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Owner vows to rebuild Mt. Washington Tavern

As firefighters rolled up water hoses nine hours after a fire ripped through the Mt. Washington Tavern Monday, the owner of the popular bar and restaurant said he had already met with contractors to begin planning a reconstruction.

It was too early to determine when the tavern would reopen or the total cost of the damage the two-alarm fire that tore through the landmark had caused, said Rob Frisch, who has owned the bar for four years but worked there since 1986 when he started as a bartender and cook.

“We are going to rebuild,” said Frisch, 52, looking at the stone, siding and wooden structure and its collapsed roof.

“We’re going to have to completely rebuild from the ground up, possibly saving some fixtures and some things in the front bar and the main bar, but the rest of it’s pretty much gone,” he said.

Baltimore City firefighters said the first alarm sounded around 4:45 a.m. Shortly thereafter, a second alarm was sent once firefighters arrived on the scene at 5700 Newbury St.

Frisch said he arrived before 6 a.m. to find flames “shooting 40-50 feet” out of the tavern, located in the heart of the small Mount Washington village.

“I was just blown away,” he said.

By lunchtime, the flames had been totally extinguished. Boxes of sandwiches and fresh fruit had been sent to Frisch and his family and friends from the Whole Foods store nearby, providing much-needed sustenance after the shock of the day.

See the damage and hear from owner Rob Frisch about his plans for the Tavern

Frisch said communicating with the tavern’s 70 employees was a top priority to assure them they would have jobs once the restoration was complete. And loyal customers had reached out to them via social media.

“We’ve got some employees been here 20-25 years with us,” he said. “For us, it’s like our family.

“Our clientele, we know a lot of these people … and you go to their baby showers. You’re open 32 years, you have a lot. We’re blessed for it and they’ve all reached out to us today. Our Facebook page has gone absolutely crazy today, with a lot of very nice tributes and things, but it’s still very sad.”

City fire spokesman Capt. Roman Clark said the cause of the fire was under investigation.

As the trucks prepared to leave Monday afternoon, the tavern sat in ruins with smoke still puffing from some of its corners. Curious onlookers walked by and took pictures, some in tears.

A popular bar and restaurant that was open each day of the week and featured Maryland seafood and steaks as well as salads and burgers, the tavern also had unique antique features: chandeliers in the bar from the city’s old Gaiety Theatre and an old wooden phone booth once located in a downtown drugstore.

“It’s been here 32 years — it’s kind of a meeting place, a gathering place for all kind of folks,” Frisch said. “We kind of think of ourselves as all things to all people. You can come in here and get a full dinner of prime rib or rockfish, or you can come in and grab a terrific burger and a draft  beer.”

Tavern co-owner, Dave Lichtr, 45, stood close by and said the events of the fire had left him stunned.

“I grew up trying to sneak into the tavern,” he said. “We’ve heard from a lot of people today — customers, friends, family, bartenders and cooks.”

Billy Yerman, a principal with Yerman, Witman, Gaines & Conklin Realty, said he met his wife, Michele, in the tavern when the two were teenagers.

He drove by the ruins Monday afternoon and described the scene as heartbreaking.

“It was very sad to look at, to see it smoking,” Yerman said. “My wife and I shared our first kiss in the tavern at a small table in the bar.”

Yerman, who recalled eating brunch there on Mother’s Day with his family, said he hopes the restaurant and bar will soon be restored.

“I will be there the day it opens,” he said.