Bay Reflection
Farewell: Busch's Chesapeake Inn
by Christopher Heagy

Coil up your ropes,

and anchor here,

till better weather,

doth appear.

   -Plaque with a wooden captain in the Snug Harbor room

The parking lot fills up one final time October 11. Customers flow through the doors and around the restaurant. But today, they are not serving food. Mounted fish, silverware, coffee cups and artwork are on the menu.

A felt sign in the hallway advertises the catered platters and lobster prices. The plastic letters are gone but the words remain, dark blue on a faded background. The liquor bottles that held the final drinks linger on carts in the bar.

The gigantic sign off Route 50 for Busch's Chesapeake Inn, a landmark for locals and visitors has a simple message: "Thanks for 53 years."

Busch's is a maze of rooms. "The Red Lobster," "The Severn Room," "The Diver's Den," "The FO'c'SLE," "The Chart Room," "The Mainbrace," "The Chesapeake Room" and "Snug Harbor." One room turns into the next, hallways lead to server stations, wine cellars, nooks and crannies. A slow horn rhythm pours out of the speakers throughout the restaurant, sounding a final encore to the character that is vanishing.

The sounds of the auction grow. "Say hundred dolla', hundred dolla' bid, hundred dolla' bid, let's go. One an' a quarter, one an' a quarter, one an' half, one an' a half. Twooo hundred dollars. We got a sale goin' on."

Things always start small. In 1946, Route 50 was just a two-lane road. The Bay Bridge was still a dream a half-dozen years away. Ferry boats connected us to the Eastern Shore, and a small restaurant opened just east of Annapolis.

The building was 20 feet by 20 feet, without plumbing or electricity. Busch's started as a hamburger stand on the side of the road, serving food, lemonade and cold beer. As years passed, Annapolis spread, Route 50 expanded, and Busch's grew with it all.

The first restaurant was 16,000 square feet when it burned down in November of 1977. It took over a year, but the new restaurant grew even bigger: 22,000 square feet. For five decades the Buschs' goal remained consistent. As the menu says, "Fine dining in True Maryland Tradition."

A wine cork wreath sells for $10, a salt-water fish tank costs $100, a huge mounted blue marlin brings the Busch family $300.

News broke in late September that Busch's would be closing its doors. Wawa Food Markets made an offer, and the family accepted. October 3 was the restaurant's final day.

"We weren't looking to sell," says Robert Busch Jr. "Nothing was wrong with the business. The offer came through, and we discussed it as a family. Our interests were diversifying. The time was just right."

As the Busches head into new directions, we are left to consider what we have lost.

The "jumbo lump" crabcakes, oyster stew, deviled crab balls and rockfish stuffed with crab imperial are no longer, to be replaced by bad subs, stale pizza and barbecue potato chips.

The photographs of watermen, the hanging stained glass lamps, the green carpet with the pinkish seashells, the model ships and the carving of a wooden mermaid are gone, to be replaced by a generic gas station that looks the same on Route 64 in North Carolina or Route 176 in Pennsylvania or Route 50 in Maryland.

The bartender who knew just how you liked your martini, the manager who knew you by name, the place where you met an old friend every July has disappeared, to be replaced by a gas pump where you swipe your credit card and leave without talking to an employee or fellow customer.

When landmarks like Busch's disappear, we lose not only what was built, collected and kept over 46 years, but also a bit of our identity. When they are replaced by convenience stores, our town loses some of its uniqueness and the forces of conformity bear in upon us. Something is gone that a gas station can never replace, that a fast food shop can't compare to.

| Issue 41 |

Volume VII Number 41
October 14-20, 1999
New Bay Times

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