This week, we’ll check in on Mr. Boh, whose neon eye has stopped winking at Baltimore.
We’ll learn about the sale of what may be the nation’s oldest snowball stand and find out what’s happening at the former Hopkins Deli. We’ll say goodbye to Barley’s Backyard in Fells Point, which used to be The Greene Turtle. But I have good news for fans of Bertha’s Mussels, whose shutdown might not be happening after all.
You look different, Mr. Boh
Something is off with the Natty Boh man.
It started a few weeks ago, when the 27-foot neon logo at the top of the former National Brewing Company plant in Brewers Hill went dark.
Back in November, I called up David Knipp, vice president of Obrecht Commercial Real Estate, which owns the former brewing plant, now home to offices and apartments. “We’re working on it,” he said of the unilluminated Boh — then hung up.
Old commercial signs have a sentimental value in Baltimore, a reminder of the city’s industrial past and the generations of workers who made it run. D.C. has its cherry blossoms, we have the Domino Sugars sign and the Natty Boh man, the logo for National Bohemian, the most famous beer to emerge from Baltimore.
“There’s just something iconic about that neon that really harkens back to childhood memories for people,” said Auni Gelles, community programs manager at the Baltimore Museum of Industry, which has a terrific view of the Domino Sugars sign.
Despite his seemingly iconic place on Baltimore’s skyline, the vintage-looking neon Natty Boh man hadn’t actually been around all that long. He was added after Obrecht remodeled the building in 2004, years after brewing of Natty Boh had left Maryland.
I forgot about the whole thing until a few weeks ago, when I was walking to The Dive in Canton to have dinner. Mr. Boh was lit up, yes. But he looked different. Gone was his winking eye. Gone was the neon. In its place was the Natty Boh man, illuminated by alternating lights. Red. Green. Red. Green.
I wondered if I was imagining things — had he been like this the whole time? Was this a festive nod to the holidays?
Signs certainly change. Domino Sugars replaced its 120-by-70-foot neon sign with an LED version. The sugar company worked with a sign design and manufacturing firm in Curtis Bay to create a nearly identical version. The new Natty Boh man is not identical to the old one.
Is he? I called up Jesse Sandlin, who owns The Dive, to see if I was losing it.
“He’s totally different,” she said. “He used to be neon and he used to blink. Now he just looks like a box light sign and he doesn’t blink anymore. And I don’t know if it just happened, or if it happened a long time ago and I just never noticed it.”
Sandlin added: “I don’t know when it happened, but it happened.”
In passing days, my colleagues took note of the Natty Boh man and his changing colors. Over the weekend, he was purple. On Monday, he was blue.
Again, I called up Knipp. He was cordial, and agreed that the Natty Boh man looks different. And then he hung up on me.
Why all the secrecy surrounding an icon that’s plain for all to see? It’s an only-in-Baltimore mystery.
New life for Chez Hugo
There’s a new concept headed to 206 E. Redwood St., previously home to Chez Hugo and LōCAL Restaurant and Kitchen.
Prim & Proper Cocktail and Wine Bar will open in 2023, serving French-Caribbean cuisine.
Behind the scenes: Alex Perez and Berry Clark, who also launched Papi Cuisine, famed for its crab cake egg roll. The restaurant has two locations, including one in South Baltimore and another in Owings Mills.
In a statement, Clark said owners plan to have a former White House chef curate the menu. Shakespearean-themed cocktails will be a nod to neighboring Chesapeake Shakespeare Company.
Downtown Baltimore has seen a spate of closures during the pandemic, but Brad Byrnes of Byrnes & Associates, Inc., which brokered the lease on the restaurant space on behalf of Helm Real Estate Holdings, which owns the building, said the area is on the verge “one of the greatest comebacks in Baltimore City history.” He likened it to the aftermath of Baltimore’s Great Fire of 1904.
Nearby, the Alexander Brown building, previously home to the Alexander Brown Restaurant, which shut down early on in the pandemic, has been leased to Allora owners Brendon Hudson and David Monteagudo, who plan to open Zander’s Restaurant next year.
Walther Gardens will sell
Speaking of change at Baltimore landmarks: Walther Gardens, which may be the nation’s oldest snowball stand, is up for sale.
Brother-and-sister duo Matthew and Paula Wittek bought the property from its original owners, the Sinsz family, in 2014, according to The Baltimore Business Journal’s Melody Simmons, who first reported the story.
Almost nine years later, Paula Wittek said, she and her brother want more time to live their lives. “I have new grandbabies in the forecast.”
The property includes a nursery and farmhouse that the Witteks rehabbed and transformed to a gift shop.
Just days after listing it, Paula Wittek said she and her brother had already heard from several interested buyers. They are looking for someone who will keep running Walther Gardens as a nursery and keep the snowball stand going, though she also said, “We have no idea what they’re going to do. We’re going to hope and pray. We’re going to interview the right candidate.”
According to Sinsz family history, the snowball stand operation goes back to the 1920s, making it the oldest in the country.
Barley’s Backyard Fells Point to shut down
The Walther Gardens owners aren’t the only small business owners who need a break.
Barley’s Backyard in Fells Point is closing its doors Dec. 30.
“We have been in that location since 1986,” said Jill Packo. Her husband Bill opened the restaurant with two college friends as The Greene Turtle, just the second-ever Greene Turtle in existence after the original Ocean City location.
The family later opened another iteration of The Greene Turtle in Towson, but rebranded both restaurants as Barley’s Backyards during the pandemic.
Packo said the lease was up for renewal on the Broadway location, and she didn’t want to sign up for another five to 10 years in Baltimore. “The rent was going to be high, the building was old,” she said. “We decided it was time to leave the city.”
Another factor, said Packo, who turns 60 in July: She’s exhausted.
In the meantime, the family will continue to operate Barley’s Backyard in Towson, where Packo said they have a longer lease.
The family-owned and operated bar has been hosting “30 days of fun” to mark its farewell from the city, and Packo said, “We’ve been busy every day.”
The restaurant is closing just as The Greene Turtle’s newest location is preparing to open in Canton, the first in the city limits since the Packos’ location rebranded. Another will open in Towson, less than a block away from Barley’s Backyard.
Bertha’s Mussels goes on ... for now
Meanwhile, the shutdown of another Fells Point bar and restaurant may not be so imminent after all.
If you recall, the auction of Bertha’s Mussels was canceled just before bidding was about to close. Owner Tony Norris told me later, “We didn’t get what we wanted to get.”
Though the Norrises originally planned to close this year, Norris confirmed in a text message that the restaurant will reopen after its winter holiday: “At least for a while.”
From Hopkins Deli to Hopkins Market
A new restaurant, Hopkins Market, is planned for the former Hopkins Deli location at 110 W. 39th St. Owner Soon Young Park received approval for a new restaurant liquor license for that location at a hearing Dec. 15.
Good Neighbor eats a $200 fine
Imagine you own a coffee shop in Hampden. You get a permit to have outdoor music, so you schedule a wedding on your cafe’s outdoor patio. Then, just before the wedding, you get a notice that your permit has been revoked.
What do you do?
If you’re Good Neighbor owner Shawn Chopra, you go ahead with the wedding.
Chopra admitted last Thursday to Baltimore’s Board of Liquor License Commissioners that he had violated the terms of his license, but explained the situation. He was fined $200.