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Baltimore restaurants, hotels embrace Grand Prix
The days leading up to Baltimore’s inaugural IndyCar race, Judi DiGioia was, frankly, a little worried, about whether the thousands of racing fans descending on downtown Baltimore would fill the tables at Morton’s steak house, where she is sales and marketing manager.
DiGioia isn’t stressing anymore.

Since noon Friday, the restaurant along the 2.1-mile race course has been busy booking last-minute reservations as race fans arrive in Baltimore and start checking out the available restaurants. About 90 diners have made reservations for Friday night and the list for Saturday night is above 300, which has DiGioia smiling.

“All of a sudden, the adrenaline started to pop,” she said. “We’ve been taking reservations all day for tonight and tomorrow.”

Business has also been busy at Kona Grill on Pratt Street. The restaurant’s patio and bar have been full since it opened Friday and Kona has brought in employees from its restaurants in New Jersey and Virginia, as well as its Scottsdale, Ariz., headquarters to help with the rush, said Mark Underwood, the eatery’s general manager.

“We’re definitely beating sales for a Friday,” Underwood said. The restaurant has taken about 100 reservations for Friday night and another 100 for Saturday night. Kona Grill also extended its hours, keeping the bar open an extra hour on Friday and Saturday, until 2 a.m. and opening an hour earlier, at 10 a.m. on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

At the Hilton Baltimore, occupancy for Saturday night was already in the mid 90s by Friday afternoon. That number will increase as race fans without reservations come to the hotel looking to book rooms at the last minute, said Linda Westgate, the hotel’s general manager. For Friday night, reservations are running in the high 80s, significantly higher than the usual Labor Day weekend.

“We’re doing better than a typical Labor Day weekend for sure,” Westgate said.

Downtown hotels will see a 45 percent spike in revenue this weekend, compared with last year, said Visit Baltimore CEO Tom Noonan.

"This takes maybe my worst weekend of the year and makes it my best," Noonan said.

Hotel operators and restaurant owners are hoping out-of-town race fans like Jim and Suzy Irwin, of Suffield, Conn., will make this weekend a success.

The Irwins booked four nights at the Hilton, through Sunday. Jim Irwin figures that between meals and lodging, the couple will spend about $1,000 while they are here. It’s been about 15 years since Irwin, who used to live in Washington, D.C., has been to Charm City. He and his wife plan to check out the city’s restaurants while they are here.

“If we can get out to Fells Point and get some crab cakes, we’re going to do it,” he said.

Jerry Cline, of Downingtown, Pa., arrived in Baltimore Friday, looking forward to several days of watching Indy cars careen down the city’s streets. Cline, who booked two hotel nights, expects to spend about $1,500 on hotel, meals and race tickets. Had it not been for the races, Cline wouldn’t have found himself in Baltimore on a Labor Day weekend.

“I drive through it a lot,” he said.

Bill and Jisella Wise and their children, ages 1 and 5, in town for the race from Nottingham, Pa., will check out some of Baltimore’s tourist attractions. They planned to head to the Baltimore Museum of Art after watching Friday’s practice session followed by dinner at a local restaurant.

“I don’t know what restaurant we’re going to, but we’re going to be somewhere for dinner,” Bill Wise said. Baltimore Business Journal

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