John W. Morsberger Jr., who co-owned and managed Glenmore Gardens, a popular Overlea crab house, died of lymphoma Wednesday at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. The Timonium resident was 72.
Born in Baltimore in a Calvert and 23rd streets basement apartment, he was the son of John W. Morsberger Sr., a Baltimore City police officer, and Ruth G. Morsberger, an S.& N. Katz jewelry shop worker. The family later lived in Hamilton. He was a 1961 Polytechnic Institute graduate.
In 1962, he became an apprentice electrician with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 24. While still working as an electrician more than 40 years ago, he joined his brother and his recently retired father in buying the Glenmore Tavern bar at the corner of Harford Road and Glenmore Avenue in Northeast Baltimore.
"The neighborhood bar was a popular destination for those living and working in Hamilton," said his son, Michael Morsberger of Silver Spring.
His son said the Morsbergers were buoyed by the success of the bar venture. Nearly 35 years ago, the family joined with George and Mary Mulich in purchasing another property, which they called Glenmore Gardens. It was designed to mix a beer garden with steamed crabs in an outdoor setting. It was not far away from the bar, at the corner of Belair Road and Glenmore Avenue in Overlea. It also had abundant outdoor space for summertime dining.
"The Glenmore became a wildly successful bar, restaurant and crab house during the '80s and '90s," his son said. "It featured an outdoor crab garden with more than 40 picnic tables. Customers ate steamed crabs late into the night under a lighted deck."
His brother, Richard Morsberger, a Timonium resident, said the Glenmore could seat about 180 persons on the decks.
"We sold more crabs than shrimp, but we had a great shrimp salad sandwich," Richard Morsberger said. He said his brother rarely tended the bar and devoted his energy to running the operation — ordering supplies and staffing the place.
The restaurant offered more than seafood and featured hamburgers and Italian dishes. The restaurant also served varieties of cheesecake.
Sun restaurant critic Elizabeth Large described the Glenmore in a 1994 review: "What people really need to know is where to find the right kind of atmosphere. Old Baltimore. Slightly seedy but warm and friendly. Like Glenmore Gardens. ... Unlike every other crab house, however, Glenmore also has excellent side dishes. A fine, not-too-sweet potato salad; thin, crisp slices of fried eggplant; a fresh-tasting coleslaw; and well-seasoned creamed spinach."
The critic said the crabs "were small and sweet, lots of work — but like peanuts, you couldn't eat just one."
A year later, in 1995, a New York Times travel article recommended the Glenmore as one the best places in Baltimore to get steamed crabs.
"My father thrived in the business, because he loved both his customers and his employees," his son said, recalling how his father once drove to Atlantic City, N.J., one Christmas to get a Cabbage Patch doll for his prep cook's daughter.
"That was the kind of man he was," his son said. "My dad was a true-blue Baltimore success story. He was humble and proud. He was a working-class man who loved his work, his family and the city of Baltimore."
Mr. Morsberger sold the business more than 10 years ago. He then focused on his golf game and his grandchildren.
He was a 25-year member of the Hunt Valley Golf Club and served as the Men's Golf Committee chairman. He won tournaments at the club and was a four-time champion in his category. He was also an Orioles and Ravens fan and enjoyed spending time in Ocean City. He had been a member of the Towson Jaycees, where he was honored for his service to the Maryland Special Olympics and other charities.
Services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Ruck Towson Funeral Home, 1050 York Road.
In addition to his son and brother, survivors include a daughter, Christie Flynn of Ruxton; a stepson, Brian Bark of Philadelphia, Pa.; and six grandchildren. His wife, the former Joan Williams, died in 2009. A previous marriage to Jane A. Churchman ended in divorce in 1990.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun