When Ernest Murphy revived Mount Vernon's lagging but legendary Eager House restaurant a decade ago, he joked about the risk he was taking. "Want to know how to make a small fortune?" he would ask patrons. "Start with a large fortune and invest in a restaurant." The happy-go-lucky banter, the Nose is sad to say, proved prophetic. On March 14, the three-building parcel drew a winning bid of $215,000, well below its assessed value of $500,000. Murphy had paid $350,000 for it in 1992 and sunk an estimated $800,000 more into renovations."It's a tragedy," a stunned Murphy murmured in the auction's aftermath.
"My heart goes out to you, my friend," a well-wisher said, slapping him on the back and reminding him of the tax write-off the paltry return will mean. "Well, it's out of my life," Murphy sighs, shrugging as he stands in front of his just-sold buildings.
The original Eager House restaurant was opened in 1947 and lasted until the early '80s. But in Murphy's hands, the three-property parcel--13-15 Eager St. and the adjoining 917 Cathedral St.--hosted a series of short-lived enterprises. Murphy's new Eager House didn't last long and, in the late '90s, was replaced with Fabulous Follies, where lingerie-clad pole dancers would cut steaks for patrons. Then Paloma's nightclub opened in 1999, and appeared to make good money for a year or so catering to the city's chic, young hipsters. More recently, though, Paloma's copped a punk-tinged reggae-faire attitude that seemed hard on business and rough on the real estate. The Cathedral Street building, meanwhile, remained vacant except for a brief stint last year, when it hosted the Talking Head, a budding music venue that has since moved to a larger space downtown.
So what's in store for the star-crossed parcel? The new owner, Tony Toskov, says he plans to restore it to its Eager House-era splendor and lease it to a reputable restaurateur. Toskov, though, hardly seems the staid old-timer the old steakhouse used to draw. Judging from his other establishment, the sprawling Cancun Cantina nightclub in Hanover, near BWI Airport, and his other interests--the Glen Burnie-based All Stretched Out Limousine Service and an offshore-racing powerboat--the Nose presumes Toskov's tastes are a bit more ostentatious than the red leather, oak paneling, and antique maritime decor of the Eager House.
Toskov's 15 minutes of fame came during the Ray Lewis fiasco in February 2000, at the Super Bowl in Atlanta, when two men were stabbed to death near Lewis and his rented limousine. The Ravens football star had rented the 37-foot-long ride from Toskov's limo company. After Lewis was acquitted of the murder charges, the notoriety was good for Toskov's business. But in the wee hours of a May morning in 2000, Toskov's wallet took a hit--$40,000 in small bills walked out of the Cancun Cantina, apparently the work of professional burglars.
Still, his $1.3 million in Anne Arundel County real estate holdings indicate Toskov is a man of some means--and the Nose hopes it rubs off in Mount Vernon.