ROCKVILLE – “Definitely,” Olney Ale House owner John Roach said when asked if his 96-year-old historic restaurant would reopen following a fire on Dec. 3.
“We will reopen. I’m working as hard as I can,” he said.
He predicted the restaurant would begin serving meals again in “two months, maybe more, maybe less.”
The restaurant, which is located at 200 Olney Sandy Spring Road, was heavily damaged during a dinnertime fire that began in the kitchen.
Montgomery County Fire and Rescue Service Chief Spokesman Pete Piringer tweeted out that the fire was considered accidental and started around the stove and grill area of the kitchen. Combustible materials located too close together by the kitchen’s exhaust hood and ducts were the likely cause, he tweeted.
“The fire likely started in the kitchen and was at one point showing from the second story of the two-story restaurant,” according to the Sandy Spring Volunteer Fire Department, which was one of several departments that were on the scene from about 5:15 p.m. until 7:30 p.m.
During most of that time, traffic was not permitted on eastbound Route 108 between Old Vic Drive and Dr. Bird Road and in both directions at Dr. Bird Road and Batchellor’s Forest Road.
About 70 firefighters tended the blaze.
Piringer estimated the damage at $150,000 in contents and $100,000 in damage to the building.
Roach said damage occurred almost exclusively in the kitchen. The central part of the historic building, including the dining room and bar area, was unscathed, he said.
“The main part, the historic part, is still intact,” Roach said.
“No one was hurt,” Roach said, although he noted that one firefighter was treated for high blood pressure.
“The Montgomery County Fire Department was marvelous,” he said.
“We were just beginning our evening rush. The entire staff was here, but the tables were not full,” Roach said.
He was not at the restaurant when the fire began but arrived shortly afterward, he said.
According to the restaurant and bar’s website, Richard Bentley Thomas and Ethel Farquhar Thomas bought the five-acre property that was shaped like a triangle in 1923. At the time, there was a four-room log cabin where what is now a parking lot.
They soon began construction and added a kitchen, dining room and two bedrooms. They then opened the property up for business in 1924, calling it The Corner Cupboard.
They served homemade ice cream, bread and desserts and ham sandwiches using hams that were cured in their smokehouse.
Six years later, they added more bedrooms and a second floor and built a stone fireplace in the dining room.
Leftover rocks during the construction process were used to build a bell tower at Sherwood High School in Sandy Spring.
During this time, the log cabin was torn down, according to the website.
The business was sold in 1937 and became the Francis Lattie Inn. Since that time, it has changed hands and names several times.
It previously was known as The Anchorage and the Country Corner Inn. Although always a restaurant, at times, it was a tea house, a beer garden and a steak house.
It served famous people, including presidents Herbert Hoover, Harry and Bess Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, and entertainers Eve Arden, Burl Ives, Tyrone Powers, Chris and Susan Sarandon and Milo O’Shea, it was noted on the website.
In the 1970s, George, Fred and Anita Virkus purchased the restaurant and called it the Olney Ale House.
Then, in 2000, Roach took over.