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December 20, 2009

A tale of two Harborplaces

SantaHarborplace.jpgUnder the earlier post on restaurants we miss, there was an abortive discussion on Harborplace in its first few years.

This is a subject I've been meaning to post on. It interested me that there were two different views of Harborplace in the early '80s:

...The wonderful cheese restaurant at Harborplace. Ms. Desserts at harborplace. The good Italian restaurant at the Pratt Street Pavilion that has been replaced by a souped up pizza parlor. ...

The Soup Kitchen in the Light St pavillion

Many of the original restaurants and food stands in Harborplace were inventive and delicious, only to be replaced by second rate chains like the Cheesecake Factory. ...

Posted by: Nick | November 29, 2009 11:42 PM

Nick, you must recall a different Harborplace than the one which opened here in Baltimore in 1980. Its original Italian restaurant was Pronto, which Rouse had to take over after a year or two (yes, it was that bad), and which was succeeded by a revolving door of mediocre Italian joints. The Black Pearl, for "upscale" seafood, closed in short order. City Lights managed to stay open for years, but for no apparent reason other than the view of the harbor. Phillips is just about the only remaining restaurant tenant -- 'nuff said. ...

Posted by: hmpstd | November 30, 2009 6:33 AM

I still remember the excitement we all felt when Harborplace opened. I felt that way in particular because there were suddenly a bunch of new restaurants, none of them chains, to review.  Restaurants didn't open as often in those days. Not like now. Here's how I remembered it in the story I wrote for my 30th anniversary as restaurant critic:

At the end of the '70s and beginning of the '80s, something wonderful happened. The new Harborplace was part of it. A number of intriguing, globally inclined restaurants opened there with names like the Black Pearl, Tandoor, Taverna Athena and Jean-Claude's.

But the exchange above inspired me to go back and look up stories on the opening of Harborplace, not just rely on my memories, which were a bit rosy-hued.

In the Light Street Pavilion, it turns out, there were Phillips Harborplace, City Lights, the Soup Kitchen, Jean-Claude's, the Colonnade Market with "fresh meats, fish, and poultry, cheese produce and seafood." (Not sure of the distinction between fish and seafood here.) The Trading Hall offered "baked goods, gourmet food, flowers, coffee and tea and a fine delicatessen."

All that was separate from the Food Hall, which had "a wide variety of ethnic and other foods including ice cream and assemblage of 25 specialty eating places."

The Pratt Street Pavilion housed four restaurants -- again, all of them local: the Athenian Plaka, the Black Pearl, Tandoor and Pronto.

Food was so major a part of the new complex that Rob Kasper wrote the lead story in the features section on Friday, July 4, 1980, two days after the Harborplace opened. It was titled "Sampling Harborplace" and the subhead said, "Crowds, clams and chocolate mark an eater's odyssey."

Included among the yellowing clips in the files (these stories were so old they aren't in the computer archives) were some of my reviews, written when my column was still called Eater's Digest. No stars back then, but each review ran with a nice black-and-white photo. It's amazing how unattractive food looks when it's shot in black and white.

Unfortunately, our Sun photo archives don't go back that far either. This was the oldest photo of Harborplace I could find, taken in 1995 -- at Christmas time, obviously.

(Barbara Haddock Taylor/Sun photographer)

Posted by Elizabeth Large at 5:07 AM | | Comments (18)


Harborplace opened when our oldest son was a toddler. He would go up to complete strangers and say "I've been to Harborplace!" It never failed to start a conversation. Now I can't remember the last time I was there--years and years ago.

I was a young girl when my family frequented a chinese restaurant there. Beautiful view and great memories.

I am probably a broken record on this, but we stopped going to HP when there stopped being reasonable parking there. When the last "free" (first come first serve) lot became a pay lot, that was it.

Jean-Claude's may have been the first French restaurant I ever went to.

I also have fond memories of Taverna Athena, but not so much for the food, but for the time a bunch of coworkers and I played hooky from work on a sunny afternoon, sitting at an outside table drinking retsina.

cashmere offered
scruff Los

I have great memories of Harborplace when it opened.
We never went there in daylight hours; only "after hours" (midnight). The fun then being that we would approach the ridiculously expensive yachts moored there, where all the parties were in full swing from midnight til dawn. The 'lame excuse' of "Oh my, what a lovely boat! Do you have a bathroom I could use?" would ALWAYS get my friends and me invited on board to join in the party!
The next morning we would thank our hosts and proceed to have breakfast at Harborplace.
Thank God for memories....this old lady had a ball back then!

The chinese place was the Bamboo House. It was fairly decent.

I also remember that there was a BIG drug bust at one the small eatery places. The joke was "which kind of coke you wanted?"

As a worker at two shops now gone for many years, it was nice. I never go to HP now. Don't like the feeling anymore. I know it sounds Steven Kingish

How true, Joyce W. A couple of years ago I took my God-daughter to HP for a "girls' day out" and spent as much to park as on our lunch at California Pizza Kitchen. That WAS the last time I'll go there.

I worked at The Sun when HP opened, and I would walk there at least once a week on my lunch hour for some kind of special treat. My fave was the Carob ice cream at Haagen Dasz ... yummm!

When I worked at the Science Center, I used to walk the promenade at lunchtime for exercise.

Remember the Bun Penny Market Bar that was in the Light Street Pavilion? They had a pretty good crab melt.

Ah yes, Pronto. Bourdain discusses his adventures at the place in Kitchen Confidential. And it did not last even a couple years.

I remember going to Jean-Claude for a girls luncheon, 16th birthday party for one of my friends in high school. Goodness, that was a lovely luncheon (at least in my memory), and we all felt so grown-up and pampered. Thank you for reminding me of that lovely memory.

Captcha: Blanches What
Well asparagus, of course!

A few weeks ago I had dinner at J Paul's at HP. When I was sitting there looking at the Constellation and the Aquarium, I was reminded about how special HP was to me when I was a kid. Growing up in Harford County, HP was so different, so magical.

When I looked at the views of the harbor, it made me realize that there is still a lot that is great about HP; however, when I walked around the remnants food court in the Light Street Pavilion, I realized just how much has been lost.

Ah yes, Pronto. Bourdain discusses his adventures at the place in Kitchen Confidential. And it did not last even a couple years

It couldn't help that one of their chefs was a down and out junkie exiled to Baltimore.

I spent a summer waitressing at a now-defunct Harborplace restaurant. It was locally owned, non-chain. The food was pretty good, not great, but it was terribly run and the service stunk. (I can admit my limitations.) On slow days we used to take turns checking out how long the wait was at the Cheesecake Factory, just to see how far behind the competition we lagged. It always made me sad that the small local places couldn't stand up to the big guys. In our case it was because our product was sub-standard. But I always thought it would have been nice if Harborplace management could have found talented local restauranteurs to inhabit the space, rather than turn it over to the chains. Cheesecake Factory, Pizzeria Uno, Hooters, and the rest make us like any other generic tourist district.

Harborplace opened with a number of local merchants, but Rouse's ridiculously high charges (for fixed rent, percentage rent, common area maintenance, advertising, etc.) drove out the locals, leading to the current Revenge of the Mega-Chains.

Remember Mariners Pier 1? My wife and I met there while working as servers WAY back in the '80s! We hardly ever go to Harborplace now...... Might as well go to the mall.

There are three reasons I ever go to Harborplace.

1) To find a public bathroom.
2) To see the latest in crab kitsch.
3) To go to 5 Guys.

It sounds like it started right, but Rouse killed it trying to make too much money too fast.

sheeeeeeeeit, harborplace ain't never been the same since sisqo left the fudgery

That was always my fondest memories of Harborplace, unbelievaboh. Any time we were anywhere close to Harborplace, my brother and I would insist that we go in to watch the fudge show.

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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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