Howard L. “Buddy” Donovan Jr., the longtime owner of Donovan’s Lounge, a Sparrows Point watering hole whose motto was “coldest draft in town,” died Monday of complications from Alzheimer’s disease at Lighthouse Senior Living at Hopkins Creek in Essex.
The Edgemere resident was 83.
“Donovan’s is a monument. It’s a landmark. It’s like ‘Cheers.’ It was just an awesome bar and I’ve got a personal seat license in the place,” said Archie Clark, a customer for 40 years and a retired Bethlehem Steel Corp. steelworker.
“It was a blue-collar place and a place for the common worker. Everyone in Steel Town went there. It was just an awesome bar,” Mr. Clark said. “I grew up down the street near Bear Creek, and when I was 18, I went to work in the mill and cashed my first paycheck there. It was an amazing place.”
Howard Lester Donovan Jr., the son of Howard L. Donovan Sr., a farmer who later worked as a laborer for the Patapsco & Back Rivers Railroad that served Bethlehem Steel, and Helen Naomi Sandy Donovan, a homemaker, was born in Broadway, Va., and moved with his family in the late 1930s to a home on Jones Creek in Edgemere.
He moved with his family again to Whiteway Road in Essex and attended Sparrows Point High School. He was drafted into the Army before he graduated and served briefly during the Korean War, family members said.
In addition to his railroad work, his father his father managed The Bowery, a tavern at 6900 North Point Road, during the 1940s. In the early 1950s, he purchased the business and renamed it Donovan’s Lounge.
Mr. Donovan began working for his father in the 1960s, and after his death in 1972, took over operation of the business.
He was married in 1957 to Nancy Bales, and in the early years of their marriage, they lived in an apartment over the bar. She died last year.
“Buddy was well-respected and known as warm and friendly to all who visited Donovan’s Lounge,” wrote his daughter, Jeanine L. Portman of Redding, Conn., in a biographical profile of her father. His clientele, she wrote, included “local neighbors, providing package goods to those traveling through for fishing or crabbing at Millers Island, as well as Bethlehem Steel’s employees working in the shipyard basin at the Sparrows Point yard.”
Mr. Donovan maintained an arduous daily schedule for years.
He arrived early each morning to stock the bar with beer, whiskey and soft drinks, opening at 7 a.m. for the workers coming off overnight shifts. Two barmaids helped him out.
“Guys would be waiting in the parking lot for the place to open. They’d drink a couple of beers, get knocked out, and then go home to and sleep,” Mr. Clark said.
Mr. Donovan catnapped during the day when he could, and returned to his Edgemere home for a 5:30 p.m. dinner, after which he’d relax watching “Wheel of Fortune” and “Jeopardy” on television.
Mr. Donovan then turned in for several hours of sleep before getting up and returning to the bar at 1 a.m.
“Buddy would close the bar at 2 a.m. and then clean and wax the floors,” Mr. Clark said. “He worked hard for his money.”
“Buddy was always called ‘The Boss’ and was respected because he earned it,” said Wayne Foulke, another regular and a retired Bethlehem Steel worker who has been going to the bar for 44 years,and was an Edgemere neighbor.
Donovan’s was so popular that it was often standing-room-only.
“You’d have all the old steelworkers on one side, and the younger guys stood. Now I’m an old guy, so I now have a seat,” said Mr. Clark, who now lives on the Eastern Shore.
“You’d have to pass your paycheck through the crowd, and when it came back, you got every penny,” he said.
“Before there were ATMs, I’d go in on a Sunday and ask for 500 bucks, and Buddy never charged any interest. He was no loan shark, and he knew you’d pay it back the next payday,” Mr. Foulke said.
“He gave his time and money to those in need, oftentimes knowing that those debts would not be repaid,” Ms. Portman said.
“Buddy was a businessman with a dry sense of humor who did a lot for the neighborhood,” Mr. Clark said. “I played on his baseball team.”
Not only did Mr. Donovan support Sparrows Point High School and the elementary school, he also outfitted a softball team
“It was Donovan’s,” said Mr. Foulke, who coached the team. “He was also very generous with the rec council and outfitted the Ladies of Donovan’s softball team. He was always there for the locals.”
The Sparrows Point bar was also known for its New Year’s Eve parties, where revelers dined on creamed herring, bacon-wrapped shrimp, Virginia baked hams, stuffed turkey, cornbread and vegetables, “and of course the ‘coldest draft in town,’ ’’ Ms. Portman said.
When Mr. Donovan was stricken with cancer several years ago, a son, Howard L. “Buddy” Donovan III, and his wife, Kathleen, who live in Dundalk, took over the exhausting schedule of opening and stocking the bar, which is still family-owned and operated.
“Well, anyone overhearing us saying, ‘When should we go to the bar?’ over and over again, concluded that my father, along with us, were all drunks,” Ms. Portman wrote. “In actuality, we rarely saw my father drink, which many would find unusual for a bar owner.”
And when Mr. Donovan did, it would be a Seagram’s 7-and-7, a beer or a glass of wine.
Mr. Donovan enjoyed taking his family to the theater and dinner at the Prime Rib, Linwood’s and the Polo Grill.
“We were fortunate to have a father who worked so hard to provide for his family so that we could become who we are today,” Ms. Portman said.
Funeral services for Mr. Donovan will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Duda-Ruck Funeral Home, 7922 Wise Ave, Dundalk.
In addition to his son and daughter, he is survived by another son, David L. Donovan Sr. of Perry Hall; two sisters, Anita Paige Greenberg of Tamarac, Fla., and Helen Joyce Wilson of Grandy, N.C.; and eight grandchildren.