Image via the Market Center Merchants Association’s Facebook page.
Image via the Market Center Merchants Association’s Facebook page.

A local developer has plans to rehab the building that once housed the iconic Martick’s Restaurant Francais and bring back a restaurant and bar on the ground level. The top floor will be converted into a live-work space for artists.

Brad Shapiro, the principal at Jabber Five, the developer that bought the W. Mulberry Street building, said he had a tenant signed for the restaurant space but was leaving it to them to announce their plans.

“Everyone will know who those guys are, they have a nice little brand in Baltimore,” he said.

The Baltimore Business Journal first reported the news.

Initially, after acquiring the property earlier this year, Jabber Five considered leveling the building to make something bigger. But Shapiro said after talking with relatives of Morris Martick, the legendary proprietor and chef at Martick’s Restaurant Francais, and learning about the restaurant’s long history from a 2004 article in the Jewish Times, he wanted to preserve the building.

In particular, there was a quote from Martick about how the public would ultimately decide the building’s fate.

“That resonated with me, because I was like, wow, this has been with his family since the 1800s, and I’m the next owner here and the burden is on me,” he said.

Martick died in 2011. There were 2013 plans from Morris’ brother, Alex, to turn the space into a speakeasy, but it appears those never materialized after the liquor license was transferred to an establishment in Harlem Park.

The restaurant’s long wooden bar is still intact, as are some other architectural features, like pieces stained glass and cornices. But otherwise the building is “pretty much falling down,” said Shapiro.

Temporary supports are in place, and Shapiro said he will be seeking local, state and federal tax credits to help with the preservation effort. (Full disclosure: My partner is staff to the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation).

“Hopefully the old will feel new again,” he said.

Shapiro said he was excited about a lot of the development taking place in the area, just west of Mount Vernon–particularly projects involving the arts, such as the Bromo Arts and Entertainment District and Current Space, which recently announced the gallery would be expanding. And the upstairs portion of the project could have a small gallery or performance space once completed.

Kristen Mitchell, executive director of the Market Center Merchants Association, said there are two different art incubators and two apartment developments, with a third to break ground, in the vicinity.

“There’s a lot of activity in that area, and we need to have a critical mass of activity to get people to see what we see,” she said.

The association covers what she called the “historic retail core of Baltimore,” about 27 blocks in the area of Lexington Market.

Mitchell said she was excited to see a developer willing to take on the project and work to preserve the structure.

“This is really the type of thing we want to see here, the sort of small-scale, incremental project,” she said.

Shapiro said the project will be completed either later this year or spring of next year.

Jabber Five purchased the building in January of this year for $70,000, according to property records. Shapiro said the land was probably worth that much by itself.

“But the structure, and the meaning of it, is important, I think.”

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...

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