An auction of fixtures and equipment at Burke's bar and… (Amy Davis, Baltimore Sun )
For the price of two crab cakes, coleslaw and fries, beer, tax and tip, the auctioneer of a landmark downtown bar and restaurant sold all the cozy booths where 50 years worth of boozy gossip met attentive ears.
Even the signature Old English-style decorative shields at Burke's Cafe at Light and Lombard streets went for $5 apiece, a little less than the price of a bowl of Maryland crab soup. No one wanted the diamond-shaped leaded-glass windows. Bidders also abstained from making offers at the elongated wood bar that once drew judges, jurors and journalists.
"It was all pretty well-used stuff. The bidders were reluctant to bid. We had to browbeat them," said auctioneer Larry Makowski of Express Auctions. "It's a sign of the times. People are not remodeling, and when they do, they want equipment that is in pretty good condition. This stuff was not new."
Burke's Cafe closed its doors at the end of December, when it was announced that a Royal Farms convenience store would occupy the spot that had been a bar and restaurant for the past 80 years.
By 10 a.m. Tuesday, about a dozen buyers entered the shuttered restaurant. The bidding began anemically, at $5 for all the stored condiments, including 27 bottles of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire sauce.
The empty bar held a couple of dozen partially consumed bottles of Paul Masson pale dry sherry, a cherry liquor, grenadine and tequila. They were not part of the sale.
"There's nothing much here, really," said Fred Radtke, whose family had owned such East Baltimore bars as the House of Sports.
A 12-head beer tap, with a compressor and refrigerator, went for $200, but only after the auctioneer shamed the bidders into making offers. A stainless-steel sandwich prep table sold for $55; a steel sink brought $5; the pot racks went unsold.
Makowski said that in a little more than an hour, the fixtures, booths, refrigerators, steam tables, convection ovens, tables, chairs and some glassware brought a total of $3,000. Many items in the restaurant inventory had no bids.
"It may not seem like much money, but the buyers have 24 hours to get the stuff out," said Makowski. "It saves the owners the cost of getting the stuff out."
He said the lack of collectable items, old menus, antique pieces or mementos held down the audience. "We knew that 4,700 persons looked at the website, but when only a dozen show up in person, that tells you something," Makowski said.
One of the more animated bidders was Marco Minnie, a former restaurateur and a volunteer at St. Leo Roman Catholic Church in Little Italy. He said he helps run the church's popular dinners and is always on the lookout for bargains for the church kitchen and hall.
He paid $5 for all the Christmas decorations that were left in place as Burke's closed its doors at the year's end.
"These will be fine for the church hall," he said of the artificial wreaths he picked up.
One person arrived with no intention of bidding. Parker Hallam of Essex was a junior high school student in 1962 when his father, architect Ken Hallam, designed the interior of Burke's.
"I was here the day the beams were installed," said Hallam. "But what I remember more were the unbelievable fried onion rings."