With the cordiality of opposing generals meeting before battle, representatives from Ritz Cabaret and the Fell’s Point Task Force met last week to review the Ritz’s plans to build a steakhouse next door to the strip club at 504 S. Broadway.
It is uncertain at this point whether there will be a battle in the near future.
At issue was the manner in which the steakhouse would obtain a liquor license. Attorney Abraham Hurdle, representing 504 S. Broadway LLC., which includes the Ritz and licensees David Hitchiner and Joseph Soltas, said that his clients planned to ask the Liquor Board to expand the Ritz’s seven-day tavern license to the proposed steakhouse next door.
Members of the Task Force—which includes community association presidents from southeast Baltimore west of Patterson Park—said that they feared this strategy would eventually result in one large strip club, as the Ritz’s liquor license contains provisions allowing adult entertainment.
Task Force member Victor Corbin of the Fells Prospect Community Association told Hurdle that he would prefer to see a separate, restaurant-oriented liquor license for the steakhouse, with a separate licensee.
“You’ll get a lot more support that way, because the big talk right now is you’re expanding the adult entertainment,” Corbin told Hurdle.
Hurdle admitted that the liquor license has adult entertainment attached, but he said that his clients have no plans to expand such activities to the steakhouse.
Furthermore, Hurdle said, such a move would take more than permission on Ritz’s liquor license. The next-door property would need specific use and occupancy permits for adult entertainment, which it does not have, he said. Zoning Board approval—which his client is not seeking, Hurdle said—would be needed for adult entertainment to be an option.
And if the Ritz did go to the Zoning Board for permission to have adult entertainment, “four or five community groups would oppose them,” Hurdle speculated.
“I’m tired of fighting about everything,” said Joanne Masopust, Fell’s Point Community Organization president, indicating she would rather not go that route. “Everything we’re dealing with right now is based on liquor issues, and it’s all centered on the 500 block of Broadway.”
Members of the Task Force continued to press their case against the expansion of the existing liquor license. Corbin stated that, historically, Liquor Board actions “trump” those of the Zoning Board; therefore tacit approval from the Liquor Board would clear the way for adult entertainment.
Licensee David Hitchiner was present, and Task Force members asked Hurdle if they might ask him directly for his thoughts on the separate restaurant license idea.
“I would advise him not to answer,” Hurdle said. “I’m not trying to be difficult about it; I just haven’t talked to him about it.”
Eventually, Hurdle agreed to bring his clients and their proposal to the three community associations—the Fell’s Point Community Organization, Fell’s Point Residents Association, and the Douglass Place Neighborhood Association—that would be affected by the proposed steakhouse.
The Liquor Board was initially scheduled to hear the Ritz’s request on Thursday, July 24; the hearing has been postponed.
Available community association meeting dates to meet with the Ritz are all after July, in August and September. Hurdle wondered aloud if visiting the associations would be worth the delay.
“The way people are discussing it right now, it seems like a waste of time and we should just go to the Liquor Board next Thursday,” he said. “If you guys are predisposed to say no, what’s the point?”
“Is the Liquor Board predisposed to expand a liquor license to a pit?” asked David Martz of the Fell’s Point Residents Association, referring to the building-sized hole in the ground at the corner of Eastern Ave. and Broadway where the steakhouse would be built.
Hurdle had also argued that, by visiting the community associations and delaying the Liquor Board hearing, his clients would lose time in getting to work on the hole, and hence incur fines from the city.
“If I may,” said Masopust, “Y’all could’ve come before us long before now. If they have a fine, they have a fine; don’t lay it on our doorstep. This is the process.”
At the start of the meeting, Attorney Andrew O’Connell, also representing 504 S. Broadway LLC, had said that there was “quite a bit of litigation surrounding the pit to get something built.”
O’Connell said that a deal with the city, in which permits are to be pulled by September and construction to begin by December, has been reached.
Hurdle agreed to visit the community associations.
In addition to discussing the liquor license, the Ritz team presented their plans for the steakhouse building. The 6,800 square-foot building, with a basement kitchen and two above-ground levels, would accommodate up to 160 people, said architect Ian Sokoloski.
Members of the Task Force objected to a 24-foot curb cut on Eastern Ave., which would allow access to a three-car garage on the building’s ground floor. Sokoloski argued that the cut, though it would remove some street parking, would be justifiable because, in the city’s eyes, it would result in a net gain in overall parking spaces.
But Task Force members saw the situation differently.
“That’s got to go,” said Corbin. “Residents are already pinched beyond belief.”
Sokoloski said that the garage could be removed from the plans.
A menu for the proposed steakhouse indicates that the Ritz is seeking high rollers. A $23 lobster bisque and a $98, 48-ounce Porterhouse for two are a couple highlights of the menu, which includes a wide variety of steaks, from about $40 and on up.
“We’re trying to do something to make it a little classier,” said licensee David Hitchiner at one point. “We’re the pink elephant in the room; I understand that.”
by Erik Zygmont