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Cultured Swirl

Posted 6/6/2001

For some time now, folks in Sowebo have been telling the Nose that Mencken may be coming back to life. Well, OK, not exactly. What they told us is that they've seen workers tooling about inside 1114 Hollins St., erstwhile home of Mencken's Cultured Pearl Café. The closure of the quirky Mexican eatery and poetry/art space some two and a half years ago was a blow to the neighborhood both culturally and economically, a blow exacerbated by the subsequent loss of other restaurants and businesses. Did the presence of these laborers mean someone is resurrecting the former neighborhood anchor? Well . . . maybe. The rumor milling around Hollins Market is that Sowebo's onetime gathering spot is to become a "private club."

"That's what I've heard, but only secondhand," says Michael Dannenberg, president of the Hollins Market Neighborhood Association. "[Neighbors] have told me they've spoken to people in the building that have said it's going to be a private club." What these new folks and their new direction mean for the struggling Southwest Baltimore community is unclear. "I do know they haven't been good neighbors so far," Dannenberg says, citing restaurant refuse dumped behind a house on South Carrollton Street that he contends, with "little doubt," came from the former Pearl. "As a resident, I'm very concerned."

John Wesley, spokesperson for the city Department of Housing and Community Development, says converting the space from a public restaurant to a private club would require a new building-use permit, and he's found nothing in department files indicating such a request has been made. American Property Management, which manages the Pearl building, was unable to shed light on the situation--at least, not when we finally got ahold of the company, in the person of Sol.

"I don't have anything to say about it yet," said Sol, who offered nothing further in the way of a name or title. "I really must hang up now."

The actual owner of the old Pearl appears to be Stephen Loewentheil, who opened the restaurant in 1984 and runs a rare-book business a block to the east. Loewentheil didn't return calls for comment, but the Nose did learn that he has some unfinished business down the street. Per the housing department's Code Enforcement Legal Section, he is responsible for the rowhouses at 1110 and 1112 Hollins St., one and two doors down from the ex-Pearl, whose squalid state (1112 is largely roofless) has earned him a summons to Housing Court July 12.

Meanwhile, Sowebo scuttlebutt says the "club" was supposed to open June 1, a date that came and went with no action at the address. Though the interior of the long-mothballed restaurant has been spruced up a bit, it's unlikely to attract members anytime soon.

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