Downtown gets a nightlife

The Main Street Improvement Program has helped bring changes to Bel Air. The Ropewalk Tavern is one of several new bars to open recently in downtown.

February 27, 2005|By Christina Hernandez | Christina Hernandez,SUN STAFF

With the success of the Ropewalk Tavern and several other recent additions to downtown Bel Air, the city's historic Main Street is showing the vibrant nightlife envisioned by community leaders four years ago when they created the Main Street Improvement Program.

"We are extremely pleased not only with the way the community has responded to the new venues and restaurants, but also the way the new businesses have become a part of the community almost instantly," said Carol Deibel, director of the Bel Air Department of Planning and Community Development.

Besides the Republican-flavored Ropewalk, which opened three weeks ago, Sean Bolan's Irish Pub and Looney's Pub have opened in Bel Air.

In 2001, the town wanted to attract people to the city's old area by adding restaurants and retail shops to a district mainly of offices. Although Main Street never had a vacancy problem, the street was a dead zone after 5 p.m.

"Ropewalk was able to bring in so many people that many businesses in the Main Street area did record business the night [it] opened. We're hoping to see that occur with retail businesses as well," Deibel said.

Regina Quinn, a 25-year-old Bel Air High School teacher, praised the new restaurant - which features a life-sized statue of Ronald Reagan and an Ehrlich dining room. "There's good food, good variety, the service is great and the waitresses are friendly."

Quinn said Ropewalk is helping to revitalize the Main Street area of Bel Air.

"It brings money into the town," she said, "and it's nice to be able to walk up and down the street and know it's a safe, nice area."

Few Bel Air residents have voiced opposition to the growing bar and entertainment scene in the town, Deibel said. "We had a couple of concerns that bringing in the tavern use is maybe changing the climate of the area, but, by and large, most of the comments have been positive," she said.

Deibel said most of the additions to Main Street are family-oriented, so the climate of the area isn't really changing.

Bel Air Town Commissioner Terence O. Hanley, sitting at the Ropewalk bar enjoying some Tavern fries and a drink, said creating new attractions for Bel Air was exactly what the Main Street Improvement Program aimed for.

Ropewalk's opening has been wonderful for Bel Air, he said.

Marc McFaul, the owner of Ropewalk, also owns the Ropewalk in Baltimore's Federal Hill. He named it for the device 18th- and 19th-century shipbuilders used to twine and spindle ropes for ships.

McFaul renovated 117 S. Main St., a building that over the years has housed a newspaper office, barbershop, watch-making store and piano lessons, into a bar after it had been vacant for more than 14 years.

"When I saw this building, I thought, `This is Ropewalk,'" McFaul said, because it reminded him of the ambience of his Baltimore tavern.

The brick exterior of the building is decorated with half a dozen flags significant to American history. A buffalo statue guards the front entrance, facing Main Street. Many of the windows are stained glass, including one at the front of the building that reads, "Don't tread on me."

Inside, Reagan greets Ropewalk visitors. The tavern's open ceiling features large pipes that run above patrons' heads. Framed illustrations highlight significant occasions in American history, including Prohibition. The new hardwood floors appear aged.

"I've always been into American history," McFaul said. "I tried to tie in the history of the building and American history into the menu."

The Nathan Hale caesar, the Betsy Ross chicken sandwich, Old Glory wings and a cheese and Applewood smoked bacon sandwich called The Gipper - "named after our patron saint " - give the bar menu a flavor of U.S. history.

An oyster bar at the back of the restaurant is open at night. Ropewalk boasts at least 100 beers, McFaul said, with 24 on tap.

"We've been slammed," McFaul said, knocking on the mahogany bar in the back of the tavern for good luck. "There was a line three blocks long into the street on opening night."

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