Regular readers of this column know that I'm a proud son of Little Italy, but following the Great Recession of '08-'09, I've been a little worried about my old stomping grounds. That's because the downturn, which took a painful toll on businesses large and small, was especially hard on restaurants, as worried consumers stayed home to husband their financial resources. Other enterprises that have really felt the pain, for the same reason, are performing arts venues and cultural attractions.
Great neighborhood restaurants are the lifeblood of Little Italy, so I've been thrilled to see a couple of things going on there that bode well for the future.
You can read about one of those positive signs in Brennen Jensen's feature this month on Germano's Trattoria, one of Little Italy's well-known dining destinations, which has ginned up new business and an interesting following with its intimate, second-floor cabaret nights. They're drawing music lovers from all over the Baltimore-Washington area and performers from all over the country, who delight scores of patrons up to four nights a week with everything from Broadway tunes to opera.
Not only have the up-close-and-personal performances turned out to be a hit, but I also suspect that it's attacting opera lovers (of which I am one) suffering serious withdrawal since the sad collapse last year of The Baltimore Opera Company.
Another positive development of a different nature was the purchase in February at auction for $1.45 million of the parcel on which the dormant Boccaccio Restaurant stands. This was another dining landmark in the neighborhood for many years, but it closed in 2008 after the death of its owner, Giovanni Rigato. It was quietly purchased by my good friend Peter Angelos, who is known best as one of the region's most powerful attorneys and as majority owner of the Orioles. (I'm also an investor and a rabid fan.) Over the years, he has also become a commericial property owner, purchasing the One Charles Center office tower at 100 N. Charles St., the Johns Hopkins Downtown Center at Charles and Fayette Streets, and the old Fidelity and Deposit building on Charles Street.
But the purchase wasn't just about coldblooded investment: Angelos was a frequent patron of the restaurant since it opened in 1992 and understands the importance that Little Italy's unique old-world character and economic health play in the general future of downtown.
Whether he reopens it as the favorite restaurant of VIPs, with its distinctive northern Italian cuisine (it was sold with all of its kitchen equipment), or chooses to find another use for it, it's still great news that a shuttered landmark has been rescued.
And it's better news yet that the guy who bought it knows and loves Little Italy, a view shared by most in Little Italy, including Rigato's widow, Mary. We look forward to hearing what Angelos's plans are for this important stitch in the neighborhood's fabric.