The new Lounge dining area at The Prime Rib. Photo by Ed Gunts.
The new Lounge dining area at The Prime Rib. Photo by Ed Gunts.

Baltimore’s Prime Rib restaurant reopened last weekend after a two-month renovation, a project that underscores its commitment to remain in Mount Vernon-Belvedere neighborhood for the next 15 years.

Servers, bartenders and even the general manager took turns pointing out improvements to patrons curious to learn what has changed since the 58-year-old restaurant closed for renovations on July 10. It was the first major modification since a front porch was turned into an indoor dining area in the 1970s.

For the most part the work has left the two main dining rooms untouched, easing the concerns of some diners who feared a jarring makeover. The additions, including a longer bar and a third dining area, have been relatively seamless.

“People like the fact that when you walk in, it’s not a huge change,” said general manager Mark Linzey. “They like looking at the dining room and seeing the old-school, Manhattan-style supper club feel.” 

Opened by brothers Nick and C. Peter “Buzz” Beler at the base of the Horizon House apartment building at 1101 N. Calvert St., The Prime Rib has long been considered one of Baltimore’s finest white tablecloth restaurants, the place to celebrate a special occasion or impress out-of-town visitors. Past patrons have included such dignitaries as Maya Angelou, Rosa Parks, Muhammad Ali and Bishop Desmond Tutu.

The restaurant was designed to have the look of “a sleek 1930s movie set,” Buzz Beler told The Baltimore Sun in 1995, with lacquered walls, low lights, Deco prints and a grand piano in the front room. “I wanted it to shimmer in black and white, like the old movies I used to catch at the Aurora on North Avenue,” Beler said.

Today, it’s known as “the civilized steakhouse” – born from “a love of 1940s Hollywood style, legendary food, devoted service and timeless sophistication,” according to a company website.

A new leopard insignia at the entrance of The Prime Rib. Photo by Ed Gunts.
A new leopard insignia at the entrance of The Prime Rib. Photo by Ed Gunts.

When diners walk in the front door, they take a step back in time. There are no windows to the outside to break the spell. The servers wear tuxedos. Everyone notices the leopard print carpet.

When Nick Beler died in 1995 at age 63, his brother continued to run the business. Since Buzz Beler died in October 2019 at age 90, the midtown restaurant and its affiliates in Washington, Philadelphia and Anne Arundel County have been led by Rebecca and Brenda Dolan, members of the founders’ family, who have kept standards high.

Two years ago, Buzz Beler’s heirs explored moving the business to The Village of Cross Keys, the north Baltimore community where Caves Valley Partners has been working to bring in new shops and restaurants, but they ultimately decided against it.

Earlier this year the restaurateurs signed a 15-year lease with their landlord, Southern Management, to remain at their present location until 2038. They decided to use the two months of summer, a slow time of year for the business, to close temporarily and complete a series of improvements designed to make the restaurant better for their patrons and staff. They reopened on Sept. 6, right after Labor Day.

One of the biggest changes is a new dining area, dubbed The Lounge, roughly where the restrooms used to be. This new area has room to seat up to 10 or 12 and can be reserved for private parties. Like the larger dining rooms, it has a 1930s-1940s feel, with dark walls, sconces and dimmable ceiling lights.

A new canopy and insignia at the entrance of The Prime RIb. Photo by Ed Gunts.
A new canopy and insignia at the entrance of The Prime RIb. Photo by Ed Gunts.

Contractors have created two new restrooms, compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, where a wine room and office were. They extended the length of the bar, providing room to add six more seats. They created new shelving, backed by antique mirrored glass, behind the bar. Improvements were made in the kitchen as well, such as a new triple sink area.

The improvements extend to the curb, where a hunter green canopy now marks the entrance. A new leopard insignia has been painted on the wall leading to the front door. The restaurant also has adopted new graphics for its menu, match covers and other items, playing off the leopard theme.

Linzey said the Prime Rib’s hours of operation are the same as before; it’s open every day except Monday, starting at 5 p.m. The staff size has remained the same, about 32. The improvements cost about $400,000. Some of the artwork, including a Picasso print, came from Buzz Beler’s estate. One is by a longtime patron, Sal Scarpitti Jr.

J. C. Porter Construction LLC was the general contractor. Ci Design, Inc. was the architect of record. Linzey and contractor John Porter said the restaurant owners had strong input in the design, because they wanted to be sure the look of the original dining rooms was carried into the new spaces.

Server Aaron Day marks his 50th anniversary at The Prime Rib. Photo by Ed Gunts.
Server Aaron Day marks his 50th anniversary at The Prime Rib. Photo by Ed Gunts.

A few touches are still to come. The restaurant plans to add a unisex restroom and more art work. Finally, the grey carpet in the new “Lounge” dining area is a placeholder for new leopard print carpet that hadn’t arrived by Sept. 6. The leopard print carpet in the two main dining rooms, and wrapping under the bar, will also be replaced with the same new leopard print carpet, for a seamless look.

The new spaces weren’t the only aspect of the restaurant getting attention last weekend. The star of the hour was server Aaron Day, who started working for The Prime Rib exactly 50 years ago Sunday, and patrons were congratulating him on his anniversary.

Recently featured in a Baltimore Magazine article by Suzanne Loudermilk, Day was recalling some of people he met over the years, including celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey, Montel Williams, Forrest Tucker and Brooks Robinson. He also gave the renovations his seal of approval: Although there are plenty of new features, basically “it’s still the same,” he said, smiling.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to correct the name of Ci Design, Inc., the architect of record for the renovated Prime Rib restaurant.

Ed Gunts is a local freelance writer and the former architecture critic for The Baltimore Sun.

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1 Comment

  1. We moved from Cambridge to 1200 E. 33rd St. in 1948. The Belers were our neighbors at 1202 E. 33rd St. I seem to remember that they owned a business in the Lexington Market at the time. Very nice folks.

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