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September 26, 2008

Why restaurants in Canton close

tiburzis.jpgThis morning I was thinking about Tiburzi's and musing about Canton restaurants in general because KristinB. mentioned under an earlier post that she had noticed the Italian grill had turned into yet another sports bar.

We noted several weeks ago that Tiburzi's Cafe in Canton had closed. 

As I was walking my dog yesterday, I saw that it's now re-opened as Tiburzi's Sports Bar. Just what Canton doesn't already have enough of: a sports bar!

Posted by: KristinB | September 15, 2008 10:48 AM

I tried giving them a call, but so far the new place's number isn't listed and the old number has been disconnected. If anyone knows anything more, please post below.

But KristinB. is right. Doesn't Canton have enough sports bars? It's seems like the neighborhood has been gentrified enough to support some very nice restaurants, but they all tend to disappear. I'm thinking of the Atlantic and Canton's Pearl (which has become Canton Dockside) as well as Tiburzi's. ...

The problem with generalizations like that, of course, is that the reasons they disappeared may not have had anything to do with their clientele.

A good example of this is illustrated by Vicki's comment under yet another post:

My husband is a chef in Canton and when I asked him why Tiburzi's closed he said simply that "Hemry [one of the owners] ran out of money." I know they had some problems with one or more of their past chefs. ::shrugs::

Posted by: Vicki | August 5, 2008 11:08 PM

The photo is from Tiburzi's when it was an Italian restaurant.

(John Makely/kSun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 11:49 AM | | Comments (49)


I call Canton "Towson South". Meatheads, dillweeds, tools and doorknobs who wear ironed flannel shirts in the winter to bars. Why do restaurants close there? You do the math.

"Meatheads, dillweeds, tools and doorknobs". Well said, OMG, well said.

I was recently at Tiburzi's - without knowing they had recently closed - and more recently re-opened. I talked with the bartender and the chef - I was so surprised to learn they had closed because everytime I was there they were very busy. The bartender said that they had become a 'sports bar' to appeal to more people. I have a feeling the complete opposite will be true. The chef said they will eventually have a bigger menu (2 weeks ago was pretty much just burgers - nothing else) and that Henry would incorporate some Italian faves (such as the lasagna!!). One of the 2 mentioned financial problems and maybe having to pay off or pay out some of the elderly family members. Whatever the reason - it sure is a shame... I loved that place!

I tend to think that Tiburzi's closed because it wasn't getting any customers... and it wasn't getting any customers because it wasn't well run and food wasn't very good. I could get similar "Italian" cuisine at the Olive Garden for half the price.

Canton's nice (i.e. non-sports) bars tend to disappear? Some certainly do, but you're forgetting Yellow Dog, Jack's Bistro, Annabel Lee, Helen's Garden, The Speak Easy, Mama's On The Half Shell, Saute, etc. I don't think that Canton has a lower ratio of nice restaurants to sports bars than does Fells Point or Federal Hill.

it's funny, i used to live in canton and i got very sick of all the sports bars, etc. now i live in mt. vernon and i (along with many other friends who live in mt. vernon) would die for a sports bar there. There is only so many nights at brewer's art i can handle. it's not all art students over there...and god forbid someone into art/culture (as mt. vernon is marketed as) might actually wanna watch football or baseball sometime.

not to say people in canton aren't into art, just saying i think people don't think there's a market for a sports bars in mt. vernon, but there really is, imo.

There is more to Canton than simply the square - something that people seem to love to forget as they trip over themselves to be the first to utter their disdain for the area.

I went to Tiburzi's once. The food was mediocre and entrees were in the $18-$28 range. It's the same reason I don't feel a particular need to go to Saute'. If I wanted to pay high prices for the privilege of eating poorly made generic food, I'd move to Columbia. Jack's, Yellow Dog, and Annabel Lee (which may or may not be Canton or Highlandtown, but is close enough anyhow) all seem to do reasonably well and I don't think I'd consider any of them to be sports bars.

But I know lots of 30-40-something professionals who live there: Drs., nurses, a museum exhibit specialist, an airline navigator, a software engineer, marketing professionals, etc. That's not to say that we can't be dillweeds and tools, but I don't understand why we can't also support more real restaurants. We have more than our share of overgrown frat boys in Canton, but there are plenty of other people there, too.

I must confess my share of guilt. Since almost all my friends live elsewhere, we tend to meet elsewhere, somewhere in between (most often Mt. Vernon before the theatre or something similar). So I'm not giving the neighborhood establishments as much support as I should.

as a county person, I can tell you that although we occassionally make the jaunt out to the city, Canton is really far!

To actually provide an answer though - there are a lot of sports bars because there are a lot of sports bars. I'm not trying to riff of a zen koan here, rather, there is a tendency to engage in group think amongst the general populace and businessmen and restaurant owners certainly aren't immune to it. Having seen a series of successful sports bars, the trend will be to imitate that success until at such point the marketplace becomes flooded and they start to fail at which point, everyone can engage in their favorite chicken little impersonation and spread FUD as they see fit.

Now, because of O'Donnell Square and it's reputation of being a 'destination' within the city for a certain demographic that is known to frequent sports bars, there is going to be support for a slightly higher density of sports bars in this area as people both within the city and in the outlying suburbs flock to the area during the weekends. This then serves as the singular and sole basis that Canton is solely made up of a single demographic as opposed to still containing a strong, albeit diminished blue collar workforce, as well as the smaller and more recent influx of white collar workers that supported the gentrification of the area.

I think a sports bar in Mount Vernon would be hilarious. Exactly what is a sports bar? A bar with TVs and a not so vague homoerotic vibe? Well slap me on the back and call me bro-ham. The Mount Vernon Saloon has the requisite TVs and crappy bar food. Why isn't that a "sports" bar? Ice dancing is a sport, right?

Ok, granted, I've had good food at Yellowdog, Annabel Lee's, and Mama's on the Halfshell (haven't tried Jack's Bistro or Helen's Garden, though both are on my to-do list), but I seem to recall menus fairly heavy on sandwiches and burgers - even if they are snazzed up versions like Annabel Lee's sliders or Yellowdog's Monte Cristo. And lots of bar action.

But to my mind, a "nice" restaurant is one that has a more exclusive focus on higher end food, real entrees, interestingly and thoughtfully prepared. I'm thinking of Salt, Woodberry Kitchen, Bistro B, The Wine Market, Mezze, Pazo, the Ambassador, or even The Helmand, which is much less expensive than the others listed (and one of my favorites for that reason) but clearly a "grown-up" restaurant where the bar is less of a focus. A destination restaurant that would give me a justification for bringing my friends to Canton for dinner. A nice place to take my mom for a good meal when she's in town. That's what I wish Canton had more of.

@dave:'re forgetting Yellow Dog, Jack's Bistro, Annabel Lee, Helen's Garden, The Speak Easy, Mama's On The Half Shell, Saute, etc.

But more than half your list --Yellow Dog, Jack's, Saute and Annabel Lee, are all new. I think Jack's opened in 2007, but Yellow Dog, Saute and Annabel Lee opened this year.

I mean, I really hope they stick around because I really like those places (I have never been to Saute, though, but I like all the others) but is it too early to say whether they will not also disappear? I'll keep my fingers crossed, though!

There are a few key reasons why good restaurants go bad:
food quality decreases
bad management
bad money management

I used to live in Canton. I'm not saying that the stereotypes I mentioned are the only residents (I fit in none of those categories and require a more severe rubric) but that every neighborhood has a feel, which can be caused by a prominent minority.

Take the Bay Cafe for example. When I lived at Tindeco Wharf, we used to marvel at the parade of skanks marching five blocks from their parking space in six inch heels, mini-skirts and tube tops. (How does the tube top survive?) That's not really the Canton Square crowd. And isn't parking still ridonculous?

Maybe the lowest common denominator drives away less common. I avoid Canton. Fells Point is oddly better and worse, with its weekend infestation of power-tools, chowderheads, numnuts, and shoe-barfers offset by patrons at some very nice places such as Kali's Court, Mezze, etc.

It's probably a mix of demographics, perceived crowd, and real business factors. Plus, if other neighborhoods have a positive reputation for dining, there may not be room for another.

(You know I just wanted to make another list.) 8>)

Mostly lurking: to counter your point, Helen's, Speak Easy and even Cosmo's have been around for a significant amount of time and consistently serve good food and drinks without featuring dollar bottles of Bud.

As for Tiburzi's, it could have been our go-to when too lazy to cook, but after a few trips in we refused to return. We repeatedly had overpriced food that was not well-made and were pretty much ignored b/c most of the clientele were friends and family of the staff. Match that with one regular's extremely loud voice and laugh (we're mid-20's and just entering the why-so-loud? phase) and it added up to an unpleasant experience. Not suprised they closed. You can buy wholesale food and entertain your friends at home w/o the restaurant and bar overhead.

dave wrote: "I don't think that Canton has a lower ratio of nice restaurants to sports bars than does Fells Point or Federal Hill."

And your point is...?

mostly lurking

Best name this week

There are a few key reasons why good restaurants go bad:

Don't forget the other reasons:
and ghosts.

dave wrote: "I don't think that Canton has a lower ratio of nice restaurants to sports bars than does Fells Point or Federal Hill."

Retired in Elkridge wrote: "And your point is...?"

I think my point is pretty obvious. The entire point of this blog was to call out Canton as inhospitable to "nicer" restaurants. I was simply saying that it's no more inhospitable than other comparable B-more neighborhoods.

OMG - point taken. Perceptions are pretty heavily influenced by what you see. Since I live in more of the residential proper part of the neighborhood, that's what I associate with Canton. If I lived on Boston St or near the Square, I'd probably be near homicidal. I avoid those two locales like the plague during the weekends as they become infested with the tube top and baseball cap crowd.

On a slightly different note, the next few years may prove interesting. I never would have thought of Fells Point shifting into a more family friendly area which it seems to be doing, and with a lot of younger families suddenly discovering that they have a lot less equity in their houses than they originally thought, we may see some rapid changes in Canton as well. But that's partially because I seem to be seeing a marked increase in strollers since I moved here in addition to the ubiquitous dogwalkers. As to why all the nice restaurants are relatively new - Canton's gentrification is really only a few years in. It takes time to build up a critical mass and attract businesses to cater to that need as opposed to the ever popular ever successful sports bar.

Nice restaurants aren't the only thing that Canton won't support. We should also throw in book stores.

I could never understand the appeal of Canton. The parking is a problem, and the renovated working class homes are too small for the price you pay.

I guess it depends on your view of the desirability of Sports Bars vs. "Nice" restaurants. Just saying "We're no worse than they are" doesn't answer the question.

RoCK said: Nice restaurants aren't the only thing that Canton won't support. We should also throw in book stores.

If you're referring to Bibelot in the Can Company complex, I don't think they were done in by lack of support, but more by financial shenanigans on the part of the owners.

I could never understand the appeal of Canton. The parking is a problem, and the renovated working class homes are too small for the price you pay.

While I understand (and partly agree with) what you say, I must point out that I could never understand the appeal of Cross Keys.

As an outsider on the city neighborhood debate, I'd just like to say, Cross Keys - close to the county, close to 83. If I didn't need to live in the county for the school system, and had a choice between neighborhoods, Cross Keys it would be. Plus Donna's! What's not to like?

Joyce, I think RoCK has had some harsh words for Stalag X Keys.

I should put the appeal of Canton as relative to the other "hip" downtown neighborhoods: Federal Hill, Fells Point and Mount Vernon. If I were to live downtown, and I did live for years in Mount Vernon, Canton would be at the bottom of the list. The other neighborhoods I mentioned are able to offer not only better restaurants, but also better cultural attractions, better transit and better architecture.

As to Cross Keys, the neighborhood offers a lot of amenities in a convienient and safe location. No doubt there are times I miss the urban amenities of Mount Vernon. Likewise, there are times I feel that Cross Keys could have been built a mile to the north so that I wouldn't have to pay City taxes.

Finally, as to the Bibelot, it is my understanding that in addition to the financial shenanigans there was also an issue of over expansion. The Canton store, as opposed to the Cross Keys store, was not supported by the community.

Hal and RoCK -- my recollection is that Bibelot was done in by overexpansion combined with increased competition from the national mega-bookstore chains (Borders, Barnes & Noble). Once Bibelot began to fail, its owners (who had personally guaranteed the business debts) sought to protect their personal assets through overseas trusts. The owners' "financial shenanigans" were more a reaction to the business failure than the cause of it.

What a group of snobs the Sandbox has become. The need for TVs to watch sports. Canton as the "new" Towson (i.e. "Towson South"). Go east, my friends. There are plenty of worthy restaurants in Highlandtown, and not all of them are Greek and many of them are off the beaten track. Sure, there are corner bars serving sour beef and dumplings along with football games. But take a left turn here and a right turn there and you'll encounter an epicurean delight beyond your wildest imagination. To wit: Eichenkranz on the corner of Fleet and Fagley.

I just did a whole post on this. (See Michael's.) Where were you? :-) EL

Cross Keys is so sterile. The one time I was there I felt like I was in a time-space warp. Frankly, it was down right frightening. Terrifying, even. I was afraid I wouldn't get out. Or that the real world didn't exist. Like the Truman Show.

Oh LJ, don't be so dramatic. It sounds like the time you thought pulp in orange juice was going to choke you.

Oh, great, LJ--you just put another nail in Cross Keys' coffin.

LJ -- if you think Cross Keys is sterile, remember that it was only a dress rehearsal for the desert of civilization that is Columbia. Now that's sterile.

hmpstd,my friend and manager of the fast food place I worked in the early 80's always said "Columbia is Wow". To this day, I'm not sure why, but it just says it. Could've been the streets named things like Bear by running brook lane or the hippi chicks with their papoosed kids and leather backpacks, but somehow "wow" just sums it up...

The Truman Show was filmed at Watercolors and Seaside, just about 30 miles west of here.

while its not much of a tourist attraction, the houses are gorgeous and other areas nearby are building the same type. Too bad the market tanked royally.

Gods, you had to bring up Columbia, too. I'm not sure which I'd hate to live in more, Columbia or Canton. Probably the young, rich, drunken, selfish twits who infest Canton move to Columbia when their sprogs reach school age.

Fells Point has a few real places. Canton is just shallow, immature, loud drunkeness. And I'm talked at 11 am on a Sunday.

Wow, all that rain must have dampened everyone's mood! Baltimore's appeal is its distinct neighborhoods. I sometimes find myself in Canton, Fells, Fed Hill, Harbor East and Hampden all in a single week and all for different reasons. It all depends on what you want -- dining, bar scene, shopping, people watching, wandering. Also, Tiburzis new number is 410-327-7978 and their new specials are at

Thanks! EL

I lived in Canton for years and consistently had mediocre food in the $14-$19 entree range. I'm looking at you: Speakeasy, Jack's Bistro, and a fish place just off the square whose name doesn't bear remembering. I'd rather have a slice of Bianca from Tutti Guisti's than a 3 course meal from any of those places.

Stick with what you can execute well at a reasonable price and folks will come back. I'd rather have the world's best burger and fries than a piece of fish thats overcooked and doused in sauce. Canton restauranteurs are overfunded, underskilled and just in it for a buck, not to serve great food.

If you want great restaurants, head on our to Hamilton/Lauraville: Chameleon Cafe, Clementine's. Canton wishes they could land places like these.

Just to point out the the fish swimming against the water, The Gin Mill switched from a sports bar to a more upscale place. Better menu, better wine, etc.
So is The Gin Mill the aberration to prove the point or a trend in the other direction?

Canton can be worse than other places in the city on weekend nights, but not by much. The 723 crowd from Fells seems to have moved to Boston St, but there are still tons of other terrible bars on Broadway, whether filled with the thug crowd or annoying acoustic/bongo duets who wouldn't know good music or taste if it bit them in their aging asses.

The real delight of living in the city is that you can go out when the mobs from the county don't. Canton, dare I say, is as much of a real neighborhood as any other, and provides more variety. I like indie movies, but there are only so many nights I can go to the Charles and listen to clueless scenesters play movie critic (and fail).

Side note, to a previous poster: living in overpriced Tindeco is no more a real way to live in the city than Harbor View in Fed Hill. Your poor choice betrays your own failures more than the neighborhood.

LJ, you best stay out of Cross Keys. I wouldn't want you to have an "episode" while visiting.

So, Mr Charles, if one doesn't live in a 12- foot wide formstone faced rowhouse (without a/c) it isn't real city living?

Seems to be a lot of old, bitter county folks submitting answers today--the grand majority of which don't answer the question of the original post. To stay on those topics, Cross Keys is just sad, making me feel like I'm in a bad 80's movie. Didn't someone get gunned down in the parking lot last year and the place is for sale? Hopefully, it could be bulldozed and created to mimic clipper mill.

Of all the "neighborhoods" described, Canton is probably the only that would be considered a neighborhood. Restaurants fail there because of the same reasons they do elsewhere. For instance, I wouldn't be surprised if Birches bellies up soon. Overpriced, okay food that takes 2 hours to enjoy would fail anywhere.

The Gin Mill is a joke. They have reinvented themselves at least 3 times in the last five years. Same goes with Red Fish.

Joyce W, I haven't found Columbia to be so "Wow!" Some of my grandchildren are being raised out there, and those pseudo-hippie chicks appear to have a rigorous code concerning what "we" do and how "we" do it and what "we" wear while doing it. (One of the "we" is my own offspring, just so we're clear.)

Ryan, go to the Yacht Club. Nice Mt. Vernon sports bar with good food, and a Sunday brunch.

Eve - sorry to have caused offense - none meant. honestly, haven't even been to Columbia in years.

Cheese, it seem the only "county" person commenting on city neighborhoods is me. Unless I missed something. And, I truly love the city when I can find what I'm looking for or a parking space. I think all the neighborhoods have something to offer.

Joyce - not offended....just doing a little venting. Watching one's children become Stepfords is mindboggling.

Canton and it's TV bars and so called restaurants serve some purpose. They keep most of the meatheads from invading some other great spots in Baltimore.

Eve - hang in there. At least they have a beautiful lake, nice restaurants and (rare anywhere these days) decent bagels.


This is so last week now, but your response did not at all counter my point. My point was that, on Dave's list of "successful" Canton restaurants, half were new, open a year or so or less. Your post points out that the other half of the list is made of established restaurants. Um, well, yes.

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About this blog
Richard Gorelick was appointed The Baltimore Sun's restaurant critic in September 2010. Before joining the paper staff fulltime, he contributed freelance criticism and features articles about food to area and regional publications. Along the way, he dispatched for short-distance trucking companies, shilled for cultural non-profits, and assisted in cognitive neurology research – never the subject, always the control.

He takes restaurants seriously but not himself, and his favorite restaurant is the one you love, too.

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