Longtime crab house Obrycki's will close its Pratt Street doors next year, ending a six-decade run of serving seafood to tourists and Baltimoreans.
Obrycki's will open again in March. But when the crab season concludes in November, the family's Fells Point restaurant will close for good, according to Robert M. "Rob" Cernak, who operates the business with two sisters. Cernak said the family decided to close "for quality of life" reasons. The Cernaks expect to open a smaller crab house soon at the planned slots parlor near Arundel Mills mall.
Cernak's parents — Rose and Richard Cernak — purchased the original Ed Obrycki's Olde Crab House in 1976. A decade later, the family moved Obrycki's across the street to its current spot, which some thought lacked the homey charm of the 1944 original. But it offered them more space to launch what has developed into a thriving mail-order business that sends crab-related gift items, spices and steamed crabs throughout the United States.
"Everybody has their favorite crab house," said Marty Katz, the Maryland editor for Zagat Guide. "But for out-of-towners, Obrycki's became the face of steamed crabs in Baltimore, and it was still as original a crab-house experience as a visitor could hope to get."
For many Baltimoreans and visitors, the name Obrycki's is synonymous with crabs, crab cakes, and the Baltimore crab house. Influential New York Times critic Craig Claiborne was particularly fond of Obrycki's, writing in a 1983 travel piece, "Olde Obrycki's [is] to my mind one of the greatest crab houses in America, which is to say the world."
The restaurant is known for its Obrycki's crab seasoning, which is notable for its black pepper and the absence of Old Bay.
Cernak said he and his sisters — Cynthia "Cindy" Bacon and Cheri Cernak — may sell or lease the Pratt Street location to another restaurant operator. But it won't carry the Obrycki's name, he said.
Business was up 16 percent this past year, Cernak said. And along with the planned restaurant in Arundel Mills, the family will continue to own and operate its mail-order business and satellite restaurants in BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport and Cleveland Hopkins Airport.
Nancy Hinds, who took her share of journalists and convention planners to Obrycki's in her 13 years working in Baltimore's tourism office, confirms the restaurant's status.
"They all knew about Obrycki's, and they all asked about Obrycki's," she said. "It was the first place everyone wanted to go."
Everyone included celebrities such as Danny DeVito, Bette Midler, Daniel Craig and Nicole Kidman.
With its exposed brick and paneling, the current Obrycki's is neither the formal-dining atmosphere of the original nor the messy charm of a neighborhood crab house. But it was still and always Obrycki's to both its loyal regulars and others who made pilgrimages there.
"You don't find a lot of family-run restaurants that last that many years," said Karin Tiffany, co-owner and chef of Peter's Inn. "Bravo!"