Last week’s column was kind of a bummer. I wrote about how restaurants in Baltimore are closing faster than they’re opening.
This week, I have more news that might disappoint. Another Fells Point institution, this time One-Eyed Mike’s, is up for auction, raising questions about the future of a longtime watering hole and 3,500 bottles of Grand Marnier.
But it might not be time to sing “Another One Bites the Dust.” I’ll tell you why.
In addition, find out what Baltimore treat Oprah Winfrey ordered while she was in town last week and what Gov. Wes Moore ordered at Chick & Ruth’s in Annapolis.
And just when you thought the Hotel Ulysses couldn’t get any hipper, trendsetting restaurateur Lane Harlan announced she’s opening a bar in the alley behind it.
When Akbar Vaiya purchased One-Eyed Mike’s in 2016, he wasn’t just buying a cozy bar and restaurant in Fells Point. He was inheriting a quirky Grand Marnier club, one that now has over 3,500 members.
Customers join by purchasing a bottle for $200. Bartenders keep track of them through what Vaiya calls their own version of the Dewey Decimal System, and members can drink from their own bottle when they come to the bar.
The club was started by the bar’s original owner, the late Mike Maraziti — who actually had two eyes — when he opened the pub in 2003. It was a way to stand out in then-crowded Fells Point.
Over the years, One-Eyed Mike’s Grand Marnier club has taken on a life of its own. Bottles line the walls of the entrance and there’s a red Grand Marnier seal above the bar. Members include Under Armour founder Kevin Plank.
There are more bottles of Grand Marnier in One-Eyed Mike’s than in any other bar or restaurant in the world, says Vaiya. (A spokesman for Campari Group, which owns Grand Marnier, could not immediately confirm this claim.)
In fact, the club has outlived some of its members. Friends often come in and drink from the bottles of the deceased, which have black marks on their ribbons.
Okay, so why Grand Marnier?
Vaiya told me that in the hospitality industry, Grand Marnier, or “GM,” is what bartenders drink. It’s like a secret handshake. A former bartender, he knew when someone ordered a beer and a shot of Grand Marnier that they must be a bartender, too.
Theories abound as to why the orange-flavored cognac became the bartender’s beverage of choice. Here’s one: It’s the kind of thing that’s always around (after all, no one but bartenders drink it) and the owner won’t be mad if it happens to disappear.
Under his ownership, Vaiya, who is also a chef, ramped up the menu options at One-Eyed Mike’s, taking it from quirky pirate-themed bar to quirky restaurant with serious gourmet credentials. Among the offerings: chicken liver mousse and local duck breast with blackberry gastrique.
But now it’s time for a change. Vaiya wants to open a new restaurant. He’s looking at locations in either Baltimore County or the city.
He’s placing the business at 708 S. Bond Street up for auction. Bidding, which runs Feb. 17 to 22, starts at $650,000 and includes the liquor license and building.
Vaiya said he’s already heard from several prospective buyers. He hopes that the new owner will ensure that One-Eyed Mike’s and its Grand Marnier club live on.
Let’s head around the corner to another Fells Point institution recently put up for auction at 734 S. Broadway.
Trying to get answers on what’s happening with Bertha’s Mussels is like being a detective.
“We’re waiting to see what happens,” co-founder Tony Norris told me back in November. At the auction, the price had gone above $1 million, but Norris said, “We didn’t get what we wanted to get.”
Months later, Norris won’t return my calls. Neither will the auction house.
Some regulars say they are working together to buy the bar. But they don’t want to talk about it yet.
In the meantime, the band plays on. Or at least, a band was playing last Friday night, when I stopped by to check the status. I asked a bartender what was happening. She shrugged.
Oprah, always on-brand
After introducing Gov. Wes Moore at his inauguration in Annapolis last week, Oprah Winfrey didn’t stick around for the Inaugural Ball at the Baltimore Convention Center.
Maybe she didn’t want to risk upstaging the new governor at his own party. Instead, according to Instagram, the Queen of All Media went to New York City to take in a play with longtime bestie, Gayle King.
But before leaving, Winfrey apparently made some time to get her favorite Baltimore crab cakes. WMAR-2 anchor Jamie Costello posted on Facebook that she had them delivered from Pappas Seafood Co. to the airport.
I reached out to Pappas’ “chief crab cake officer” for comment, but have not heard back yet. Winfrey has had Pappas crab cakes delivered to her home in California for years.
Wes Moore wants crab cakes and waffles on the menu
Speaking of crab cakes ...
Gov. Moore told reporters Monday he was considering making crab cakes and waffles his signature item at Annapolis’ Chick & Ruth’s Delly. The restaurant is where “politicians eat, schmooze, and if they’re really important, get a sandwich named after them,” according to a 1996 article in The Baltimore Sun.
There’s the William Donald Schaefer, named for Baltimore’s forever mayor, and loaded with salami, Swiss and onion on rye. The Larry Hogan is a cheesesteak with American cheese and grilled onions.
“I actually think for my meal I want to do crab cake and waffles,” Moore told reporters, according to my colleague Brenda Wintrode. “Because I did not see anything like that up there.” The unconventional combo, he said, will mirror his campaign philosophy of doing things “a little bit different.”
He then ordered a Reuben.
Lane Harlan to open The Coral Wig
There’s already a ton of buzz around the Hotel Ulysses in Mount Vernon.
“I can’t remember,” a Banner editor messaged me recently, “the last time something in Baltimore got this much national press right off the bat.”
Neither can I. The hotel’s NYC-based owner, Ash, has wrangled write-ups in The New York Times Style Magazine, Architectural Digest and Vogue, while mostly dodging my interview requests.
The hotel itself is a marvel of design. Even the floors were designed by somebody famous: Thomas Reiner of Vienna, Austria (that’s what Ash co-founder Will Cooper told the Financial Times last month, anyway). John Waters inspired the room names.
And now the buzz is about to get louder. Baltimore’s own Lane Harlan, dubbed “The Most Interesting Woman in the Restaurant Business” by Saveur, is opening a new bar in the alley of the hotel.
Harlan announced the bar, The Coral Wig, in an Instagram post commemorating the 10th anniversary of her speakeasy, W.C. Harlan.
The Clavel and Fadensonnen owner declined an interview request to talk about the new concept, but emailed a description of the bar calling it a “tropical cocktail bar reminiscent of 1980s-era Manila, Philippines officers clubs and bars where Lane’s Mother came of age.” An opening is set for this spring.
The new bar comes as Harlan herself is raising a young daughter with husband and business partner Matthew Pierce. In her Instagram post she wrote: “As we officially enter a new year as actual Mom & Pop shop owners alongside our daughter, we reflect upon the tangible beauty of a decade in business.”
The Banner launches ‘Kitchen Undisclosed’
I am marking my calendar for The Baltimore Banner’s newest dining event, Kitchen Undisclosed.
The experience offers guests a four-course dinner with wine pairings at one of the city’s top restaurants, plus a welcome beverage.
The catch: Ticket holders don’t find out where they’re eating until the day of the event.
Tickets are $125 for one of two seatings, including 5:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. on Feb 22.
Consider this the answer to the “where should we eat?” conundrum.