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Historic Newport Building Will Be Transformed for Popular Restaurant's New Location

The old building at 736 Washington Avenue in Newport has welcomed good-timers to Mary Lou's Bar & Grille for decades. The nicotine-stained walls and relics from days gone by were all that remained during a recent visit by The River City News to witness the beginning of a major transformation.

The property was recently purchased by Mansion Hill Properties, the Newport-based development team of Jim Bush and Mark Ramler that specializes in renovating historic properties. A few blocks north in the East Row neighborhood, another business was vacating its spot. Katharina's Cafe - the new darling of Newport's food scene with an authentic German menu - celebrated its final weekend on Overton Street with friends and music.

In a few months, the dingy old Mary Lou's will be spruced up, restored, and ready to reopen - as the new location of Katharina's.

"It's pretty surreal, emotional, exciting, and sad to leave the space," Elena Williams said of her restaurant which has operated for nearly three years. Recent buzz and magazine profiles including a 2015 article in The River City News brought visitors from all over to Katharina's. Diners from Columbus, Dayton, Louisville, and even Los Angeles and Chicago flocked to Newport to munch on Williams' now famous baguette and brotchen sandwiches, sausages, and schnitzel wiener art. 

When the cafe reopens after the extensive renovation of the old Mary Lou's, Williams and company will have more room to work with, and more food to play with. There will be liquor, too. "We'll be a restaurant," she said, "bigger, with our weekly specials returning, the steak meal, the fish, a full bar with wine and liquor, German draft beers, and a local beer."

Those drinks will be enjoyed in a new biergarten that Mansion Hill is installing at the site. The cinder block addition on the building will be removed to make way for the outdoor space, Ramler said, and will allow dozens to eat and drink outside. 

The timing of the building's purchase and Katharina's search for a new location worked out well for both parties. 

"They needed a new space and we were looking for something in that part of town," Ramler said. "I think it's going to be a home run. Historic rehabs are what we do. This is an eyesore and we're going to make it into one of the nicest places in Newport."

Ramler's research on the old Mary Lou's property revealed the building's connection to another famous Newport operation: the Wiedemann Brewery. The building was constructed in the 1870s as a feed store but was bought by the Wiedemanns in 1912. Ramler found the blueprints for the what the brewers created at the site. Lots of ancient wallpaper and decor were also discovered.

Now the building gets to be part of a new chapter in Newport's history. "We're going to recreate what's here," Williams said of her now former space, with its soft and bright colors and comfortable atmosphere that smells like breakfast in Munich. "We'll have the same colors, the same feel, that comfort that our customers draw from us. We don't want to lose that."

The new location will allow for more catering opportunities as well as private events on the upper floor. The meal of the week will return, something like goulash, spaetzle, and sauerbraten, with changes throughout the year. 

Renovations on the property have begun and the team hopes to reopen Katharina's in September.

Written by Michael Monks, editor & publisher