The Harvey House, as seen in 1986. (Walter M. McCardell, Baltimore Sun photo)
The 114-year-old commercial property at 918-920 N. Charles St. is changing hands. Mughal Garden is making way for Nepal House, which will open after some renovations.
But this restaurant space will always be remembered, and fondly, by an older generation of Baltimoreans as the longtime home of the Harvey House.
Writing about the idiosyncratic restaurant in 1992, as the owners were about to make a few changes, Baltimore Sun columnist Jacques Kelly wrote:
"The Harvey House … is a study in Baltimore. Each table is filled with parties of people who seem to have gone to high school together. They are the kind of people who once shared Colts season tickets. They still go to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s pops concerts. They know every entree on the menu.”
In 1992, Harvey House was the domain of longtime owner Lou Baumel, who was joined in later years by his son, Barry. At that time, the restaurant had been in operation for more than 40 years.
Lou Baumel opened the Harvey House in 1951, naming it, in part, for the title character, an invisible and often inebriated 6-foot rabbit, from the hit Broadway play by Mary Chase,
As early as 1976, the Harvey House was already considered something of an oddity. In John Dorsey’s review of the restaurant in The Sun, titled “I Will Go Back Again, Hope Mingled With Fear,” he considered the main dining room:
"It could be a much more attractive room if someone hadn’t had the bright idea to paint the long brick wall on one side in sections of alternating shiny bright yellow and shiny bright orange. There are good ideas, there are bad ideas, and there are crazy ideas."
Harvey House was one of those places whose menu and decor changed very little over the years. The menu was, to put it mildly, eclectic — prime rib and crab cakes, of course, but also continental fare like chicken Caruso, oysters Rockefeller and veal cutlet a la Holstein. A favorite dish was the French onion soup, smothered with melted cheese.
The menu and decor changed glacially, if at all, but the regulars kept showing up, as Kelly wrote, reflectively, in 1992.
"For many years, the bar at the Harvey House was one of Charles Street’s most popular gathering spots. In the era of Manhattans and martinis, people stood three deep at the bar.”
But times did change, and in 1992, the Baumels were trying to catch up. ”Things have changed. People don’t drink as much. We’ve added an espresso machine in the bar,” Barry Baumel said.
Whatever the Baumels tried, however, did not work. In April of the next year, the Baumels closed Harvey House and put it up for sale.