Second chance for popular pub

Columbia saloon's reopening expected by end of summer

June 04, 2008|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Sun reporter

Columbia's much-lamented Last Chance Saloon may get a second chance with new operators who plan to reopen the restaurant by summer's end, boosting revitalization efforts in Oakland Mills Village Center.

Meanwhile, residents are pondering new plans for a Walgreens pharmacy nearby on Route 175 at Thunder Hill Road as they await word on whether the much-discussed Meridian Square office building will go forward, replacing a vacant lot at the village center.

Word of the restaurant's revival came as a welcome surprise, officials said.

"I think it's wonderful that new business is coming back in. It will help increase business at the village center and give people another place to meet and greet," said Karen Gray, chairwoman of the Oakland Mills Village Board.

"This is exciting news," said Calvin Ball, an east Columbia Democrat who represents Oakland Mills on the Howard County Council. "It's a great step in the right direction."

The county Alcoholic Beverage Hearing Board has scheduled a liquor license hearing for the pub at 6:30 p.m. June 17 in the George Howard Building.

Wendy Binder, 49, of Burtonsville is the primary applicant for what she and minority partner Declan Wood plan to call the "Second Chance Saloon."

She said she chose the name because she wants to evoke the friendly, neighborhood pub style of the once-popular watering hole that closed in 2004 after 23 years. The last business in the building, the Fire Rock Grill, opened in December 2005 and closed last fall.

"It feels right," said Binder, who said she works part time at the National Science Teachers Association in Arlington, Va.

"I think we have good business sense," she said.

Her idea is to remove the wall between the bar area and the main dining room, leaving the back room for pool, darts and other games.

She said she is working to find and hire former Last Chance and Fire Rock employees, and if she is successful in obtaining a liquor license, hopes to reopen by Sept. 1.

The Walgreens plan could also help the village center, Gray said, though residents have no control over that project.

Gray said she hopes the village can get signs at the Walgreens location linking it to businesses at the village center, farther south near the end of Thunder Hill Road. The village board is to discuss the Walgreens plans June 10.

Because there is no pharmacy at the village center, Gray suggested the Walgreens could help. Ball agreed.

"I think there's an opportunity for synergy among all the retailers to ensure the community has excellent service," he said.

Ball and Gray said they have no final word on whether the Meridian Square office building will go forward.

The County Council last month approved a capital budget that includes money to buy one floor of the four-floor building, but the council added provisions that require the developer, Metroventures Inc. of Baltimore, to sell or lease at least 45 percent of the 60,000-square-foot building before the county makes a purchase.

Ball said Metroventures "is in the process of evaluating the decisions by the council, and how best to move."

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