Owners of pubs pour history into bars with salvage materials

Creative use of salvage materials brings Frankenbars to life

October 03, 2010|By Erik Maza, The Baltimore Sun

When Liam Flynn started building his new bar in Station North, he didn't go to the nearest hardware store.

He didn't scour Home Depot looking for the cheapest piece of pinewood, or the shiniest door knobs.

He went vintage shopping for bar parts as he would for second-hand football jerseys. Flynn's idea of a Goodwill are architectural salvage stores like the Loading Dock and Second Chance, where he can find everything from stained glass to decades-old flooring.

He is part of the majority in Baltimore, where bar owners construct new places and enhance established properties the way grandmothers sew, taking patches and swatches from near and far to make raggedy, Technicolor quilts with twice as much character as store-bought ones.

Salvage gives the bars a retro aesthetic, but with the shaky economy and a national movement toward building green, the practice has taken on a new currency with local businesses.

Mark Foster, the founder of Second Chance, said it's more important now than it's ever been.

"You have to be cognizant of price when you develop any new business or when you improve an existing business," he said. "And people are more conscious than ever to buy sustainable materials. They're killing two birds with one stone."

Located next door to the Windup Space, the future home of Liam's Ale House is now nothing but dust-covered boxes of tiles and scaffolding.

But when it's finished, everything except the bathrooms will contain some piece of recycled junk.

The floor of the Ale House will be a combination of oak and teak tile, and the bar will be made from rare five-panel doors, some more than 50 years old. All were found at Second Chance.

The owners of the Everyman Theatre donated a 70-foot-long bowling lane that Flynn will split into two bartops: 30-feet for the main bar, and 16 feet for the back bar.

These spare parts are not difficult to refurbish, he said. The flooring will be coated in polyurethane so it stands up to time, but will otherwise remain unchanged.

Flynn, who also bought salvage for his now-defunct bar, the Pint-Size Pub, said new material wouldn't lend the bar the same character. But it's not just aesthetic for him. It's also nickels and dimes.

A square foot of tile goes for two bucks these days, while the oak tile he bought at Second Chance cost him between 10 cents and 25 cents. The store was about to dump 900 square feet of it, and he bought it all for less than $100, he said.

"It's better quality for cheaper," he said. "And you get a story behind it."

At Ale Mary's Fells Point, owner Mary Rivers told a similar story.

When she bought the bar five years ago, she tore everything out and built from scratch.

Scavenging at Second Chance, she found 150-year-old lockers from a Masonic temple that she used as wood paneling for the walls. For decoration, a Fells Point antiques dealer gifted her with inventory from the old St. Mary's Seminary in Seton Hill. The old hymn board now announces Brewers Art Resurrection draft instead of "Amazing Grace."

As a new business owner, she was concerned about money, but she also liked that the antique pieces have history.

"Fells Point is an old part of town," she said. "The more originality you can keep, the better it is for us and for the customers."

Just a few minutes away, Max's is something of a Franken-bar, made up of spare parts from all over the state. The flooring upstairs comes from the Seagram's Distillery in Dundalk, and the floor siding is made out of bobbins from a defunct sewing factory.

After the Clipper Mill burned, owner Ron Furman bought the salvaged wood to make cabinets, tables, walls and even flooring, with the mill's former beams.

"We get a lot of mileage out of it," said Michael Metcalf, who oversees interior design and construction for the bar. Just one table might have pinewood from Greektown and mahogany from downtown, he said. Their main reason for doing it has less to do with economics than with aesthetics.

"All this wood is over 100 years old," he said. "That means we're going to have something that nobody else has. It's hard to say you've something unique nowadays. You're never gonna find another 100-year-old tree."

These bars aren't the only ones that have repurposed salvage. Foster at Second Chance said the owners of Nacho Mama's, Little Havana's, and Koopers Tavern are regular customers. But countless bars in the city have some borrowed equipment. Among them: Ropewalk Tavern, Midtown Yacht Club and the Dead End Saloon.

For the new Baltimore Gameday Warehouse, Second Chance provided the doors from the Munsey Building to make the bar fronts.

Foster said local business owners have been buying salvage for the seven years his store has been open, but the combination of cheaper hardware and the reuse/recycle movement has expanded the demand for salvage. He's seen it in the higher number of customers he has now, but also in the reuse stores that are popping up with more frequency.

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