Baltimore dad Rob Frisch, along with business partner Dave Lichty, has owned the Mt. Washington Tavern for over a decade. Here, he shares his backstory, what keeps him inspired, changes – and what remains the same – at the restaurant, where generations of Baltimoreans have created memories.
How did you get started in the business? What made you want to become a restaurant owner? How did you get to where you are today?
I came home from college and a buddy of mine asked if I wanted to tend bar with him a few nights a week at a place called Alley Oops in Federal Hill. This was in the early 80s. I had a blast and never went back to school- I caught the restaurant bug.
Then I went down to Rehoboth and tended bar down there – and enjoyed it. I came back up and started at Mt. Washington Tavern in 1986 as a bartender and part time cook. I climbed the ladder and ended up as general manager.
About 10 years ago, the owner came to me and Dave (Lichty) and asked if we wanted to buy. Dave also started bartending with me back then. And we did.
Then, of course, came the horrific fire in 2012. That is not a phone call you ever want to get. But we rebuilt and came back stronger than ever.
What inspires you as a restaurant owner?
It might sound funny, but my employees. There are wait staff, bartenders and managers, who have been with us for 20 or 25 years. One guy is closing in on 37 years. That’s unheard of in the restaurant business. They are terrific. They just love food and the industry.
What changes have you seen in your time at the Tavern?
At the Tavern, we’ve never tried to be a trendsetter, but we do throw things out to see if they stick. We change the menu two or three times a year, which gives us the opportunity to try new items.
Right now, we’re really focused on the raw bar, with different types of seafood especially excited about the variety of oysters and oyster shooters. Behind the bar, bourbon has been hot for a while and we’re now starting to see the same thing happen with tequila. Back in the winter we introduced a specialty bourbon menu and now we are launching a tequila one.
Of course, craft beer is crazy hot and that inspires us, too. We have one person who does the beer menu. Local guys, like Union Craft and Flying Dog come in and do tastings and seasonal beers and we have our very own draft brew – Old Hilltop Lager – brewed by Heavy Seas.
We’re constantly seeing things change and tweaking the menu. It’s really fun for all of us.
Back in the day, we’d go through about 100 cases of Miller Lite a week. Now, if we go through 15, we’re shocked. It’s all craft and draught beers. What we find is that people come in and have a couple craft beers – it’s a more refined evening.
Things change, but there’s also continuity. Sometimes we look out in the dining room and see two-year olds with their grandmothers and great-grandmothers. We love that.
Are there are particular dishes that your guests are most enthusiastic about?
The Tavern steak has been a mainstay forever. It’s an aged New York strip crusted with pepper and pan seared. It’s simple and awesome. And our seasonal stuff – seafood like scallops and soft crabs. People love that.
What’s next for the Tavern? Any new developments in the works?
We have minor tweaks planned here and there with the building itself. We’re planting a trellis in the Sky Bar with bougainvillea – a green initiative we’re undertaking with the University of Maryland. We’re really looking forward to seeing how that will turn out.
And we always have a bunch of promotions happening, like Cinco de Mayo and Triple Crown cocktails with Sagamore Rye. In the summer, we do National Oyster Day and a huge promotion with Oyster Recovery Partnership. That’s always a great event.
Will your stroller fit? What kind of kid-friendly items are on the menu? Check out The Mt. Washington Tavern’s listing in our (cool) dining guide! Photos by Laura Black.