Gerard B. "Jerry" Dotterweich, former owner of Jerry D's Saloon, a popular Parkville watering hole that was known for its generous drinks, conviviality, hand-cut steaks and gravy-drenched Murphy fries, died Friday of congestive heart failure at his Bird River home.
He was 87.
"Jerry was the greatest bar owner since Rick, owner of Cafe Americain, in the movie 'Casablanca,'" said Larry Harris, a retired Evening Sun sports reporter and editor, and a longtime Jerry D's patron.
"He had been at it for so long and had a devoted customer base that spanned all age groups. He was just tremendous, and quite a character when you got to know him," Mr. Harris said.
The son of Andrew H. Dotterweich Sr., co-owner of the Stenger Broom Factory, and Ida E. Dotterweich, a homemaker, Gerard Brannon Dotterweich was born in Baltimore and raised in Highlandtown and later in Parkville.
A 1947 graduate of Mount St. Joseph High School in Irvington, Mr. Dotterweich briefly attended what is now Loyola University Maryland before dropping out and becoming a partner in D&W Floor Surfacing Co
Drafted into the Army in 1951, he served with an intelligence unit in Korea and attained the rank of sergeant.
After leaving the Army, Mr. Dotterweich returned to Baltimore, where he sold his floor-surfacing business and in 1955 purchased the two-cab Blue & Gray Taxi Co., which he operated until 1960.
In 1961, he opened his first bar, Jerry's Belvedere Tavern, at the corner of Northern Parkway and York Road, with two partners, whom he soon bought out.
"I spent most of my free time in a bar socializing with friends," he told Katie E. Block, a Jerry D's waitress, who later wrote about Mr. Dotterweich in an unpublished profile for a college writing class.
"I had this idea for a tavern where people could come and not feel like a stranger. And when I opened my first bar, I found out each of my customer's names nonchalantly, without them knowing. Later, I would acknowledge them by name. It made them feel wanted," he told Ms. Block.
"I would thank them for stopping by. They became my friends. People just kept coming in, new and old," he said.
Mr. Dotterweich worked from 6 a.m. to 2 a.m., seven days a week, and prepared five lunch specials that cost less than a dollar, according to Ms. Block.
He was aided in his work by his mother, who cooked in the kitchens at the York Road and later Harford Road location.
Patrons came for his subs, steak sandwiches, omelets, and other menu items.
"At noon, Jerry stood in the window of the Belvedere Tavern and cut fresh pit beef for sandwiches and platters," Ms. Block wrote.
In the evening, he went behind the bar and served chilled 15-cent glasses of National Premium and Schlitz beer.
Jerry's Belvedere soon became a destination for people from all walks of life, a place where blue-collar workers and retirees mixed easily with TV celebrities from nearby WMAR, lawyers, newspaper reporters, doctors and politicians.
During one blizzard, a customer on horseback arrived at the packed tavern, whose inebriated patrons decided to invite the horse in for a drink — with Mr. Dotterweich's approval.
"Surprisingly, the horse was on his best behavior, keeping his bathroom business outdoors," he told Ms. Block. "I think the horse rather enjoyed himself. I know we did."
Mr. Dotterweich sold the business in 1977 to Pietro "Pete" Rugolo, and his wife, Beatrice Varelli Rugolo, and opened Jerry D's Saloon on Harford Road in Parkville.
His new establishment was known for its bare wood floors, bentwood chairs, Tiffany lamps, walls decorated with a collection of Native American and railroad photographs, and tree-trunk tables where diners could tuck into a 14- to 16-ounce Delmonico steak or an 18- to 20-ounce porterhouse.
"I've been cutting my own meats for 35 years," he told Ms. Block. "I wouldn't have it any other way. My customers expect quality and quantity for a great price. So that is what they get."
In a 1981 Evening Sun article, reviewer Joe D'Adamo described menu items, such as the hand-cut steaks, lobster tails, oysters and crab cakes, as "gargantuan." He also proffered advice for first-time customers.
"So, a word to the wise: If you've never been to Jerry's place, look as if you belong. Don't wear a coat, or if you do, hang it up on one of the convenient wall hangers," he wrote.
"Definitely put your elbows on the sturdy and shiny tree-trunk tables. And you needn't whisper from fear of offending other patrons, who are probably sitting closer than you would like," Mr. D'Adamo wrote.
Another house specialty were the Murphy fries — thick round slices of potato, with the skin on, which were then covered with a brown gravy.
"He was very much a meat-and-potato type of guy. He loved steak, oysters and beer," said a nephew, Andrew T. Dotterweich of Oakland, N.J.
"Jerry was a dour, old sourpuss type of guy who looked like he wanted to knock your block off. He had a very stern visage," Mr. Harris said.
"But underneath that was a totally generous person who gave and gave to Mount St. Joe, sponsored soccer teams and other things. No one ever knew about that because he was a very private person," he said. "He bailed out lots of people and had great empathy for his employees."
"He treated all his employees well, but he wanted things done right. He had a strong work ethic," said his stepdaughter, Jana M. Leonard of Parkville, who began working for Mr. Dotterweich when she was a high school student. "He looked on his employees as being his family."
Mr. Dotterweich added a seafood carryout and catering operation next door to Jerry D's and purchased 66 percent of Parkville Savings and Loan.
He sold his businesses — which retain their original names — in 2004 and retired.
Mr. Dotterweich wasn't content just being another comfortable millionaire. He drew pleasure in helping provide meals for senior citizens, supporting adult soccer and softball teams, contributing to Parkville High School for their sports teams and helping establish computer labs, family members said.
He supported many other charities, including one for children with diabetes, as well as other medical causes.
Mr. Dotterweich enjoyed playing golf at Eagle's Nest, where he was a charter member, and attending family gatherings.
"Because all he knew was restaurant-style size, he'd come to family gatherings with 15 pounds of steamed shrimp or 15 gallons of oyster stew," his nephew said with a laugh. "He just wanted people to be happy."
In addition to owning a second home on the Bird River, Mr. Dotterweich was a resident of Rosedale.
While he had known the former Edna Myers for more than a half-century, because of the hectic 84-hour-a-week schedule he maintained for years, they did not marry until 13 years ago.
He was a communicant of St. Ursula Roman Catholic Church, 8801 Harford Road, Parkville where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Thursday.
In addition to his wife, stepdaughter and nephew, he is survived by his brother, Andrew H. Dotterweichof Parkton; a stepson, John C. "Jack" Leonard Jr. of Monkton; and two grandchildren.