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October 6, 2009

It's official: Porter's is closed

porter'sPorter's, the restaurant and bar on Riverside Avenue in Federal Hill, is closed for the near future, according to land owner Dave Cowell.

That's about all Cowell knows at the moment, he said.

"As a property owner, a lot of times, you're the last one to know," he said.

Cowell said Joe Fonte, who owned the business, had been looking to sell for some time. 

"I don't know how much more desire he had to run a restaurant," Cowell said ...

Cowell said he'd know more in the next few days. He filled me in on some of the building's history, though, which was interesting. Before Porter's, it used to be called Ransom, and before Ransom, it was a corner bar named Paul's, according to Cowell.

I only went in Porter's once. The food and drinks were good, but the service was so bad I never went back.

Now, the space sits vacant. 

"If you know anybody that wants to buy a restaurant, let me know," Cowell said.

(Baltimore Sun archive photo)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 1:50 PM | | Comments (17)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Porter's service was always bad on Friday and Saturday night. The best nights to go there were typically sometime during the week. I peered through the windows on Sunday, and the tables and everything else are gone. It made me very sad.

Now I will have to walk to The Abbey Burger Bistro if I want a burger, and the last time I tried to go there during a Federal Hill Street fair, they tried to card me. I am over 30 and do not carry my ID especially if I have no plan to go out drinking.

Am I allowed to go out and not drink and still read your blog?

Before the bad service at Porter's, there was bad service at Ransom's. Maybe it's the building.

I remember Paul's being on Cross St. directly facing onto Battery. Some lucky family lives there now :)

I never had bad service there when I sat at the bar. Saw many a football game there. I will miss it !

I've only been to Porter's a times, but each time the food was always above average bar food and never had a problem with service...

I am going to miss Porter's. I went there at least once a week.

Sam, I had bad service there as well. Not sad to see it go.

As a resident of Federal Hill who regularly frequented Porters and does not enjoy the Cross Street scene whatsoever, I am very sad that it's closed. Joe's restaurant provided a relaxed atmosphere where you could get a dinner and drink without some 21 year old puking in the bathroom or spilling their drink on you. I hope they find a buyer soon.

Often the service at Porters was a bit slow on the weekends. The place was packed and the staff was small. The slow service was a worthwhile trade-off.

Porters offered what few pubs can today: a true neighborhood experience. For those who came from afar, I can understand how Porters may fail to dazzle. The bar area is small, as is the dining room. The service is slow, and not everyone on staff is chipper. However, what makes for some a lackluster experience makes for others one that is unforgettable.

For the regulars, Porters was an oasis. For many who lived on Riverside, Cross, Battery, William and beyond, Porters was always just a minute away. Be it for a quick bite and drink after work, a celebration dinner, or just to watch the game… Porters was the easiest, best, and most beloved place to go. As a bonus, Porters was conspicuously absent of:

• Tight electric blue spandex dresses
• Spiky hair and striped shirts
• Fights
• Vomit

This my friends, is a good thing. What was not absent was the feeling of belonging. It was very “Cheers”. If you returned regularly, the staff was quick to learn your name, what you ate, what you drank, and who your friends were. Joe would even go so far as to put some regulars on the menu, with many of the numerous meals served having a patron’s name attached to them (Heather, Jamie, Brea, Sloater, etc). For those who didn’t care for the joint (yes, I will acknowledge that these people exist) the closing of Porters will be no loss. For those of us who chose to make Porters our living room away from home, September 22nd was a very sad day indeed.

I've been there a few times and always loved the food. The waitress was very nice but on a Friday night, appeared to be the only one working. This is while who I can only assume was the owner was simply yelling at her to hurry. What kind of bar owner doesn't help their staff when they obviously need it? I feel bad for the employees, although there were probably only about three of them judging from people's service complaints.

Other than that, it was a great place to go on the weekends to avoid the weekend warriors at places like Magerks, etc.

What's wrong with spikey hair and striped suits? Oh... I guess a Flacco Jersey over a beer gut and denim shorts with white sneakers and no socks looks better to you, huh?

As an aside, why would anyone ever go anywhere without their ID?

I was a regular there and it is sorely missed. Maybe the service was quirky, but the meals were always good, the drinks generous. I thought the staff was great, especially Annie. Joe could always be counted to go the extra mile, whether supporting a charity golf event, or kindly passing on the remnants of .a bottle of a wine he recommended. And any place that limits the number of Red Sox fans like Porter's did is ok by me.

As a former employee of Porter's I wanted to take a moment and defend the poor service. On Friday nights Joe had two servers and 1 bartender. On Saturday nights, he just had 1 server and himself tending bar. I would dread every single saturday of the thought of working alone with him. Joe is a horrible manager and person to his staff. You can ask anyone who works there and they will agree. He puts you down especially if you were a woman. Instead of acting like a leader, he acts like a charity case. I'm sorry if you are reading this and are a regular. But at the same time if you were a regular and got to know the staff you probably already know that he was like that but didn't say anything personally to Joe while he was berating us and worshipping the ground that you work on, because you're right, the atmosphere for customer's was nice. And I could have left as well. But I needed the money, thought it would get better, and really enjoyed Friday night working with Anney. So I wanted to let you all know, that the servers were good people and were trying, but it was a difficult situation for us given the amount of staff and the person that we were dealing with. Just to give you an example of how he was out of reach from customers, I had two very fit women come in and order veggie burgers. When I came back to the kitchen for another order, he simply asked me if the women who ordered the veggie burgers were fat? When I told him no, he gave his abnoxious I'm better than you are look and asked me why they don't just go somewhere else instead of ordering that and wasting his time. Why the heck was it on the menu then?! I want to thank you for letting me vent, this was long over due. I meant no disrepect to those of you who like Joe, I and many others there just had the misfortunate experience to deal with the side of him that most customer's did not see. I for one am glad he is no longer there. I look forward to another restaurant there with the same atmosphere minus him.

I just wanted to say how much I will miss Porters. I think it was one of the best places to watch football on Sunday, and a "go to" joint for a quick bite to eat. I loved everything about it and only hope that the future owners can come in and keep it just as cozy and neighborhood friendly as it was. I'm very sad to see it go.

@ Former Employee

I don't know the owner of Porter's and I have only been there once. But you are one of the reasons why Porters closed. You probably didn't appreciate the job you had especially in this economy. You probably bad mouthed the owner while you worked and spread negativity about the restaurant everyday you worked. You should really look in the mirror and realize that you are part of the problem. The owner did you a favor by understaffing and putting more money in your pocket even though you would've problem complained if he had another bartender or server work. If you didn't like working there, get another job, "because I needed the money" doesn't work with me. The owner risked it all to make sure that you had a job and I feel like you didn't care about your job and you brought nothing to the table. The new owner of the restaurant will not survive if he has people like you working for him/her.


I think you didn't really Former Employee's post with complete understanding, he did say he enjoyed working there and his interaction with his co-worker, and for some incredulous reason thought it would get better with Joe.
As you said, you were only there once as a patron. It, from his account, sounds like Joe was short tempered and verbally abusive to his employees showing his lack of respect for them, made worse when he was running short staffed. Apparently had issues with what some people order even if it was on the menu.

I think you’re a guy in management, who thinks that all employees should be so grateful to be employed that they should be tolerant of being abused without being offended, or least not being vocal about being offended. Being paid just isn't good enough.

Yes, he and the others may have part of the problem by not telling Joe to piss off and walking out on him in mass during a busy evening.

Maybe the new owner of the restaurant will treat his employees in such a matter as to make it a more satisfying work experience and incur more personal dedication than the insensitive Joe.

@ Anon

I can appreciate your argument; however that was not the case. It was not just me. Joe could not keep waitresses longer than 2 months and even the customers will tell you that. When I started working there, the regulars wished me good luck. By the sound of your tone, you probably are Joe or someone very much like him and I feel terribly sad for you. People work at jobs they don't like all the time if it brings in good money. I did leave on my own grounds when I decided that I would no longer let myself be degraded by him. You obviously know nothing about customer service because it is not about putting more money in your employee’s pockets by shorting your customers. Customers come first and no one should be responsible for 14 tables, that is absurd. I wish you the best in your convoluted reality.

Former Employee is 100% correct - Joe was a complete jerk to his staff at times, but at other times, he was warm and caring. He treated his customers the same way and when the place got really busy on the Saturday evenings or Sunday mornings when he insisted on tending bar, he would often go into fugues and walk up and down the bar in a daze ignoring the empty glasses and dirty dishes in front of him.

I stopped going when he was tending bar.

It's a terrific location for a neighborhood bar in a terrific neighborhood. I know Kevin from Regi's and think he realizes this and what a great opportunity he has. Joe's food was generally good for bar food - improve the service and eliminate the moodiness of the owner and the place surely should succeed.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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