The New Old Stein
Phoenix-like, a local landmark ravaged by fire has risen in time to celebrate Oktoberfest
On the second Friday of the Old Stein’s new lease on life, the liter glasses — each bearing the logo of one of the resurrected German bierstube’s 10 taps — stand ranged and polished on the shelves of a new-old, laborious refurbished bar, ready to be filled, raised and joined.
But it’s not yet time to shout zum Wohl!
Carpenters Scott Griffiths and Jeff Mattero pace the brand-new Honduran mahogany floor. Wainscoting — trucked with the century-old bar from Carmine’s, a former Manhattan landmark — is just up, rusticating the walls. Still, the workmen are not quite ready to sign off on the job that’s possessed them over the 90-plus-degree, 12-hour days of summer, from demolition through cleaning to framing to finishing to a hundred last acts of fine-tuning.
Walls are unmarred white, wood shines in booths and bar, floors are polished to perfection. Even more important to Old Stein devotees, kegs are frosted in the walk-in refrigerator, lines are flowing, taps are ready to be pulled. Chandeliers — bought years back from Baltimore’s Second Chance architectural salvage — are finally hung, and strands of white lights are strung to twinkle in the trees shading the biergarten. Line chefs are chopping in the new stainless steel kitchen, where spatzel is boiling, potatoes frying and red cabbage simmering.
Co-owners Mike and Beth Selinger decorate the Old Stein.
“Still,” says partner Beth Selinger, “we’re barely open.”
Where are the decorations? guests at the first week’s soft opening wanted to know. The answer is that, ash-covered and unpolished, they are on their way to the dump.
“Casualties of the fire,” says owner Mike Selinger as he climbs atop his polished bar to hang new reminders of the fatherland, birthplace of his parents Karl and Ursula, who opened the Old Stein Inn on Mayo Road in 1983.
“Do you have a plan?” asks wife Beth as Mike hammers. “Don’t you think we should look at them all before we nail any up?”
Mike shrugs his shoulders. Can’t we glide over this detail after agonizing over so many others, he seems to say.
“Forty-five minutes to opening!” new chef Jason Howard, born and trained in Germany, announces.
Eight months is a long time between openings. Is the new Old Stein ready for the people to pour in?
Eight Months from Old to New
“Had you been here on August 15, with 40 guys stepping over each other, you would not believe we could have lived up to our plan to open August 31,” says Beth Selinger.
There was logic to that date, picked months earlier when the Old Stein sat in ruins and Mike loitered, hour after hour, in Anne Arundel County permitting offices, petitioning for the right to rebuild. Eight months to the day earlier, on December 31, 2010, the Selingers woke to a phone call reporting that the Old Stein was on fire.
Not 50 yards from their family home, where their three young sons were sleeping, Selinger found his parking lot full of fire trucks, their sirens off so the firefighters had clear communication. Flames, smoke and stench poured out of The Old Stein; water from the firefighters’ hoses poured in.
Everything inside the old building was destroyed by the combination of fire, smoke and water. The food and drink stocked up for New Year’s Eve was ruined. But the loss was not total. The building stood, giving the Selingers the foundation on which to rebuild their dream.
“It’s definitely our place now,” says Beth. “It’s exactly how we wanted it to look.”
But will the old rhythms still flow?
The parking lot fills swiftly, not with fire trucks but with customers eager for remembered tastes made more savory by eight months of deprivation.
Mike Selinger stands at the entrance, greeting well-wishers, teasing that the beer taps have already run dry.
“Fire, earthquake, hurricane, tornado: Nothing keeps us down,” he says.
The entry door is a rustic wooden masterpiece of new construction. Noise and color and merriment greet you — along with throng of servers, mostly girls and boys wearing team jerseys branded with the The New Old Stein … Phoenix Rising.
In the bar, booths and stools are full; there is no shortage of guests or beer. Carmine’s old bar gleams, rising to the occasion.
In the cathedral-ceiling dining room, booths and long tables are crammed with diners and drinkers raising their glasses in toasts. The lights are dimmed, adding drama and contrast to the revelry.
Outdoors, the nearly full biergarten has a new orientation and new stone walls but is as welcoming as ever.
Crowd favorite Sylvia returns to the new Old Stein this weekend.
The taps are flowing, wursts and schnitzels perfuming the air.
The new menu is much like the old, with a lighter touch, more salads, fish — and more dishes coming after the looming rush of Oktoberfest.
“It’s healthier, with a modern influence,” says Mike Selinger. “Last night’s special, a brat stuffed with Gouda cheese and wrapped in bacon — sold out.”
Hundreds of customers pass through The Old Stein’s doors on this Friday night, the second before the Selingers dare their grand reopening, complete with Sylvia the strolling accordionist, on the weekend beginning Thursday, September 15.
“The customers are bringing their energy back,” says Beth. “It’s a wonderful thing.”