The secret is clearly out.
A cursory look at the Valley Inn’s crowded parking lot reveals what many have eagerly anticipated since it changed ownership two years ago: The Valley Inn has re-opened its doors. Step inside and new and old customers alike will revel in the ways in which new owner, Ted Bauer, has melded the property’s rich past with its vibrant future.
The Valley Inn is steeped in a deep history that dates back to 1785, a date still embossed on many of the old menus uncovered during the renovation process. Originally known as the Brooklandville House, the Valley Inn was purchased by the Hatfield family in 1922 and became a popular gathering place along the Falls Road corridor. For 90 years, two generations of Hatfields welcomed passers-by making their way through the valley from the city to the country. In 2011, Ted Bauer, who also owns The Oregon Grille, purchased the property from the Hatfields and began a series of renovations and updates.
Much of Bauer’s labors were updates to the structure itself: cleaning and repairs, replacing furniture and lighting, refurbishing floors, and improving utilities. The improved Valley Inn invites guests to gather in two distinct spaces – a large bar with flat screen televisions and booths for dining, and a separate “Jockey Room” where diners can eat in a more intimate setting.
All of the improvements are meant to echo the Valley Inn’s history and intent. Once a roadhouse during the era of horse and buggy, today’s inn similarly seeks to restore that universally welcoming atmosphere. Bauer hopes to honor its history by offering a little bit for everyone. To that end, he has rejuvenated Bud Hatfield’s motto “The Valley’s rendezvous” with a new tagline for the inn: “The Greenspring Valley rendezvous.” The tag will appear in print ads as well as on the glassware in the new bar.
Bauer has considered every aspect of the inn’s update and renovation, paying attention to the expectations of the its loyal followers as well to the needs of its younger, future clientele. With each decision — from menu to décor — he continues to draw upon the rich history of the property, which was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1977.
The former Valley Inn saw the majority of its business in the bar area where diners ate at tables and spent little time at the bar itself. Bauer’s first desire was to bring the bar back to life, making it more of a focus for patrons.
He reasons, “Many past customers shared fond memories here…I want to revive that spirit.”
To date, he has succeeded in injecting life into the bar area. From the inn’s soft opening in December, the bar has been a major draw. He credits this not only to patrons’ anticipation of something new, but also to a desire to return to places with this much history. He believes the clientele have been pleasantly surprised with the changes, especially the discovery that the Valley Inn truly has a roadhouse feel, appealing to everyone.
The menu also speaks to this with its sampling of local favorites and variety of casual fare. As with the soft opening, Bauer is taking his time with the menu, starting with a selective list of entrees. Under chef Roger Shugars, the inn offers local favorites like chargrilled oysters, Maryland crab cakes, and a choice of salads including the “Field and Stream,” an original take on a chef’s salad with a mix of crab meat and prosciutto.
Bauer plans for an expanded menu will be further revealed this week as the Valley Inn opens for lunch. Ultimately, he will feature separate lunch, dinner, and late night menus, to capture the tastes of all his constituencies. (The restaurant will be open late Weds. – Sat.)
The most poignant change to the inn is the décor, carefully planned and executed by Bauer with the help of Powers Creative. It exudes a warm and inviting atmosphere that almost feels like entering the living room of an old friend. A collector in his own right, Bauer scoured vintage poster shops in Kentucky and California, auction houses, and the internet to cover the walls of the inn’s Jockey Room with authentic racing posters, oil paintings and sculptures highlighting both Maryland racing as well as the colorful history of thoroughbred racing.
He is quick to highlight that his dining room captures “something different” through the various artifacts covering the walls and filling the alcoves. In fact, he juxtaposes local artist Sam Robinson’s two impressive oil paintings of Pimlico and Saratoga’s famed paddock with three-dimensional travel boxes stocked with the tools of a groom’s trade: brushes, ointments, and lead lines.
In another corner, Pimlico’s head valet, Donald Cusick, has outfitted a mock jockey’s room locker with silks, breeches, boots, saddle, whip and helmet. Another niche, the “Sagamore Corner,” features a set of the farm’s new racing silks and a matching lawn jockey. All these details are accented by hand-painted brass jockey lamps, refinished wooden booths, and dark leather and carpeting.
Since December, the Valley Inn has seen increased traffic as visitors have sought out the property’s storied past and awakened to its new offerings. Bauer is focused on perfecting each aspect of his new endeavor and, in doing so, is “content on taking it slowly.” In upcoming weeks, patrons will have the opportunity to visit the inn for lunch, sampling new menu options and expanded dining hours. Thanks to Bauer, they will also share in a celebrated piece of Baltimore history.
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