Sailor Oyster Bar staff prepare to reopen. Photo: David Lebow/Instagram

Beloved Annapolis Oyster Bar, Lost in 2022 Fire, Reopens

A restaurant opening in Annapolis always garners some excitement, but this week, it’s a reopening that is bringing joy and excitement. Sailor Oyster Bar, a West Street rowhouse spot with eclectic oysters, craft cocktails and inventive pairings on the menu, has been closed since June 2022.

It was around 8 p.m. on June 8, 2022, when flames moved through the back of the restaurant. Suddenly, the computer system went down, prep cooks noticed a funny smell from upstairs, and the diners saw smoke out the window. Thankfully, everyone escaped unharmed and the quick response of 56 firefighters ensured the fire didn’t spread down West Street.

But owners Scott and Gabrielle Herbst were forced to shut down Sailor, a business that Scott saw more as a home. “It’s not a restaurant, it’s our house. When people come in, we treat them like they’re guests in our house,” he said of the bar’s devoted clientele.

The fire was ruled accidental, caused by improperly discarded smoking materials.

In a interview with Chesapeake Bay Magazine a few days later, Scott Herbst shared what it felt like to lose “things on the walls that my wife and I spent our lives collecting, things that were sentimental and irreplaceable.” But, he noted then, “it’s still just stuff. It could have been so much worse.”

The community rallied around Sailor and its employees with at least three GoFundMe pages. Other restaurants held their own fundraisers for the oyster bar. Rebuilding was expected to take 15 months or more. And 20 months later, on Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2024, the Herbsts reopened their doors to the public.

The restored Sailor Oyster Bar this week. Photo: Stacey Gembicki.

They ensured all kinks were ironed out with a couple of soft-launch private events during the week leading up to the reopening. Herbst’s friends and neighbors Stacey and Mark Gembicki were there Thursday evening and say the mood at the bar was all gratefulness and excitement.

The Gembickis say Sailor is community-focused, fostering a sense of comradery with other businesses in the area. Stacey and Mark are part owners in a Puerto Rican rum distillery, and they chose Sailor’s reopening as the perfect place and time to debut their first rum in the United States.

The spirit, called Bohique, is a botanical spiced rum that Sailor is mixing into a cocktail with brandy and bitters. The bar is known for its daring cocktails and sometimes surprising menu items. Mark Gembicki gives the example of a bologna sandwich that turned out to be a hit at Sailor.

Regulars love the family feel of the place, along with the vintage nautical aesthetic seen in the 1940s and ’50s art on the walls, sailor stripes and tattoos.

Sailor Oyster Bar at 196 West Street, Annapolis, is open at 4 p.m. Tuesday through Sunday, and it’s best to be there when they open if you can.