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April 14, 2011

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.”

Posted by Richard Gorelick at 11:50 AM | | Comments (19)


Damn! First Burke's and now Werner's. Just say they aren't being replaced by a Royal Farms!

I worked for an insurance agency on Redwood St 30 years ago-walked to Werners once a week for lunch, SOOOOO DELICIOUS-loved the home made milkshakes, turkey and gravy,staff, atmosphere, prices-Icould go on&on. PLEASE DONT GO!!!
Vicki F

Am I confused? I thought the family sold Warner's somewhere around 2003-2004. I had many good lunchs there then one day a new owner took over and the first meal I ordered was a simple grilled cheese and F.F. After waiting a looooong time for my order it arrived and the bottom of the grilled cheese was burned black as pitch. They tried to hide the fact by putting the burnt side down thinking I wouldn't notice. LOL. Had other bad experiences thereafter and stopped going altogether

you are correct, the business was sold by the original family about that time.

I know things must change and owners get to retire, that life will go on, that new pleasures will arise---but this lovely place is a pivotal, community infused spot and it will be greatly missed.

The cuteness, movies and old-Baltimore nostalgia were better than the execution. Wonder if another operator will rise to the challenge or if it will become a 7-11?

I enjoyed many a tomato soup and grilled cheese sahdwich there, when I worked in downtown Baltimore more than 20 years ago. Sorry to see it go.

I think the dates were from 1986, not 1996. Bank Street, no one will miss Burke's. Werner's on the other hand should be "preserved". Even though quality went downhill, the staff was always very friendly to me and it felt much more homey than other places that try too hard for that vibe.

thanks, fat-finger syndrome

Tin Men was released in 1987, so maybe that faded writing says 9-8-86.

The quality of the food and service declined in 2006 after the "girls" sold the place and moved to Delaware. The girls made the best Pot Roast on Thursdays. I still went there occassionally but it was never the same. The first time I went there was in the mid 70's with my Father,

Best place to get a Hot Turkey Commercial, as we used to call them in Mpls.

BTW, Cafe Bombay on Lombard Street has been closed for years now, so you can't blame them for competition.

thanks, I should have made it more clear that that was a quote from the staff

no one will miss Burke's

Not true. I miss Burke's, and I'm not alone. Burke's had character.

Proud to have been part of it's hey day.. looks like they couldn't do it with out you sis!....and yes...I still remember what each and everyone of you ordered, now sit up straight!

Well i'm also one of the people that worked there under the family. Dear Ruth , Misty, Winnie n me Wayne . It was the place to go.The customers never new what they be walking into with Misty n I doing crazy things. One time for holloween Misty n I changed roles or to say i dressed up as a 50s waitress with a blue 2 feet behive n Misted was the nerdy guy in the office , right down to the pen marks on the white shirt n pocket protector LOL One time we all dressed up as punk rockers. people that hadn't been in there before didn't know what was up other had a good laugh. Hey Misty dont forget that morning we did that famous scean from Titantic as we rose up high on the frount of the ship.
LOL Good - by Dear Werner's Good -by to all our friends that pasted though our doors.

What sad news. I haven't eaten at Werner's since the mid 60's, but I still remember the turkey.

I'm sure they will be missed. So much of "old" Baltimore is just going away.

I will be sorry to see it go. I have worked downtown for 30 years and will miss it. Having said that, the service got slower and the food went downhill after it changed hands. I'll miss it..., but I haven't eaten there for six or so months, and my office is a block away. They did not lose my patronage due to competition, it was due to the drop in quality. The waitstaff was always very nice, though. I hope another operator takes it over and keeps the decor intact.

Werner's grilled cheese and cream of crab soup was my go-to comfort lunch. I am sad to see them go!

This is truly a sad day for Baltimore and a sign of the times.

I work next door to Werner's and would often (almost everyday) go in for the same sandwhich. I would call ahead of time and as soon as they heard my voice they knew exactly who I was and what I wanted.

The atmosphere was certainly special, but what will be missed most is a small family owned restaurant where everyone knows your name. Furthermore, this event speaks to the growth of capitalism and what we lose when the family owned companies go out of business.

Sad to see you go.... I actually was taught my craft there by ruth herself @ the tender age of 18... to this day I still use things I learned there. My favorite was the fried chicken, my arm is still sore from making mashed potatoes.

I used to work for USF&G and we would go to Werners for lunch. Met Danny DeVito and Richard Dreyfuss when they were filming Tin Men. Got their autographs right out front of the building.

So sorry to see Werners go, as well was Burke's. Two fine eating establishments that will live in our hearts and memories for years to come.

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About this blog

You are reading the archives. For updated blog posts about the Maryland food scene, see Richard Gorelick's new Baltimore Diner 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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