoor dining - one of the few rooftop cafes in Baltimore - and more casual seating. Part of the roof may be a lawn, because the owners say they want to make the building as environmentally sensitive as possible and like the idea of a "green roof." There will be a limited menu; most of the food will be prepared in the restaurant's main kitchen on Bond Street.

Riley & Rohrer have designed residential projects, offices and restaurants, but this is its first inn. It also would be the firm's first building from the ground up, as opposed to renovations, retrofits and additions to existing structures.

The designers met while working at Cho, Wilks and Benn, where Rohrer was a senior associate and director of interiors and Riley was a senior associate. Rohrer is known for her distinctive touches, such as the handblown lights outside the Annie E. Casey Foundation headquarters on St. Paul Street or the wind chimes on a pedestrian bridge in the Inner Harbor. While with Cho, Wilks and Benn, she also guided the design of the club level at Ravens Stadium and Spike & Charlie's restaurant in the Mount Royal cultural district.

Construction is expected to begin this spring and be complete by the spring of 2004.

The design panel had high praise for the preliminary design.

"I think it's a very thoughtful analysis of the different functions," said panel member Jay Brodie. "The use of the roof is very positive."

"It's a treat for us to see something so carefully analyzed and ... so promising," added panel member Gary Bowden.

Rohrer said she and Riley are looking forward to completing the design, including furniture for the guest rooms. One touch they have recommended is a "light slot" that will flood the building's back wall with natural light. Colored blue, the wall will be visible from all four levels as well as the street, and may be illuminated with "pinpoints of light" at night.

"It will definitely have Greek references," she said of the inn. But for the most part, the designers are trying to keep the design as simple as possible because the clients like "warm, minimal Modern" spaces.

"It's a form-follows-function thing," she said. "The building really looks like how it's being used."

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