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Patisserie Poupon owner opening second Baltimore location downtown

Well you can forget your New Year’s diet resolutions if you live or work in downtown Baltimore.

The owner of Jonestown’s Patisserie Poupon is opening a new café about a mile away from his original location at the end of this month. The original Patisserie, specializing in French cakes and pastries, is retail only, with no seating. The new Café Poupon at 225 N. Charles St. will feature a full menu.

Owner Joseph Poupon says the café will feature breakfast pastries, a variety of coffees, and classic French salads and dishes such as quiche.

The 1,300-square-foot space is street level and adjacent to the  Grand Historic Venue property. Poupon has a ten-year lease from the Embassy Suites Baltimore – Inner Harbor, which runs the Grand Historic Venue. In 2006, the 45,000-square-foot event space, a former Masonic Lodge, underwent a $27 million renovation.

Poupon is only making minor upgrades to the kitchen. The space, previously the Grand Café, already features high ceilings, marble floors, and French lithographs on the walls. There is terrace seating in the summer. “I want to have a nice pastry shop. It’s a beautiful space,” he says.

Poupon is in the process of hiring a chef, baristas, and other employees, about a dozen people in all.

Poupon has bakeries in Washington, D.C., and in Baltimore at 820 E. Baltimore St, near the Shot Tower. The Baltimore location opened in 1986.

Poupon says he has no further expansion plans.


Reporter: Amy Landsman
Source: Joseph Poupon, owner, Café Poupon.

French restaurant opens at the Lord Baltimore Hotel

The Lord Baltimore Hotel is hoping to appeal to lovers of fine art and fine French cuisine with its new restaurant that opened Dec. 3.

The owners of the downtown Baltimore hotel have renovated the hotel's former Versailles Room into the 100-seat French Kitchen

Miami-based Rubell Hotels purchased the Lord Baltimore at 20 W. Baltimore St. for $10 million in March and dropped the Radisson flag. It is currently renovating the entire 440-room hotel and expects to wrap up the work in April. The hotel will remain open during the multimillion-dollar renovation. 

Menu items at the French Kitchen include french onion soup, cured salmon, steak frites and beef tartar. 

The owners had wanted to name it Matisse Kitchen & Tavern, but a conflict came up with the name, Co-owner Mera Rubell says. The original name celebrated the Cone Collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art. Wealthy Baltimore socialites Claribel and Etta Cone assembled a massive art collection during the Gilded Age, including 500 works by Henri Matisse. In 1949, the collection was bequeathed to the BMA.

“We really want to celebrate the local,” Rubell says.  “Our design was very much inspired by Matisse, his sense of color, his sense of food. He is a major, important figure because of his extraordinary paintings.”

Constructed in 1928, the Lord Baltimore was once one of the city’s grand hotels, and the scene of countless weddings and other social events.

The Lord Baltimore has a grand ballroom, meeting space, two terraces, and penthouse accommodations.

Writer: Amy Landsman
Source: Mera Rubell, co-owner, The Lord Baltimore

National Aquarium in Baltimore hires architect as it plots real estate moves

Leaders at the National Aquarium in Baltimore are weighing upgrades to its Inner Harbor building, moving its Fells Point animal rescue facility and changes to its dolphin exhibit that will enhance its conservation mission.

The aquarium has hired Studio Gangs Architects and Impacts Research & Development LLC to prepare a report by the spring that will lay out its strategic planning initiative, says Eric Schwaab, the aquarium’s chief conservation officer. 

“A big part of the effort will involve significant outreach to other partners and stakeholders in the community,” Schwaab says. 

In addition to its tourist attraction at the Inner Harbor, the aquarium operates an 11-acre property and former brownfields site located along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River. It was set to become a $50 million development with classroom space and a new animal care facility, known as the Center for Aquatic Life and Conservation. Those plans stalled during the economic downturn as fundraising became a challenge. The report will help aquarium staff determine what is the best use of the site going forward.

The aquarium is considering moving its animal rescue facility in Fells Point to a more visible spot near its main Inner Harbor attraction. 

“From a business perspective and logistically, we would love to move it closer" to the main building, Schwaab says. That would make it easier to move animals from the main building to the animal care facility. 

Alternatively, it could move its animal care facility to its South Baltimore property, something it has considered in the past, Schwaab says. 

The aquarium is also evaluating whether to enhance its Dolphin Discovery experience and upgrade the building that houses it. The current exhibit allows visitors to interact with dolphin trainers. “We’ve moved away from shows that are pure entertainment” to ones that focus on research and education, Schwaab says.
 
In August, the aquarium debuted its $12.5 million Blacktip Reef exhibit. It recently closed its D.C. location, but says it is still committed to having a presence again someday in the nation’s capital. 

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Eric Schwaab, National Aquarium

Brookshire Suites new lobby lounge to feature local food and wine

The Inner Harbor’s Brookshire Suites hotel will feature Baltimore beers and wines in its new lobby lounge when it opens in January.The yet unnamed lounge is part of the Brookshire’s $3 million property-wide renovation.

The 100-seat lounge will likely serve coffee during the day and transition to beer and wine around 4 p.m., says Brookshire General Manager Jason Curtis. He expects to hire four full-time staffers for the lounge.

“Our hotel is going to be very Baltimore specific, we’re trying to provide our guests with a very unique experience in Baltimore,” Curtis says. The hotel hasn’t decided which brands of local beer and wines it will serve.

The 97-suite hotel, at 120 E Lombard St., lost its liquor license three years ago when the property went into receivership. Baltimore City’s liquor board approved its new liquor license Nov. 14. Modus Hotels in Washington, D.C., now owns the property.

Renovations to the club level, meeting room and exercise room have been completed. Work is currently underway on the lobby, registration desk and on the lounge, after which work on the guest rooms will begin.

The Brookshire is positioning itself as an “urban playground” with its renovations. It's the latest Baltimore property attempting to rebrand itself amidst more competition. The Radisson Hotel at Cross Keys is undergoing a $6 million facelift and is soon debuting a new contemporary Italian restaurant Scoozi. The Lord Baltimore Hotel on West Baltimore Street is undergoing a renovation and opening its new Matisse Kitchen and Tavern later this month.

“Our goal is to be fun and creative and do something that no one else in the Inner Harbor is doing,” Curtis says.
 
Writer: Amy Landsman
Source: Brookshire Suites Hotel
 
 

National Aquarium still 'committed to a presence in D.C.'

The National Aquarium may have shuttered its D.C. location last month, but the nonprofit wants to continue its mission of conservation in the nation’s capital.

Though it lacks the funds to construct another facility just like the old one in the Department of Commerce building, the aquarium has hired a Chicago architect and a research firm to determine whether it can build an attraction in D.C. sometime in the future, the aquarium's Senior Vice President Eric Schwaab says.  

“Do we have the capital resources to turn around and build a new aquarium there? In the short term, the answer is no. But we’re committed to a presence in D.C.,” says Schwaab, who is also the aquarium's chief conservation officer, a position that the aquarium created recently as it seeks to emphasize its role in sustaining marine life. 

Whether that presence is an actual aquarium or more of an ocean conservation center will be determined after the companies that it hired, Studio Gangs Architects and Impacts Research & Development, prepare a report in the spring.

“The sets of questions we’re asking are ‘What kind of facility is most valuable? How does it fit into our mission? And how do we articulate a vision that is compelling enough to garner the resources to make it work?” Schwaab says. 

The aquarium closed its D.C. facility to make way for renovations in the Commerce building. About 1,700 animals were moved from the D.C. aquarium to the National Aquarium in Baltimore, including a giant Pacific octopus. 

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Eric Schwaab, National Aquarium 

Hard Rock Cafe sets the stage for live music and new menu after renovation

Baltimore’s Hard Rock Café is ramping up for more live music and a new menu following a multimillion-dollar renovation.

Located in a converted power plant building, the 16-year-old restaurant features a 65-foot-high lighted guitar that has become an iconic symbol of the Inner Harbor’s transformation from an industrial waterfront to an entertainment destination. But as longstanding Baltimore restaurants faced more competition, many have refreshed their properties and reinvented their brands. Morton’s the Steakhouse, the 13th Floor  and Mt. Washington's Pepe Pizza are among some of the restaurants that have been renovated in the past year.

The 200-seat Hard Rock received a spruced up patio, new terrazzo and wood floors, rock memorabilia and sound system as part of its makeover.

“It has more of a sleek, contemporary look to it with a lot of lights hanging down at different levels,” says David Miller, director of operations for Hard Rock International. “It’s got a lot of life to it with a lot of vibrant colors that pop and make a great statement.”

The remodeled stage is also now the focal point of the café, featuring a red wall lined with speakers and the Hard Rock Cafe logo in the middle.

“The intent is to have ongoing live music,” both inside the restaurant and on the pier, Miller says.

The Hard Rock Café celebrated its new look Oct. 1 with a private concert featuring Las Vegas indie rock band Imagine Dragons. The band smashed 16 guitars, representing each year that the Hard Rock has been open.

Kitchen managers and corporate chefs at the Orlando, Fla., chain's headquarters are in the process of tweaking its menu and will unveil its new offerings in February.

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: David Miller, Hard Rock 

Downtown Baltimore event space getting a facelift

The new owners of the Grand Historic Venue in downtown Baltimore is giving the ornate property a $500,000 facelift and adding new menus to modernize the event space in the next six months.
 
“We want to kick it up a few notches,” says Amy O’Connell director of sales and marketing.
 
The owners will start the renovations to the Grand in about 90 days and wrap up in six months, O’Connell says. The space will get new lighting and furniture so it looks more chic and modern. The Grand also has a new Food and Beverage Director, Cecil Rajendra, who will update the catering menu within the next 30 days to offer more farm-to-table, local and international fare, O’Connell says. The Grand hosts banquets, weddings, conferences and other events. The former Masonic Lodge debuted in 2006 after a $27 million renovation. 
 
The facelift comes after Garrison Investment Group and Chartres Lodging purchased the event space and attached hotel, which it renamed the Embassy Suites Downtown Baltimore. Formerly called the Tremont Plaza Hotel, the hotel officially became the Embassy Suites June 17. The Hilton brand property received a $14 million renovation, including new rooms, an updated lobby and lounge areas and new amenities so it looks more contemporary. It also got a new restaurant, B’more Bistro, which specializes in Chesapeake Bay cuisine.
 
The goal of the rebranding, O’Connell says, is to appeal to the “Hilton traveller,” someone who expects a certain level of quality from the Hilton brand. 

Writer: Daryl Hale
Source: Amy O'Connell, Embassy Suites

Federal Hill bakery launches cupcake food truck and plots second store

The world is looking sweet for Midnite Confection’s Cupcakery, which launched a food truck last month. The venture isn't just icing on the cake for the Federal Hill bakery. The owners hope the the food truck will spread the word about its confections and help them find a good home for a planned second store.

“We want to explore other areas beyond where we are,” says Sandra McNeil, co-owner with her son, Aaron McNeil, of the bakery, at 1051 South Charles St. “We’re looking for possible expansion in storefront operations.”
 
At a cost of under $100,000, the food truck venture is so new that McNeil hasn't established a set routine. During the weekday, the truck spends two days in Washington, D.C., and two days in Baltimore City. 
 
The truck is usually in Baltimore on Wednesdays and Thursdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. but, depending on parking availability, not always in the same place each of those days. Sometimes it can be found on Monument Street by the University of Maryland downtown campus, at Harbor East or at the Johns Hopkins University campus -- all neighborhoods under consideration for a second store.
 
“We’re trying out what places work best and adjust to customer demand,” says McNeil, referring to the food offering. “We’re newbies.”
 
For now, the truck only sells cupcakes for now, but may also offer cookies and bars later this summer. While the bakery has more than 40 flavors of cupcakes, the truck carries six flavors, chosen for their likely popularity, including vanilla bean, black velvet and lemon/lime. The cost is $3 per cupcake, $16 per half-dozen and $30 per dozen.
 
Even though no cooking is done in the food truck, the venture required getting a license from every jurisdiction and from the health department within the jurisdiction to operate. McNeil declined to discuss cost of equipping the food truck or sales so far.
 
“We’ve had some sell-out days and some days where it brings back items,” she says, pointing to factors like the weather and location.
 
McNeil opened Midnite Confection’s Cupcakery in 2010 at the Federal Hill store. Besides retail sales, the bakery caters weddings and corporate events. She says sales have grown 35 percent since opening.
 
Source: Sandra McNeil, Midnite Confection’s Cupcakery
Writer: Barbara Pash

Chesapeake Shakespeare Company begins construction on new downtown Baltimore home

The Chesapeake Shakespeare Company hosted a groundbreaking ceremony July 9 to celebrate the start of construction on its new downtown Baltimore space, after raising about $4 million for its capital campaign. 

The nonprofit group’s Board of Trustees made the decision to begin construction after reviewing the fundraising project’s financial progress, as well as the duration of construction and the challenges that the project may entail. The theater troupe has received money from a variety of sources, including the state and the Abell Foundation.

In late 2014, the Chesapeake Shakespeare Company plans to open the doors to its new theatre, housed within the Mercantile Trust building at Calvert and Redwood streets, according to spokeswoman Jean Thompson. The theater  company will continue to hold shows at a variety of venues in Howard County. 

The construction plans for the new 250-seat theatre will incorporate existing aspects of the Mercantile Trust building’s architecture.

“Our vision for the theater is a modern Globe, based on the design of Shakespeare's Globe theatre, with an intimacy putting the audience as close to the actors as possible,” Thompson says.

The new home is two blocks from the Inner Harbor and has been the home of several nightclubs. Baltimore architectural firm Cho Benn Holback + Associates Inc. has designed the 14,000-square-foot, circa 1885 building. See pictures of the Mercantile building here in our recent slideshow

Writer: Daryl Hale
Source: Jean Thompson, Chesapeake Shakespeare

Wine bar and brick-oven pizza restaurant to open on the west side

Downtown Baltimore’s west side will get another dining destination when a wine bar and brick-oven pizza restaurant opens this fall.
 
Bryan Noto, a former manager at Alewife, is spending $500,000 to open Forno at the Avalon Centerpoint apartment building at 17 N. Eutaw St. Noto says he expects to hire 25 to 30 to work at the 130-seat restaurant, which will open by the end of September.
 
Noto describes the restaurant as “upscale casual,” which will hopefully appeal to downtown workers, young professionals who live in the area and theater fans. The location is across the street from the Hippodrome and next to the new home of Everyman Theatre. The space once housed World of Wings and has been vacant for a number of years.
 
Forno — which means oven in Italian — will serve artisanal 10-inch pizzas, craft beers and 30 wines by the glass.
 
“We’ll try to get some local wineries on board,” Noto says.

It will also serve six to 10 entrees and small plates, varying the Northern California-inspired menu each season according to what’s fresh at the local farms it will use to source the produce.
 
Noto says he is financing the restaurant with a bank loan, his own money and some money from the developer that will go toward construction. 

Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Bryan Noto, Alewife 

Former Bourbon Street spot in downtown Baltimore could get a new owner

Two employees of a music promotion firm want to revive the space that held Bourbon Street and Hammerjacks nightclubs for a new live entertainment venue in downtown Baltimore.

Evan Weinstein and Elliot Lidard have applied for an arena liquor license under the name Area 316 LLC at 316-318 Guilford Ave. The application says Area 316 plans to offer live performances, alcohol and food though one of the applicants, Evan Weinstein, says there are no plans to serve food. The deadline for public comment on the application is May 30. The Baltimore City liquor board says the hearing will be scheduled sometime after then.

The liquor license application names Weinstein as Area 316’s president and Elliot Lidard as its secretary. Weinstein is in charge of marketing and promotions and Lidard of production for Steez Promo, which promotes music acts and shows in Washington, D.C., Philadelphia and Boston. Steez Promo is promoting the Moonrise Festival, which will be held June 8-9 at Port Covington. 

Weinstein says Area 316 will own and operate the business. He declined to comment further until the details are worked out. Lidard could not be reached for comment. 

Bourbon Street opened in 2008. One of its rooms held 1,300 people and 500 fit into another, according to reverbnation.com. Bands and DJs played rap, rock and dance music. A man was stabbed to death there April 2, 2011, the Baltimore Sun reported. It closed six months later.

In 2000, the two-story building became the new home of Hammerjacks, whose original space was demolished for Ravens stadium parking. The club closed in 2006. Competition had increased two years earlier with the start of Rams Head Live several blocks away in Power Plant Live. 

Writer: Wayne Countryman
Sources: Baltimore City liquor board, Evan Weinstein. 

Construction begins on 102-unit apartment building in downtown Baltimore

Construction began last month on a 102-unit apartment complex in the former Provident Bank building in downtown Baltimore.
 
The first apartments at 114 E. Lexington St. will be ready in September, says Laurel Howell, senior vice president of marketing for Kettler Inc. The McLean, Va., firm will manage the property. The 11-story building will house retail on the first floor, a fitness room and iPad bar in the lobby.
 
The Lenore will contain one- and two-bedroom apartments, some of them lofts, with wood floors and granite countertops. Rental rates have not been set.
 
Gaithersburg developer Baybridge Property Group is preserving features of the 1928 historic building, including floor-to-ceiling windows. The building originally opened as a local branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond. Provident Bank and then M&T Bank used it until a year ago.

Several other office buildings are being converted to meet demand for downtown housing. Eighteen apartments are planned above the Carrollton Bank branch at 344 N. Charles St., which was sold in April. PMC Property Group expects to finish 70 apartments at 521-545 St. Paul St. this summer and 92 at the former Baltimore Life Insurance Co. headquarters at 301 N. Charles St. this fall. Another 445 apartments are planned at 10 Light St.

The first apartments at The Lenore are expected to be ready in September, according to Laurel Howell, senior vice president of marketing for Kettler Inc., which will manage the building. Businesses have shown interest in the two retail spaces on the first floor, she said.
 
Writer:  Wayne Countryman
Source:  Laurel Howell, Kettler Inc. 

Cigar and hookah lounge opens in downtown Baltimore

There’s a new place in downtown Baltimore for hookah parties.
 
Midnight Kings Lounge opened April at 318 North Charles St. next to Cazbar Turkish restaurant in a space once occupied by London’s Boutique. Co-owner Amir Shuaib says he and his cousin will ultimatley spend $400,000 to open the 1,500-square-foot business, which sells cigarettes, cigars, hookahs and tobaccos in more than 20 flavors.
 
The lounge area includes two televisions and seating for about 100. Shuaib says he’s working to get a liquor license so he can add a bar. He also hopes to serve food within the next couple of months and expand into the location’s second floor.
 
Midnight Kings offer $15 individual hookah use Sunday-Wednesday, with Thursday college night specials. 
 
“With the casinos and everything coming in, (entertainment business) seems to be popular.” Shuaib says. “And downtown is where all of the entertainment is.”
 
Shuaib and his cousin will employ two during the week and three on weekends.
 
Writer: Jolene Carr
Source: Amir Shuaib, co-owner of Midnight Kings Lounge
 

Fells Point architecture firm designing green roof for $10M Riverside Wharf project

Urban Design Group LLC  is going green for the Riverside Wharf project in South Baltimore. The sustainable architectural firm in Fells Point has designed a green roof for the building, the first project under Baltimore’s Key Highway South Urban Renewal Plan.

Urban Design Group is bringing sustainable measures to two other high-profile projects in Baltimore: the new Merchant Point townhomes in Fells Point and the renovation of the Inner Harbor's World Trade Center, which will be done this year.
 
Urban Design President Michael Burton says he expects the $10 million Riverside Wharf project to be done in 2014. Caves Valley Partners is developing the former industrial site located along Key Highway at Lawrence Street into a 100,000-square-foot, three-story building with parking garage.
 
On the main floor, Walgreens drugstore will occupy 14,000 square feet along with other retailers; the upper two floors have 31,000 square feet of office space; a parking garage accounts for the remaining space.

He says the green roof will enable the building to comply with Baltimore’s green building standards and the state’s storm water management regulations.
 
Passed by the City Council in 2007, green building standards apply to new and existing commercial and multi-family residences over 10,000 square feet.

For the almost 8,000-square-foot green roof, a layer of soil and plants that can withstand weather and wind is laid on top of a drainage system. “The building occupies an entire city block. You’ve got to find a way to deal with storm water management,” says Burton.

Merchant Point involves the conversion of a church into a private school and office space, an existing building into offices and 18 new rowhouses. Located at the intersection of South Ann and Aliceanna streets, the townhomes will be ready this summer and are sold out. Urban Design Group used sustainable construction material and created an urban garden to meet the city’s green building standards.
 
The Maryland Port Authority awarded a contract to Pepco Energy Services to install energy-efficiency measures in several buildings, including the 40-year-old, 30-story World Trade Center.
 
Urban Design Group designed a geothermal system for the building’s mechanical systems. The system pumps water from the Inner Harbor through the building’s mechanical systems. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and federal Environmental Protection Agency had to approve the design.
 
Burton founded Urban Design Group in 2009. In 2011, the company moved into the incubator, Emerging Technology Center at Canton. Last February, the company graduated from the incubator and moved to an office in Fells Point.
 
During its time in the incubator, revenue tripled to over $1 million in 2013 and the staff doubled to nine. Urban Design Group is looking to hire a project manager.
 
Source: Michael Burton, Urban Design Group
Writer: Barbara Pash; innovationnews@bmoremedia.com

Downtown Baltimore's Preston Gardens getting $3.5M upgrade

Preston Gardens, the two-level patch of green space facing Mercy Medical Center in downtown Baltimore, is getting a $3.5 million facelift and expansion to accommodate food vendors, outdoor seating and more events.
 
Once the renovations are complete in 2014, the garden’s upper level will take over the space that is used now as a parking lane on Saint Paul Street. The expansion will make room for a plaza with food kiosks, outdoor seating and garden overlook. The park’s aging wall and stairs will undergo repairs as well, says Kirby Fowler, president of Downtown Partnership of Baltimore Inc.
 
The nonprofit, which promotes downtown Baltimore as a place to live and do business, is working with Baltimore City on the park expansion. With an expanding residential base, downtown needs to enhance its parks, Fowler says.
 
“We need as much green space as possible,” Fowler says. “I think it’s one of our more beautiful parks. The walls and stairs are starting to show their age.”
 
The park has hosted more events in the last few years, including a Beer & Bocce Ball and yoga classes.
 
“We’re trying to make it more appealing to residents,” Fowler says.
 
The Baltimore City Department of Transportation will issue a bid for a contractor by the end of the year. Construction will take about a year to complete, Fowler says.
 
Downtown Partnership received $1.7 million matching grant from the state and federal governments for the Preston Gardens expansion. The matching money will come from Downtown Partnership, Baltimore City general obligation bonds and Mercy Medical Center.
 
Writer: Julekha Dash
Source: Kirby Fowler, Downtown Partnership 
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