Bluebird Cocktail Room owner buys De Kleine Duivel, plans to keep it the same

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Photo by Ethan McLeod

The owner of De Kleine Duivel, a Belgian beer haven in an old banquet hall in Hampden, has sold his business to his upstairs neighbor, Bluebird Cocktail Room co-owner Paul Benkert.

Fortunately for the bar’s regulars and local Belgian beer lovers, Benkert plans to keep it as-is aside from a few touch-ups, such as a recent paint job.

“You can expect a general freshening up of the space, and a small food menu, though it will generally operate as it always has,” a representative for De Kleine Duivel’s new ownership wrote in a message today.

DKD LLC, formed in June by Benkert, purchased the Belgian beer hall and all of its assets on July 1, according to documents on file with the city’s liquor board. Now-former owner Paul Kopchinski entered into a management agreement with allowing Benkert to run the business while he applies for a new Class B beer, wine and liquor license.

Benkert, who declined to comment on the sale or future plans, is asking the board to grant him a new license because De Kleine Duivel has already arranged to transfer its existing one to another entity, Up De Abenue LLC.

That company, owned by local event planner Timothy Conder, plans to use it for a new concept planned on Clipper Mill Road at the western end of Hampden, per liquor board documents.

According to Benkert’s application, the new manager of De Kleine Duivel would be Benjamin Poole, who’s served as bar manager for the Bluebird Cocktail Room on the third floor since it opened.

The application seeks a waiver of a requirement to invest at least $500,000 and provide at least 125 seats (De Kleine is already outfitted and has space for about 120). State law says the board can waive the capital investment and seating requirements following a public hearing that determines the license holder is in good standing.

The board has set a hearing for Sept. 12.

Kopchinski, who could not be reached for comment Wednesday, opened De Kleine Duivel–Flemish for “The Little Devil”–in December 2013 following years of planning, and after two other planned locations fell through, The Sun reported that winter. The bar specializes specifically in Belgian beers–“If it’s not brewed in Belgium, we don’t serve it,” its Twitter bio boasts–and keeps at least 150 varieties in stock, plus eight beers on tap.

Known for its subdued lighting and relaxed setting, it’s also home to assorted meetups in town, including monthly meetings of the Baltibrew home brewers club, the Baltimore Under Ground Science Space’s Science Slams, “Nerd Nite,” movie screenings and more.

The ownership transfer gives Bluebird a hold on all three spaces in the building near the corner of Hickory and The Avenue. Paul and Caroline Benkert opened their literary-themed cocktail room on the third floor in May 2017, with intimate lighting, vintage decor and an eye toward the ingredients and aesthetics of their cocktails (including hand-carved ice).

Two floors down sits the more informal Bluebird Pub, which they opened this past winter to help handle the overflow from the popular cocktail room. The pub serves upscale bar food and keeps a whiskey-forward drink list and Guinness on tap.

It replaced Little Bird, a cafe they opened in the space in August 2018.

Ethan McLeod
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