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Plans for 'The Rat' move forward

After closing its doors nearly five years ago, a Chapel Hill landmark might finally get its second wind.

The Ramshead Rathskeller, a restaurant famed among UNC alumni and Chapel Hill residents for more than 60 years, will have its new location finalized this week.

Diane Fountain, a future owner of “The Rat,” said she expects to announce the new location any day now — and the restaurant could open before the end of football season.

“The lease has been approved by the landlord,” she said, adding that her attorney is now working to finalize it.

Fountain said the new space will have access from both Franklin and Rosemary streets.

The original Rathskeller was widely known for its cellar location, but she said the new site will have 30-foot ceilings and large windows.

The Rat was first opened in 1948 by the Danzigers, a family of Austrian immigrants. In 2008, under new owners, the business closed its doors, seemingly for good.

Fountain first tried to reopen the restaurant in its original location below Franklin Street and across from Bandido’s Mexican Cafe in 2010. She tried again in August 2011 and in early 2012 — but each time, she hit roadblocks.

Structural damages to the roof of the site and differences between Fountain and landlord Mary Stockwell caused the lease to be terminated March 9.

Stockwell, who is the general manager for Munch Family Properties LLC and part owner of the 157 E. Franklin St. building where The Rat was originally housed, said damage to the building has been fixed.

Fountain said the other investors are very excited about the new site, and she will make it a priority to keep the feeling of the original Rathskeller intact.

“We’re going to have the cave,” she said. “We’ll have a ceiling underneath that ceiling, and we’ll have geodes and stalagmites and stalactites.”

Chapel Hill muralist Michael Brown said he will be working on the interior design of The Rat.

“The first time I went to The Rat was 1961, I think,” he said. “I was a little kid, so I’ve been there a lot of times.”

“We’re going to shoot for a very similar ambiance,” Brown said. “Fun, mystery, circus, going down an alley to get there — which is all part of the fun, really.”

He said he is excited to start the design, but he doesn’t know when the process will begin.

“I just have to be sensitive to the construction people and architect and investors,” he said.

Loryn Clark, neighborhood and community services manager with the Chapel Hill Planning Department, said the department had no permits on file for The Rat’s new location.

But Clark said it’s not unusual for a new business to wait until its lease is finalized to begin applying for planning and sign permits.

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