Werner's restaurant closing tomorrow
And then there were none.
Werner's luncheonette, a downtown fixture since 1950, is slated to close for good on Friday, April 15.
Coming just a few months after the demise of Burke's restaurant, the closing of Werner's creates an icon-free space in Downtown Baltimore.
A victim, depending on whom you ask, of an uncertain economy, increased competition, or its own indifferent management, the Redwood Street institution will not reopen again after serving its last lunch on Friday.
The staff said they were told about the closing on Wednesday. Sheila Morris, a waitress at Werner's for seven years, said, “We still serve real turkey, that we roast here.” “And real mashed potatoes,” added waitress Tonita Parham. Werner's was one of the last places downtown where a customer could still get a Braunschweiger sandwich.
The Redwood Street luncheonette was opened by Werner Kloetzli Sr. in 1950. But another eatery had been operating there even before that.
Werner's became a gathering spot for politicians and lawyers, and was a longtime favorite of movie and television location scouts, who found timeless appeal in the luncheonette's chrome and maple Art Deco interior Barry Levinson filmed scenes here for Liberty Heights. Ladder 49 spent a week filming in and around the restaurant. More recently, Werner's could be seen on HBO's The Wire, as a lunch haunt for Mayor Tommy Carcetti.
Donna Beth Joy Shapiro was always sure to include Werner's on her architectural tours of Baltimore. “Every walking tour I gave of Downtown Deco ended with Werner's as the dessert. In 1987, I gave a city-wide bus tour of Art Deco buildings to members of the Society for Commercial Archeology, many hailing from places heavy on art deco architecture, but at the end of the day, Werner's was what they talked about.”
Hearing about the closing of Werner's a real-life Baltimore mayor, Thomas L. J. D'Alesandro III, said, “What an institution. I remember they were filming a movie on that street, and you'd see Danny DeVito and Richard Dreyfuss sitting at the little table up front. You'd see everyone there, doctor, lawyer, movie star and Indian chief.”
The movie was Tin Men. Dreyfuss and DeVito signed the backs of their chairs. You can still see their signatures, although they're faded, dated 9-8-86. Ladder 49 filmed here, too, as have numerous television commercials, according to Ruth Kloetzli.
Morris said that Werner's fortunes started declining rapidly just this past Christmas, and she chalked it all up to the bad economy and to increased competition in the neighborhood. They mentioned places like the Big Apple Tree Cafe, Cafe Bombay (now closed) on Lombard Street, and even the nearby culinary school, which serves lunch daily.
Asked if there was anything in the restaurant she'd like to reclaim, Kloetzli mentioned the maple booths, a relic from an era when Americans had smaller bodies, and the neon Werner's sign that hangs in the back of the luncheonette. The sign is not original to the cafe, though - it was made for Tin Men.
Charles Kyle's name remains on the business's liquor license, but the staff at the restaurant say that last year Kyle had turned over its operations to another man. The restaurant property is leased from the building's owners, the law firm of Gordon Feinblatt. Kyle could not be reached for comment.
Malcolm Brisker and Tom Goss, lawyers who work nearby, came to Werner's on Thursday for a late lunch, their last. “This place was icon for the legal community," Brisker said, “you would always see judges here or attorneys general.” Goss, who said he had been coming to Werner's since 1981, said, “I will miss this place. It's the last of a dying breed.”