French Kitchen Opens

I was recently invited to have dinner at the newly opened French Kitchen at the Lord Baltimore Hotel. The restaurant is on the Baltimore Street side of the hotel, just up the stairs off the lobby, and it abuts where the old hotel speakeasy was housed (behind the mirrored wall on the Hanover Street side).

The room is quite spacious, with the high ceilings and windows making it feel even larger, and the elegance of the decor is restrained enough not to be overwhelming. I would take a date, or even an out of town visitor who wanted an upscale dining experience, here.

Our server attended our table promptly and was consistently attentive throughout the meal. Two of us enjoyed a glass of wine, while one ordered a cocktail. The bread was plentiful, and served warm.

Two of my party had hors d’oeuvers (beet cured salmon with dill and creme fraiche, and the soup du jour, cream of asparagus) and another had a betteraves salad (beets five ways). The soup was as rich and filling as expected, with well-cooked asparagus that was neither too mushy or too crunchy. Both the salmon appetizer and the beet salad (full disclosure about the beet salad – its reputation preceded it) were raved about.

For the main course, I had the poulet roti, served with cauliflower, garlic, fingerling potato, and cippolini onion. It was delicious. The chicken was cooked perfectly, the sauce was savory, and the vegetables were tasty. I would have liked a few more vegetables, but I was pleased that the generous portion of chicken allowed me to take some home and enjoy it again the next day.

Poulet Roti at French Kitchen (Lord Baltimore Hotel)

Poulet Roti at French Kitchen, Lord Baltimore Hotel

My dining companions had steak frites (seared steak, cippolini onions, and french fries) and poisson (monkfish, navy beans, capers, fingerling potatoes, winter vegetables). The steak arrived medium well, as ordered, and we could tell that the french fries were hand-cut and cooked with care – they tasted “really good”. The other person in our party had never eaten monkfish before, and she noted how good the fingerling potatoes were as she cleaned her plate.

Finally, the three desserts we tried – creme brulee, poached pear, and chocolate duet – were all out of this world. If only we not been so full from the rest of our meal! I’m looking forward to more dining experiences at this restaurant. Maybe I’ll see you there sometime?

Have you tried French Kitchen yet, or had drinks in the lobby bar? Email stories@lordbaltimorehotel and tell us about your experiences!

ICYMI – The “Essential” Baltimore Thanksgiving side dish

Before my family celebrated Thanksgiving Day yesterday, I learned something I never knew about a food we have always eaten for Thanksgiving – sauerkraut. Turns out, not everyone in America eats fermented cabbage with their turkey and stuffing! From the Baltimore Sun’s Jonathan Pitts:

“It’s sauerkraut, that tartly tantalizing fermented-cabbage dish that long ago took its oddball place alongside gravy and sweet potatoes as a staple of Baltimore Thanksgiving dinners.

Though the custom has shown itself elsewhere, notably Maryland’s Eastern Shore, foodies and food historians agree that the habit of consuming sauerkraut with the Thanksgiving bird is as essential to Charm City as painted screens and the pagoda in Patterson Park.

It’s also a point of pride — one on which locals have opinions as pungent as the vegetable dish itself.

“I’ve had it every year since I’ve been born, and we’ll be having at our house this year,” says Joseph “Turkey Joe” Trabert, 77, noted connoisseur of Baltimore kitsch and folklore.

The juxtaposition of Thanksgiving fowl — with its rich, almost buttery flavors — and strategically decomposed vegetable is not, to be sure, to everyone’s liking. Even locally, it’s not hard to find a diner or two who consider the combination less than appealing at best.

“I’ve never been a fan of kraut. I think it smells like feet,” said Tracey Hartman of Annapolis, a Severna Park native whose grandmothers — and mother — served the stuff with love every Thanksgiving. “I also think it ruins the delicious smell of turkey.”

Delectable or distasteful, sauerkraut and turkey have been a local tradition for at least 150 years. Sauerkraut itself, in one form or another, has been a staple of the human diet for much longer.”

OK, so not everyone likes the sauerkraut with their turkey dinner. But why was it even added to the Thanksgiving menu here in Baltimore?

“The answer, historians tell us, lies in demographics.

Baltimore was a leading gateway for German immigration during the 1800s, so much so that by 1863, the year President Abraham Lincoln declared Thanksgiving a national holiday, one in four of the city’s residents were transplanted Germans and spoke the tongue as their first language.

Most who ponder the subject say those immigrants were equally caught up in the traditions of their new country and interested in sprinkling them with the customs they brought with them.

One historian cites a Pennsylvania Dutch tradition that derives from the Eastern European custom of stuffing goose with fermented cabbage. William Woys Weaver, author of “Sauerkraut Yankees,” a book of Pennsylvania recipes and food lore, says traders from the York and Chambersburg areas brought it to Baltimore, a frequent stop.

“That tradition was written about as early as 1840,” he says.

Local lore has a slightly different twist.

“My wife and I think the immigrants from Germany and Poland settled in Highlandtown and the area around Broadway generations ago, and they celebrated Thanksgiving the way we did, but they also wanted to add a touch of home to their meals,” said Nickolas Antonas, who with his wife, Mary, owned and ran the Eastern House restaurant for 44 years.”

Have you ever eaten Thanksgiving dinner, sauerkraut or no, at the Lord Baltimore Hotel? Tell us about it! Email stories@lordbaltimorehotel.com

Rubell Hotels: New Owners of Historic Baltimore Hotel, Part 1

The Lord Baltimore Hotel has new owners. As described recently by Frederick N. Rasmussen in the Baltimore Sun:

“The hotel, which has stood at the corner of Baltimore and Hanover streets since its opening in late 1928, was purchased by Rubell Hotels, whose principals are Don, Mera and Jason Rubell, in August for $10 million.”

The family has several other hotels under their brand, and brings experience operating unique properties. Rasmussen explained:

“The Rubells are hardly strangers when it comes to operating hotels, which they view as being something more than a place to lay your head on a pillow, change clothes or conduct business. The Rubells see hotels as being essential and necessary components of any city’s cultural life, and they say they intend to make the Lord Baltimore a downtown place where people will want to gather.

In addition to the Lord Baltimore, hotels under the Miami-based Rubell imprimatur include the Albion Hotel, the Art Deco masterpiece in Miami’s South Beach, and the Capitol Skyline Hotel in Washington.”

The family also has an interest in art. A recent New York Times story about Don and Mera’s artist daughter, Jennifer, noted about the family:

“Hospitality runs in the Rubell family. Beginning in the late ’70s, her parents opened their Upper East Side town house to the contemporary-art world for first-night Whitney Biennial parties. Now that they live in Miami, they receive multitudes at their 5,000-work Rubell Family Collection.

Steve Rubell was the social director of the disco era, allowing only the chosen few to pass the velvet rope and enter Studio 54. Later he helped conceive the boutique hotel. Ms. Rubell adored her uncle, who died in 1989 at age 45 (she named her daughter, Stevie, after him). She told Harvard Magazine earlier this year, “The biggest thing I got from him is that you can create a powerful, ephemeral moment that means something forever.””

JenniferRubell

Have you ever been to the Lord Baltimore Hotel for a stay or a function? Tell us about your experience at stories@lordbaltimorehotel.com – and please include photos if you’d like!

 

The Era of the Speakeasy: Prohibition in Charm City

The Roaring Twenties were described this way in the City Paper a decade ago:

“Unprecedented economic prosperity put money in everyone’s pockets in the ’20s. And the newly prosperous turned around and spent it on electric gadgets and state-of-the-art kitchen appliances (Crosley radios and gas stoves, not DVD players and cappuccino machines). Women won the right to vote, jazz music ruled the airwaves, and Charles Lindbergh made the world a little smaller with the first trans-Atlantic flight. The ’20s were heady, hedonistic times, but of course Prohibition (1920-’33) kept everyone from getting too happy.

Despite the Volstead Act and the revenuers, however, most people drank more than ever before. In fact, many of the most familiar and popular cocktails of the alcoholic pantheon were created during Prohibition–invention (i.e., adding fruit, juice, and soda) mothered by the necessity of covering up the awful taste of bootleg liquor. The sheiks and shebas of the ’20s liked to drink their sidecars in the supper clubs and cabarets of the era, which often served as fronts for speakeasies.”

We are lucky to have a great blog on the topic of “Prohibition in Baltimore”, written by a University of Baltimore history student. From the December 3, 2009 post:

“While the Drys were convinced that those who drank were immoral and uncontrolled, the Wets were convinced that their counterparts were lunatics and religious fanatics. It’s hard to pick which side was crazier because according to Dr. Harry Goldsmith, the whole city’s population was going insane. He said in the New York Times, “the insane population in this city had almost doubled since 1910. The increase amounted to 90 per cent, while the general population grew only to 36 per cent.” Goldsmith also emphasized that Prohibition was one of the chief causes of increased mental disorders. One out of every nine mental cases he handled could be traced to Prohibition.

If you were lucky, however, you could get a prescription for liquor. This loophole obviously had some problems. According to Mills, by the end of March 1920, “the entire Maryland-D.C. supply of seventy thousand whiskey prescription blanks had been exhausted.” And the ills, not surprisingly, always seemed to manifest themselves around the weekends and the holidays.”

Another post discusses speakeasies:

“Crackdowns aside, drinking joints abounded in Baltimore. Eric Mills lists some places where people would go to get drinks:
John C.Murder’s saloon at 4536 Harford Rd
Jerry Bee’s saloon at 2000 West Lanvale St
the Iola Athletic and Pleasure Club at 109 Parkin St
the Hotel Leland bar at 1610 Pennsylvania Ave.
the Biddle Street saloon
the Laurens Street saloon
Seymour’s Mulberry Street watering hole
Nixon’s Cafe,
the black saloon at the corner of Gough and Dallas Streets
The Diamond Cafe at 311 West Franklin
Ivory Booker’s beer hall at 15 North Frederick
Maurice Finn and Charlie Mitchell’s place at 3 North Frederick
Eddie Vaeth’s saloon at 300 Light St
the Lithuanian Hall at Hollins and Parkin

Baltimore was a traditionally a big beer town, robustly so, with its strong German and Irish influences and a renowned zest for steamed crab consumption. So it would make sense that in Baltimore, a red crab in the window of a restaurant meant “saloon in the backroom. A sign advertising “seafood” meant likewise.”

Explains a lot, doesn’t it, Baltimore? Cheers!

Current Renovations Spur Rediscovery of 1920’s

The Lord Baltimore Hotel is currently being renovated by its new owners, Rubell Hotels. As they are not as extensive as the renovations in the early 1980’s (which required closing the hotel for a year), these updates should be complete sometime in spring 2014.

Lord Baltimore Hotel general manager Gene-Michael Addis recently discussed the changes with Frederick N. Rasmussen of the Baltimore Sun:

“”The original chandelier in the lobby was sold off during one of the bankruptcies to pay bills,” said general manager Gene-Michael Addis.

“The Rubells fell in love with the hotel and have a vision of what they want to do here, and we’re going to keep the ’20s feel in the lobby,” said Addis. “We’re turning this into a four-star property.”

The hotel was redesigned by Scott Sanders, a New York and Hamptons-based interior decorator whose specialty is American style.”

Details of the renovations include changes to many of the public areas:
“The former Versailles Room on the second floor will emerge as a French restaurant. It will be named the Matisse Kitchen and Tavern* after the extensive collection of Matisse paintings collected by Baltimore’s Cone sisters that are now at the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The catering manager who will oversee the food operation is executive chef Bryan Sullivan.

Other public spaces to be renovated are the first-floor coffee shop, which will be rechristened as the Lord Baltimore Bakery. The Lord Baltimore Library and Tavern, which will replicate a European pub, will feature book-lined walls and an operating fireplace, with seating for 40.

The old Oak Room in the lower-level lobby will be restored and used for private dining, said Addis.

The massive Calvert grand ballroom with its two vintage Baccarat crystal chandeliers will be returned to its 1928 grandeur.”

Finally, one of the most interesting and unintended consequences of the remodel is the coming resurrection of the hotel speakeasy:
“Addis made a startling discovery: a room in the southwestern corner of the building that had originally been a speakeasy during Prohibition.

“We’re putting it back and we’re going to call it Speakeasy,” he said.”

Share your ancestors’ speakeasy stories with us! Email stories@lordbaltimorehotel.com and give us the secret password…

*Note: The restaurant will NOT be called Matisse Kitchen and Tavern due to trademark concerns; instead it will be called French Kitchen. (11/21/13)

Renovations Over the Years

As the Lord Baltimore Hotel is a property in its ninth decade, there have been numerous periods of renovations in its history. Two of the notable previous renovation projects occurred in the 1960’s and 1980’s.

When the hotel was sold by the Busick family in 1960, the Baltimore Sun reported:

“Herbert R. Weissberg, of New York City, new owner of the Lord Baltimore Hotel, said yesterday he has plans for an extensive renovating and redecorating program for the hotel’s ballroom, lobby, and other public rooms.

But, he said, there will be no change in policy, rate structure or personnel.

The hotel’s private rooms may or may not be remodeled. Mr. Weissberg said he will have to look them over closely before making a decision.”

1960 New Yorker buys hotel

In an article the following month, the Sun followed up:

“Plans for the hotel’s renovation future are tied in with the new downtown Civic Center and it is expected that more state and national convention groups will be attracted to Baltimore.

Shortly before the announcement of the Sale of the hotel, a representative of New York interests inquired at the Association of Commerce about the prospects of the Civic Center becoming a reality. He was told that the Civic Center, and that prospects for the Charles Center looked encouraging.

The 700-room Lord Baltimore is the City’s largest hotel.”

1960 Executive Changes

A couple of decades later, the hotel closed for “extensive” renovations. The News American reported in July 1982:

“The Lord Baltimore Hotel will be closed more than a year beginning Aug. 1 for a $12-million renovation project, according to Laszlo Ravasz, vice president and general manager.

…the city will lose 450 hotel rooms while construction is under way. The closing of the third largest hotel downtown will reduce the total number of rooms within walking distance of the Convention Center to about 1,600 after July 31.

…When the Lord Baltimore reopens, Ravasz said, it will have 50 to 60 fewer guest rooms than it has now because the rooms are being enlarged.

Ravasz said Friday the hotel must close because the planned renovations are so extensive that its owners decided to shut the building rather than try to keep it open.

Although the hotel’s 17-story exterior will remain intact, he said, “The interior will be virtually all new, with completely new electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning systems, extensive elimination of interior walls to create larger guest rooms, new function and public rooms.”

1982 LBH to close for a year for renos

And the Baltimore Sun noted in its report:

“The project is being financed with the aid of a $10 million low-interest and tax-free industrial revenue bond approved by the City Council last October, according to a statement issued by the hotel.

The renovation is expected to help the 55-year old Lord Baltimore, which is at Baltimore and Hanover streets within Charles Center, compete for tourist and convention business with newer hotels downtown and others being planned.”

1982 Renos to close LBH

Did you work on the Lord Baltimore Hotel during one of the renovations? Tell us about it! Email stories@lordbaltimorehotel.com

Bridal Panel: Answering Wedding Planning Questions

On Tuesday November 12, the Lord Baltimore Hotel hosted a bridal panel with five local wedding planning experts who answered numerous questions about the process of planning a wedding.

The five experts were Rachel Hoffberger (Plan It Perfect), DJ Flounder (FM Entertainment), Kim Tyson (My Flower Box Events), Lauri Dixon (Party Plus), and Cate Buscher (Lord Baltimore Hotel, Venues and Catering).

Several of the experts noted reasons for paying for a professional, full-time wedding planner, explaining that the value received for the expense is worth having less to worry about when planning an important occasion like a wedding.

Some of the best advice of the night came from Rachel, who when asked about what to take care of earliest in the planning process, said, “Take care of everything early in the process!”

She explained that waiting until the end for the budget to be certain is not a good idea, as the inevitable result will be a frantic scramble to make some arrangement or another.

Cate also pointed out the importance of being clear about the actual budget for the event, rather than wasting everyone’s time with an aspirational budget, saying that planners have a hard time giving clients what they want if the planners have no idea what resources they’re working with.

All of the panelists agreed that weddings are becoming more unique than they were ten, or even five, years ago, and that this is exciting. People are feeling more free to move away from the strict traditional wedding script and making their weddings their own.

And this is even more reason to make sure you have expert help, said Cate, specifically citing “the sparkler exit”: “Don’t underestimate what it takes to get 150 people to do something all at once!”

Also in attendance was Carolyn Rafferty, a consultant with Premier Designs Jewelry, who was displaying some of her wedding jewelry and really enjoys doing shows for bridal parties.

The hotel served complimentary drinks, appetizers and dinner. About 40 brides and their guests attended the event.

The next bridal panel at the Lord Baltimore Hotel is scheduled for February 2014. For more information, please contact Cate Buscher at cbuscher@lordbaltimorehotel.com.

Have you attended an event at the Lord Baltimore Hotel? Tell us about it at stories@lordbaltimorehotel.comd