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After 61 years, iconic Werner’s restaurant closes its doors

The future tenant of the old Werner’s spot will need to appeal to downtown Baltimore’s business district without becoming another upscale restaurant out of reach for the luncheonette’s former regulars.

Werner’s, which closed Friday to a packed house after more than 60 years in business, leaves behind space for a new restaurant to potentially come in and capitalize on its walking distance to the business district and being nestled among upscale hotels.

Whoever takes over the spot next will have to stay at a certain price point to be successful, said Thomas L. Fidler Jr., senior vice president and principal for MacKenzie Commercial Real Estate.

“It should be something more mid-priced and consumer sensitive,” Fidler said.

Many of the restaurants that have come into the downtown area are upscale, so a new restaurateur should aim for consumers looking to pay slightly below the prices of Pazo Restaurant or Charleston, he said.

But the trend of restaurants and luncheonettes from the 1950s and 1960s closing in Baltimore doesn’t surprise Fidler. Burke’s Café and Restaurant closed in December, Martick’s Restaurant Francais closed in 2008, and Marconi’s closed three years before then. Because a younger demographic is moving into Baltimore’s business area, that crowd is less familiar with standbys like Burke’s and Werner’s, and is opting to dine at newer chains, like Kona Grill, Roy’s and Capital Grille.

“That generation that grew up with Burke’s moved up and moved on,” Fidler said. “That brand and moniker have become less significant.”

Regulars, former regulars and newcomers alike flocked Friday to Werner’s for its last lunch.

More than 30 diners grabbed seats at the luncheonette off Redwood Street before noon, and as the lunch hour grew closer, potential customers decided to seek other lunch options because Werner’s had maxed its capacity.

Cindy France, who works for Travelers Insurance Co. in Hunt Valley, spent her day off to lunch at Werner’s one last time. France said she used to dine at Werner’s frequently when she worked for a downtown law firm 20 years ago, and laments that her current workplace doesn’t have a standby like Werner’s near it. She ordered her old favorite — a grilled cheese sandwich and a milkshake.

“It used to be packed like this all the time when I used to come here,” France said. “It’s amazing how things change.”

Werner Kloetzli opened the restaurant in 1950, and it became a staple for politicians, lawyers and other businesspeople in the area, as well as a favorite of movie and television scenes. The spot’s chrome and maple Art Deco interior was barely visible Friday because of the diners constantly filling seats and booths.

“I was pretty sad,” said Christopher J. Madaio, an attorney with Miles & Stockbridge P.C. who frequented the restaurant. “It’s like a legacy place in Baltimore. It’s one of those places that everybody knows somebody here. It stinks for the city.”

Madaio, who favored the corned beef sandwich, was introduced to Werner’s through partners in his firm who’d been coming to the restaurant for years, he said.

Chris Edge, head of equity risk management for T. Rowe Price, found out about Werner’s through its appearances on “The Wire.”

“It’s kind of part of what you think of Baltimore when you’re living here,” he said. “Everything else is a chain.”

Edge said from now on he’ll probably just go to chain brand coffee and sandwich shops for his usual chicken sandwich and fries.

The mayor’s office declared Friday as Werner’s Restaurant Day in honor of the lunchtime favorite.

“All of Baltimore mourns the loss of the Baltimore institution,” said Ian Brennan, the mayor’s press secretary. “Its trademark embodies all of Baltimore’s charm.”

One comment

  1. I loved this place. My best friend took me there in 1988 when I started working for the City in Finance. I came back often and always loved the atmosphere. Who could forget that iconic scene in “Tin Men” ? Werner’s, I will mourn thee !