The homey atmosphere of Mt. Washington Tavern, a fixture in the Mount Washington neighborhood of Baltimore, doesn’t just come from the restaurant’s décor. Members of the Frisch family have poured their hearts into running the restaurant since patriarch Rob Frisch first became an employee in 1986, slowly turning it into a family affair.
Now a co-owner with David Lichty, Frisch is passing the baton to the next generation of the Frisch legacy: his children Buck Frisch and Lindsay Frisch Irvin.
Though it will be a few years before the paperwork is official, the brother-sister pair have taken on day-to-day leadership roles to learn the ins and outs of every position at the restaurant in preparation for their transition to ownership.
Buck says the restaurant has felt like a second home his entire life—even in the womb, when his mother worked as one of its bartenders.
“We were never pushed to take over the business, but I think we’ve always felt that we would,” Buck says. “I’m proud of working at the tavern—of our food, our staff; it’s an incredible place and everyone there feels like our family.”
He and Frisch Irvin have big shoes to fill. The restaurant has been a neighborhood staple since its humble beginnings nearly half a century ago.
Founded in 1979 by a group of friends who wanted to create an original restaurant, the tavern continues to serve up dishes that incorporate local ingredients and the seafood that Maryland is best known for—even though its visionaries are no longer involved.
“Our staff has over 400 years of combined service, which is pretty unheard of in the restaurant business,” notes Rob. “We take really good care of our customers and know them all by name.” Because of its longevity, many of the tavern’s regulars have been eating there for years—or even decades.
Multiple members of the Frisch family work at Mt. Washington Tavern, including Buck’s wife and director of marketing, Maddie Frisch.
“Growing up in the industry, we always had a lot of fun cooking as a family,” recalls Buck. “My first real restaurant job was right after I graduated college in Vermont. I started bartending and kind of fell in love with it.” (He met and fell in love with Maddie while bartending, too.)
Mt. Washington Tavern wears its Baltimore influence proudly on its sleeve, from the dishes it serves to its decor. Each of its rooms represents different regions in Maryland. The Chesapeake Room brings to mind the natural wildlife of the Chesapeake Bay, while the Pimlico Room’s furnishings take inspiration from the historic Pimlico Race Course.
As a restaurant with a lot of history, the Mt. Washington Tavern has been through a lot—most notably, a multi-alarm fire that destroyed part of the building in 2011, forcing the restaurant to close for over a year.
On Halloween night, “We had a pesticide company come in to treat our kitchen,” Rob explains. “They suggested we do a high-heat remedial treatment, where they would raise the temperature of the kitchen up to 260 degrees and that would kill anything and everything that was living in the kitchen. But it was the first time they had tried the treatment, and they ended up burning the building down.”
The tavern closed for a year in order to rebuild and renovate, leaving the community uncertain of its return. But, in November 2012, its doors opened to reveal a fresh interior.
“We’re very fortunate to have excellent insurance,” Rob admits.
Its history of resilience and Baltimore pride aside, the space would not have lasted as long as it has without delicious food. Currently, two chefs run the roost., A.M. Chef Carl Gray and P.M. Chef Steve Johnson, who are expected to continue under new ownership.
Rob says the tavern typically changes its menu three times per year. “We look at sales trends and the volume of each item we sell, and if there’s dead weight, we cut it out and replace it with something else,” he says.
But there are some tavern classics that have stuck around for years. The Old Hilltop Omelet, a brunch entree stuffed with Virginia ham and diced cheddar, is a favorite on the brunch menu. Many of the tavern’s seafood dishes are popular, including the drunken mussels and Chesapeake rockfish. (The latter is a favorite of the whole Frisch family.)
“I have favorites in every category on our menu, but I always love the rockfish,” notes Frisch Irvin.
And there are dishes like the Tavern Steak, a 16-ounce New York strip steak that has been consistent on the menu, using the same recipe, for the entire length of the restaurant’s operation. “It’s tried and true, and it’s been on the menu so long for a reason,” Rob says. “It’s a winner.”
Ultimately, variety is the spice of life when it comes to the Mt. Washington Tavern’s menu, and there is a large selection of dishes that should satisfy even the most particular palettes.
“You could come in seven days a week and have completely different meals each time, and that’s inviting,” Buck says.
Rob says he likes to use other restaurants for inspiration, both locally and in the D.C. area. He looks at menus and adjusts accordingly when he finds dishes he can put a Mt. Washington Tavern spin on.
But no matter what, the restaurant will continue to serve up the same beloved dishes that made it a neighborhood favorite among locals 43 years ago, with a Frisch family twist.
“We want people to know that we’re a family-run business,” Rob says. “We thought we’d all get along terrifically and help each other out, and it’s been terrific.”