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Amid opposition, Martick’s liquor license transferred to proposed Harlem Park “jazz club”

Transfer clouds prospect for promised revival of the legendary restaurant on W. Mulberry St.

1213 Edmondson Ave TWO

The city has transferred the old Martick’s Restaurant Francaise liquor license to this Harlem Park building where the applicant plans a jazz club.

Photo by: Fern Shen

Buried in the minutiae of Baltimore Liquor Board proceedings comes news of a weird end for a legendary liquor license – that of Morris Martick’s Restaurant Francaise.

One of the first licenses issued in the city after Prohibition ended in 1933 (80 years ago today, by the way), the Martick’s license was recently transferred from the one-time speakeasy’s old address, 214 W. Mulberry, to 1213 Edmondson Avenue, a vacant, partially boarded-up, stand-alone building in the struggling neighborhood of Harlem Park.

The transfer, approved by the Board of Liquor License Commissioners on November 7, casts doubt on plans trumpeted earlier this year to reopen the beloved Martick’s in its old location as a nouvelle speakeasy (serving seasonal fare and “hand-crafted cocktails”) by early August.

Morris Martick’s brother Alexander Martick (the restaurateur died in December 2011), told The Brew yesterday that backers are obtaining another liquor license and that the project is “still in what you would call the planning stages, but it will eventually happen.”

To get inside Martick's you had to ring the bell, speak-easy style and wait for the door to open. (Photo by Jennifer Bishop)

Morris Martick in 2008 in the restaurant doorway, next to the bell you had to ring to get in. (Photo by Jennifer Bishop.)

Morris Martick, who retired and closed the place in 2008, had tried in his final years to unload the license on Craigslist and the Baltimore City Paper classifieds.

On March 2, 2011, it was transferred to Alexander Martick from his brother’s estate “at a private conference with the Liquor Board staff,” according to the Community Law Center’s watchdog blog, Booze News.

“No notes of what happened during that meeting exist in the file,” writes the Center’s lawyer-blogger Becky Lundberg Witt, who did jot down what Alex Martick said to the commissioners at the hearing last month:

“That his parents had one of the first liquor licenses after the repeal of Prohibition and. . . that he was born in June 1928.”

Neighborhood Opposition

Adding another twist to the tale, the board’s approval of the license transfer came despite opposition from the Harlem Park Neighborhood Council.

Community members did not attend the November 7 hearing, but did submit a letter of opposition. Their letter stated that their attempts to reach applicant Anthony Ogbuokiri were unsuccessful because his voice mailbox was full.

Yesterday, a group of men standing outside the barber shop across Edmondson Avenue from the proposed “jazz lounge” said the community worries that the establishment will have live entertainment and attract a young and rowdy crowd.

They said Ogbuokiri had recently addressed the community at a meeting, but that his desire to attract a young crowd has them worried.

“He says it will be a jazz club,” one of the neighborhood observers remarked, “but he also says it’s going to be young people and you know what that means – hoppers!”

Ogbuokiri, who could not be reached for this article, is proposing to operate the establishment Thursday through Saturday, from 8 p.m. to 12 midnight. In 2012, he appears to have sought to transfer the Martick’s license to another establishment, 1837 Pennsylvania Ave.

1213 Edmondson Avenue. (Photo by Fern Shen)

1213 Edmondson Avenue. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Commissioner Elizabeth C. Smith, according to Witt, pointed out that the prospective establishment “is located in the area with the highest crime rate in Baltimore City” and noted that she is concerned about “criminal elements and the possibility for underage drinking.”

The applicant promised to provide security and surveillance cameras, as well as to check in regularly with police. He said that he will “aggressively card young people,” Witt wrote. Asked by Commissioner Harvey E. Jones if he has ever “lived in the area or socialized in the neighborhood,” Ogbuokiri said he hadn’t but promised to address crime issues and “become part of the community.”

Although the three-member board approved the transfer, they postponed the matter of live entertainment for 90 days, telling the applicant to contact the community.

Chairman Stephan W. Fogleman explained why the commissioners voted against the community’s wishes. He noted that although there was a letter of opposition from the community, it was “anti-alcohol” and not very specific, Witt wrote.

“Generally, vacants cause more trouble than a nightclub does,” Fogleman said.

Legacy of a Baltimore Original

A lifelong denizen of Baltimore, Morris Martick opened the restaurant in 1970 after an inspiring trip to France. When he closed it in 2008, many in town bemoaned the loss of a storied hole-in-the-wall. He and a cadre of loyal staffers served fine French fare to a mix of bohemian and blue-collar patrons who knew how to enter the seedy-looking, sign-less, window-less establishment: by ringing the bell.

(The bell dates back to an earlier incarnation of the building, where incidentally Morris was born, as a Prohibition-era speakeasy. Before that it was the family store. )

When the crusty, wise-cracking Martick died two years ago, they mourned the loss of a Baltimore original and, beneath the gruff exterior, guy with a heart of gold.

(Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 of The Brew’s appreciation of Martick.)

As for future plans for the building on Mulberry Street, brother Alex Martick, 88, a Baltimore attorney, said  plans to reopen are not dead.

Partners are obtaining “a seven-day-a-week” liquor  license and will use it to open up “a nice place” there “if we can ever open up there,” he told The Brew.

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  • Aaron Mirenzi

    I’m very surprised the community is against this. at this point, the only reason for anybody to go to Harlem park is to buy heroin. the only businesses are liquor stores and takeout places. who else is trying to build a business in Harlem park? and one promoting the arts?

    Do thugs even like jazz?

  • davethesuave

    there’s nothing quite like live jazz in a nice club. if the owner sticks to real jazz, and refrains from hosting the types of acts that encourage thuggery, i would go.
    you all know what i mean by “real” jazz, right? i’m thinking hot (Parker, Gillespie, Trane etc) and cool (Davis, Monk, Brubeck, Grappelli etc) and just plain awesome (Oscar for one). Those guys are dead now, but there are some great local talents who might show up as well: Cyrus etc. Fingers crossed (mine, not Mr. Chestnut’s).

    • River Mud

      I cannot imagine that any businessperson with experience running a bar/restaurant would attempt to honestly create a real jazz club in that location. I know I’m being overly cynical. I’ll be the first to admit it if I’m proven wrong. If you’ve been to concerts with large bands (more than 4 players) in rowhouse venues…..it’s….interesting. Not without value. Just a hard sell to many patrons. Then there’s the “getting stabbed outside of the club” issue. But again, I recognize that I lack vision on this one.

      And if it’s not live music but instead “jazz-themed DJ”, forget it, by the time the third mortgage payment (or taxes, or an errant water bill) are due, the venue will likely devolve to “free ladies night with student ID” and the occasional Krazy Punch night. DJ’s and their play lists are easy to change, especially with the promise of good bar sales for playing popular radio hits.

  • Andrew

    Baltimore used to be one of the great jazz cities in the country. City Hall would be smart to support bringing jazz back to town as many jazz masters are still around. Arts are one of Baltimore’s strongest suit for attracting tourists. I have no idea is this venture is the real-deal. Meanwhile,Mt Vernon’s Eden Lounge and Evilla are going up for auction in coming weeks.

  • Sheila Ebelein

    Gee, and just when I was getting to like Steve…

  • James Hunt

    Dave, Aaron — You’re reading this and thinking great jazz venues like the “Village Vanguard” but Baltimore has just enough jazz afficionadoes to keep “The Haven” in Northwood Shopping Center (where, unfortunately, former councilman Kenny Harris was murdered) going. The neighbors have a much more realistic view:

    [snip] Yesterday, a group of men standing outside the barber shop across Edmondson Avenue from the proposed “jazz lounge” said the community worries that the establishment will have live entertainment and attract a young and rowdy crowd.

    They said Ogbuokiri had recently addressed the community at a meeting, but that his desire to attract a young crowd has them worried.

    “He says it will be a jazz club,” one of the neighborhood observers remarked, “but he also says it’s going to be young people and you know what that means – hoppers!” [snip]

    • davethesuave

      when i arrived in Baltmore, 1984, there was a great little venue on Franklin, “The Jazz Closet”. when i discovered this place, i went there every Saturday night for months. The Harlem Park location might be funky, but man, to open a venue somewhere in mid-town, no sweats, no colors, no crap attitudes allowed; in other words, a place for grown-ups only: well, i am probably full of dreams, but it seems the place would thrive.
      I get the invites to go hear live jazz at An Die Musik, but i never go because the seating sucks. and it’s not a club. C’mon B-more, there must be a wealthy jazz lover out there willing to step up (altho I can see why no one will; you’d have to deal with the continuing City shakedown; uh-oh, I’m drifting on to the reef called Cynical Shores again, better sign off now…)

  • Jim Burger

    Neither will open.

  • KnowNothingParty

    What a wonderful economic and cultural leap this will be for West Baltimore. Jazz never really caught on for one reason – it sucks.

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