Very few restaurants are lucky enough to live one good life. But the property formerly at 1924 York Road hosted two Baltimore classics: the Tail of the Fox supper club and Shane’s restaurant.
Construction on the “Mad Men”-era Tail of the Fox began in spring 1963, and Baltimore magazine reported that the design of the new 20,000-square-foot Timonium “dining facility” was meant to “reflect the atmosphere of Maryland’s hunt country” via damask curtains and hardwood parquet floors. An architectural sketch showed the low-slung building framed by trees sitting back and slightly downhill from York Road. With its somber stone façade and 200 feet of winding driveway that led to a canopied entrance, it looked as much like a mid-century modern funeral home as it did a suburban dining club.
Inside, however, things were less sober. The private dining club, which in 1966 claimed to have more than 3,000 members, hosted monthly parties featuring big bands led by Guy Lombardo, Count Basie, Lionel Hampton and Woody Herman. There were oyster roasts and crab feasts, fashion shows and buffet brunches, the latter preceding the Fox-sponsored bus trips to Colts games. And a 1967 promotional piece in The Sun promised that “each woman [guest] receives an orchid and the wine sommelier delivers a frosty bottle of vin ordinaire to each table.” The accompanying photo suggests that these flourishes were always accompanied by candlelight and the serenade of a half-dozen violinists.
By 1978, the Tail of the Fox was a different animal. Now under the ownership of Baltimore lawyer Peter Angelos and renamed Shane’s, the restaurant offered up a French-Continental menu along with its own house big band, Shane’s Fancy. But more than Veal Oscar or crabmeat canapés or ballroom dancing, Shane’s was known for its décor, in which Angelos was speculated to have invested $3 million, The News American reported in 1979.
Variously described by several Sun critics as “overdone,” “pseudo-Victorian” and “preposterously grand,” Shane’s interior was a riot of styles, colors and textures. Or as former Sun dining critic Elizabeth Large wrote in 1983, “You don’t know eclectic until you’ve seen Shane’s dining rooms.”
Stained glass proliferated, from Tiffany-style lamps to window panels, so that any bit of sunshine could cause tiny diamonds of gold and green to dapple the thick carpets. Brass railings and crystal chandeliers shone with equal brilliance, and the sloping glass of the conservatory dining room allowed all manner of ferns to flourish.
Yet despite the glitter, Shane’s had a venerable solidity about it as well. The barn-like siding in the Custer Room was culled from Gen. George Custer’s parents’ home (the room also boasted an imposing rosewood fireplace that was said to have come from the Singer Mansion); the magnificent mahogany staircase that led to the lower level reportedly came from a luxury cruise ship; and Shane’s collection of bronze sculptures and fin de siècle art led both The Sun’s Carleton Jones and The News American’s Ed Gunts to make the comparison to Baltimore’s most famous restaurant/museum, Haussner’s.
Unlike Haussner’s, however, Shane’s offered live entertainment as well as visual overload. In 1979, Angelos approached Baltimore Actors’ Theatre executive director Walter Anderson to offer BAT a residency in a former ballroom in the restaurant’s lower level. For three years, patrons dined on steak au poivre or Long Island duckling before taking in productions of “Gypsy” or “Fiddler on the Roof.”
“It was a very intimate space,” remembers Anderson, who recalls the restaurant as “magnificent” and “one of the prettiest restaurants” he’d ever been in. “We just had a stage. We had a curtain. It wasn’t terribly big, but we managed to do a lot of shows there,” including a New Year’s Eve musical review preceded by dinner and followed by dancing and a hunt breakfast in the wee hours of the new year.
The relationship between BAT and the restaurant, says Anderson, was “very successful for us and for Shane’s.” “I guess we were a calling card in a way,” says Anderson. “We drew people from all over. It was a very lovely symbiotic relationship.”
During the 1980s Shane’s upstairs became the go-to spot for romantic evenings, from prom dinners to wedding proposals, while the downstairs banquet rooms held the subsequent wedding receptions as well as civic group luncheons and garden club meetings and a fair number of political gatherings.
In 1981, The Sun reported that 280 boosters, including Gov. Harry R. Hughes and City Council President Walter Orlinsky, attended a $500-per-couple fundraiser for Donald Hutchinson, then running for Baltimore County executive. And Tommy D’Alesandro’s 80th birthday party was celebrated at Shane’s in August 1983. Earlier that year, Shane’s was the site of a promotional lunch when Playboy introduced a new affiliation with Caltec cable, Baltimore County’s cable provider. “Food and drink and bunnies were provided,” ran The Sun’s wry commentary.
By the mid-80’s, reviews of the restaurant were mixed (“Underneath all that hoo-haa, Shane’s is a pretty good restaurant. ... The food may be a little variable, but it’s never bad,” wrote The Sun’s John Dorsey in 1986), and by 1989, Shane’s had disappeared from The Sun’s Dining Guide. The building sat vacant and was vandalized at least once during the early ’90s, before Angelos razed it in 1998 to make way for Foxtail Center. Today, Kinko’s and a FedEx occupy the space devoid of stained glass, sweeping staircases, and, alas, hoo-ha.