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December 17, 2010

Philadelphia bar/restaurant may take over DuClaw's Fells Point location

DuClaw's shuttered Fells Point location may soon have a new tenant.

Ladder 15, a Philadelphia bar/restaurant, is in negotiations to open its first Baltimore location.

John Durkin, a Mad River Bar & Grille owner and a part owner of Ladder 15, said nothing is set in writing, but that they're near a deal.

DuClaw closed its bar and restaurant on the corner of Thames and Bonds streets in December after five years on the spot.

President Dave Benfield told Midnight Sun then business had been slow.

"It was a little bit like no man's land down there," he said. "It became a seasonal business and we weren't too pleased with that."

Disagreements with the building's landlord and the smoking ban also added to the company's frustrations with the location.

But Durkin and his partners think they might strike gold where DuClaw didn't. Durkin, who describes Ladder 15 as "a gastro pub with an industrial chic design," said there aren't any many other places like it here.

"We looked [at candidates for a new Ladder 15 location] and saw that in the Baltimore and DC area there was a need for it," he said.

Originally, they were looking at Harbor East, but they were made aware of the Fells Point opening and have been pursuing it for the past three months. 

Durkin, who's also an owner at Mad River Bar, said the two concepts are different. Ladder 15 calls itself "upscale yet unpretentious" on its Philadelphia website. It serves New American cuisine and offers nine wines in the $7-$11 price range. 

Its Philadelphia location has 12 draft beers. Durkin said the Fells Point location would be similar to Philly's but with a Baltimore twist, such as serving several local craft beers.

Durkin said they haven't sealed the deal yet to lease the location, but that "it's close."

Already, though, the Ladder 15 owners have filed a liquor license application with the board of liquor license commissioners for Baltimore City.

(They didn't have to buy it from DuClaw because the beer company had surrendered it to the board last year, Benfield told me.)

Readers - could Ladder 15 succeed where DuClaw didn't?

Photo: DuClaw's Fells Point location (Sam Sessa)

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Posted by Erik Maza at 12:59 PM | | Comments (22)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


"upscale yet unpretentious" seems to be a very common descriptor

Seems to be a nice location, but definitely has to offer something to be a draw.

Personally, I always thought that was a great location. While I know that most people feel that DuClaw didn't do well in Fells Point because it's a chain, what really killed it for me was the service. It was consistently some of the worst I've ever seen. I can't speak for all of their locations, but I used to have a much better experience at the one in Bel Air.

So, I guess what I'm saying is, this absolutely has a shot at succeeding as long as they make a reputation for having good service.

...and food. The food at DuClaw was terrible.

If I remember correctly the Fells DuClaw was going OK but the owners of the property wanted to jack up the rent so they closed down. Some specualted the owners had forced them out because they already had somebody willing to pay more lined up.

I cosign Dave F's comments they had the worst service in the world. We had a monthly office outing there for maybe a year and they knew in advance and they only alotted one server for our 30-50 party


I am shocked that Maza didn't already doom this restaurant to utter failure.

The Yelp reviews for Ladder 15 in Philly don't sound promising in the slightest. Apparently Mad River and Ladder 15 are sister chain restaurants... which makes Ladder 15 just the slightly less trashy older sister of Mad River.

I hope they make it a place for regulars - comfortable, affordable, good service, and friendly. High priced beers aren't going to work for Fells.

I liked DuClaw. My wife and I have a toddler, and they were always good with him too. And unlike some posters, I didn't think the food was terrible for a bar. They were just always dead off season. Still, to find new negatives, considering their original craft beers DuClaw's space itself completely lacked character.

I've been to Ladder 15 in Philly before and it's not near as bad as Mad River. You have to be 23 to get in, so it keeps the under age kids out. They have good food, too. I think that since it's in Fells, instead of Federal Hill or Canton, it'll draw an older crowd, as well.

@ foo

I heard the same thing (about jacking up the rent). In fact, the disagreement was so acrimonious, I believe DuClaw announced they were closing no more than a day or two before they actually did close.

As for how well a new place will do there, who knows... it certainly seems like a prime location, but it seems to me that in order succeed they'll need to offer something you can't find elsewhere in Fells Point. I have my doubts about their ability to do that.

it's a big place, I'd go with something with lots of pool tables and games that the other smaller fells point spots can't accomodate.

First off, if your business isn't doing well; do something to make it better. Do things until it gets better. Work at it. Just do it. Crying doesn't help business.

As far as the Philly joint, no. Keep it i Philly. Close the border, that is the Mason Dixon border. That's the important one, not the Mexican border.

The food was absolutely disgusting, even for a chain spot. The area is full of good pubs with palatable meals, making it easy to just go somewhere else. DuClaws makes my stomach turn just thinking about it.

I can't see going anywhere else in the area with Duda's right across the street.

This is typical Baltimore boring bar scene. I have been to ladder 15 in Philly. Far from industrial chic. Mad river take 2. And the fact he says it's " no mans land" shows how of touch he is. Kali's court is one of the best restaurants in the city. If they were smart they should try to attract the upscale crowd to come across the street. Instead here comes another beer tap joint with a jukebox and mozzarella sticks and buffalo wings.

DuClaw failed because someone thought that a boring suburban corporate chain restaurant would work in fells point. I'm sorry, restaurants that belong in harborplace and the burbs will always be seasonal because locals do not want homogenized garbage. The only reason that DuClaw stayed open as long as it did because it had outdoor seating. Anytime I find myself in that corner of fells point, I will always go to Dudas, and not Mad River II.

DuClaw failed because someone thought that a boring suburban corporate chain restaurant would work in fells point. I'm sorry, restaurants that belong in harborplace and the burbs will always be seasonal because locals do not want homogenized garbage. The only reason that DuClaw stayed open as long as it did because it had outdoor seating. Anytime I find myself in that corner of fells point, I will always go to Dudas, and not Mad River II.

I love Duda's as much as the next guy, but has anyone noticed that their service has really gone downhill? I doubt it is the servers' faults -- the same servers have worked there for years, and certainly seem to know what they're doing. It seems to be something with the kitchen. The last few times we've been there, things have been so slow we've had to get up and leave after just a few beers, before any food ... and sometimes before anyone even takes our beer order. The few times we have ordered food, we have waited as long as two hours for burgers and sweet potato fries.

@KB: you've had service that wasn't slow there? i frequent Duda's around lunch time and unless we get there first, it's usually a slow lunch. i can say the same for sam's kid, red star and slainte too.

i don't mind the wait at Duda's b/c i usually go there when i'm not in any hurry.

as for DuClaw, ugh! food was awful and service was terrible. even though they were in my office building, i would go outside in inclement weather to avoid eating there. it takes s special kind of stupid to mess up salad and they did so consistently. i hope the new tenants make use of the space and offer something more than pub fair, macrobrews and meatheads.

I liked DuClaw's; while the service may not have been very personable, it was efficient enough for me to return. As for it being a "corporate chain." The Fells Point location was one of three (at the time of its closing). Do three locations really constitute a corporate chain? If so, then one can only assume these posters have never set foot in a Starbucks, Pizza Hut, Olive Garden, TGIF, Rock Bottom, Gordon Biersch. Plus, the did make some decent beer.

Hey guys I have been to Ladder 15 in Philly. The place has awesome food. The chef was formerly from a restaurant called Pif which was amazing. It is very popular there and they have a very nice selection of craft brews. Best of all they seem like they hire cool people. I felt well taken care of on the service side. Looks like I'm one of the few people who are excited for this new option in Fells?

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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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