The old bar was heaped with dusty bottles of booze, bitters and Tabasco sauce. And one of the stained glass windows was busted.
But the tables were still covered with white tablecloths – places set with silverware and red cloth napkins, as if awaiting tonight’s dinner crowd.
And there was still that albino snakeskin wallpaper, heavily rust-stained, and the tacked-up sheets of metal salvaged from a B-52 bomber, silvery and gleaming as ever.
“It’s all pretty much gutted now,” said Brad Shapiro, of Jabber Five, new owners of the former Martick’s Restaurant Francois at 214 West Mulberry Street.
After news broke recently of the sale of the onetime grocery store, speakeasy, beatnik bar and home to Morris Martick’s Dada-esque humor and heavenly bouillabaisse, we contacted Shapiro.
He described what it looked like when he first went inside the dilapidated building and explained to us the concept of the new restaurant he hopes will open there after repairs are completed late this year or early next year.
“It’s going to be global, home-style, simple cooking,” Shapiro said. “Upstairs there’s going to be a ‘live-work’ artist’s space.”
Declining to name names, Shapiro said the new operator plans to keep the long wooden bar.
As for the old operator – Morris Martick, who was born in the building – he closed up the restaurant in 2008. He died in 2011 at the age of 88.
There was talk a while back of the building being re-opened as a speakeasy-themed restaurant, but that fizzled. In 2013, the Martick’s liquor license – one of the oldest in the city, dating back to just after Prohibition – was transferred.
Today, the three-story brick structure, acquired by Jabber earlier this year, is clearly in need of major repair.
Shapiro, who is trying to line up historic tax credits for the project, made photos available that show a deteriorated roof, a propped-up ceiling, peeling paint and sagging shutters.
Bohemians and Gourmets
Along with those snapshots of current-day dilapidation, however, Shapiro also showed us photos chronicling the storied past of its owner, who sat down with The Brew’s Mark Reutter ten years ago for lengthy interviews.
Morris Martick, the life of a Baltimore original:
PART 1: “If it wasn’t for my bad attitude, I wouldn’t be here today.”
PART 2: What was the best dish at his restaurant? “Confusion.”
Shapiro’s stash of images includes family photos.
“My parents were dirt poor,” Martick told the Brew’s Mark Reutter. “They were born in Poland, came to Baltimore in 1917 and opened a grocery store in this building.”
After his father died and his mother’s health declined, Martick took over and the bar acquired a bohemian clientele. Photos from that era show a room full of sharply-dressed patrons, listening to live jazz music. (Martick says Billie Holiday performed there.) Another shows two sailors about to enter.
There was a daily rhythm to his workday. In the morning (he still diligently opened shop at 6), there were a handful of drinkers, nearly all Chinese from the surrounding blocks. At lunchtime, the artists straggled in.
By 5 p.m., reporters and editors from the Sunpapers mingled with some stockbrokers and street bums. By evening, it was a gay bar. Later at night it became a college bar. Or vice versa.
Eventually, fed up with that scene, Martick shuttered the bar, went off to France and learned the restaurant business “from the ground up.”
Reopened with a menu of classic French cuisine, prepared by Martick himself – beef burgundy, Parisian-style pate, Salmon Florentine – Martick’s Restaurant Francais was a hit. But it was still a haven for artists and assorted non-conformists, a tone set by the proprietor.
Photos from this era show Martick hamming it up outside for a photographer or at the stove upstairs (that’s where the kitchen was) in his shorts (his standard cooking uniform).
When a new customer asked what Morris would recommend, he’d invariably say, “Another restaurant.”
Another shot from that era shows a smiling, silver-haired woman in a mink stole watching Martick flambé a dish at table.
“His restaurant,” as Reutter wrote in his profile, “was a catalyst of several cultural and culinary trends in this city – a speakeasy that featured emerging artists and cultivated young musicians, a restaurant that introduced fine cuisine to a mashed potato and burger town. And yet he remained firmly rooted within himself.”
Still, as Morris made clear to Mark, he never liked being called “eccentric.”
He viewed the word as condescending and implying some kind of pathology. Rather than eccentric, his approach to life was unique, governed by his gimlet eye for the absurd and the ever-present need “to make a buck, boss” – “boss” being his customary salutation.
From his deadpan humor (surgically delivered in nasal Bawlmerese) to his business model (developing and sustaining a one-person French restaurant for 38 years), Mrs. Martick’s son came from a different mold.