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Mick Kipp, Pickles bartender and spice-maker, dies

The mood Tuesday inside Pickles Pub, across from Camden Yards, matched the gray rainy weather.

As noontime regulars ate their lunch and quietly caressed glasses of beer amid the low-key chatter and music playing in the background, something clearly was wrong.

Mick Kipp, their favorite bartender, co-worker, cook, spice maker, friend and genuine all-around character, was missing.

Michael D. "Mick" Kipp, the stuntman-turned-bartender known for his zest for life and his colorful chili-pepper-decorated kilts, bandannas and earring, died Sunday from cardiac arrest at his Annapolis home. He was 51.

"He was one of a kind, man. There was no one else like him in Baltimore," said Raj Jandu, 35, a laboratory researcher at the Institute for Genome Sciences at the nearby University of Maryland.

"His death was an incredible shock. Here was a guy who couldn't sit down for 10 seconds. He couldn't help it. He always had to find something to do," said Mr. Jandu.

Chere Petty, another regular who also works at the University of Maryland, recalled Mr. Kipp as "being energetic and smiling. He was a hustler."

Whenever she came into Pickles, Ms. Petty said, Mr. Kipp greeted her with a snappy, "What's up, kid?"

Mr. Kipp returned to his home Saturday after a 30-mile Sierra Club hike along the C&O Canal. He was speaking with Gwen M. Kinsella, his companion of five years, on Sunday morning when he was stricken with the cardiac arrest that ended his life.

"For the last 45 minutes of his life, he was so happy," said Ms. Kinsella, who is the East Coast on-premise regional manager for Heineken Beer. "He was talking to me about his hike and kissing me. He did not suffer."

Joe Gold, sales manager for the Heavy Seas Brewery, was a friend for 27 years.

"The world got less bright when I heard the news," he said.

Mr. Gold said Mr. Kipp "lived life to the fullest."

"Mick just wasn't one thing, he had lots of things going on," he said. "He'd be selling spices early in the morning at the Waverly Market and then would tend bar until 2 a.m. and then get home by 3 a.m.

"He was the kindest, most passionate person I've ever met in my life."

Charlie Vascellaro, a Baltimore writer and longtime bartender, was also a friend of many years.

"He was also known as 'Whiskey Island Mick' and also 'Mick T. Pirate,'" recalled Mr. Vascellaro. "Talk about getting what you put back into life: Mick's enthusiasm was so contagious. He added such spice to life both figuratively and literally. He was a great self-promoter but also completely selfless."

He added: "The city has lost a great treasure. They should fly one of Mick the Pirate flags at half-mast somewhere prominently in the city."

Michael Douglas Kipp was born in Ashland, Ohio, and graduated from high school in Cleveland.

While attending high school, Mr. Kipp, a wrestler, was pushed down a flight of stairs.

He rolled to the bottom, landing unhurt.

The incident proved to be a turning point in his life.

"I got to the bottom and thought, 'Maybe somebody would pay me to do this,'" Mr. Kipp told The Baltimore Sun in a 2006 interview.

He traveled to California, where he worked on movie sets, and moved to Atlanta to study with a professional stuntman. He then returned to Cleveland, where he established his own stunt business and worked tending bar at the Watermark, a restaurant.

Mr. Kipp moved to Baltimore in 1986, when he learned that there was plenty of movie work available, and also tended bar at Shuttles, which was near the University of Maryland Medical Center.

Mr. Gold said he met Mr. Kipp when he was at Shuttles.

"Even in those days, he was interested in the craft beer movement, which was just beginning, and in 1989 wrote and published 'Mick's Beer Guide.'"

When Pickles Pub opened on St. Patrick's Day in 1988, customers were greeted by Mr. Kipp, who was both a bartender and a server.

He remained there for a quarter-century, greeting customers in his trademark raspy voice while intoning "Oogy Wawa" and "Eat my stuff," dressed in a pirate costume.

"He was the heart of the place," said Abby Coles, a Pickles bartender since 2009. "Mick was the person who taught me how to enjoy life. I could be sad and having a terrible day and he'd make me smile."

"He was ... the only real pirate I've ever met," said Tom Leonard, a partner in Pickles and a longtime friend. "Everything he did he loved, and he did everything with passion and flair."

Mr. Kipp was diagnosed in 1991 with Hodgkin's disease, which led to debilitating chemotherapy sessions.

He started wearing bandannas because he was losing his hair, Ms. Kinsella said.

Mr. Kipp would suffer two more bouts of cancer before finally beating it. He racked up tens of thousands of dollars in hospital bills.

"I knew that my physical days of stunt work were over," Mr. Kipp said in the 2006 interview. "I couldn't just fall down a flight of stairs and walk away from it anymore. Everything hurt a little."

In 1996, Mr. Kipp was too poor to afford Christmas presents. He decided to make a hot sauce that he could give away as gifts.

Into a pan he added serrano peppers, onions, lemon juice and vinegar, which he bottled.

He then took his daughter's broken crayons, melted them, and sealed the jars with the wax. He made hand-drawn labels for the sauce that he named "Cuyahoga Fire," for the polluted river in Cleveland that made national headlines when it caught fire in 1969.

It was the beginning of the Whiskey Island Spice Co., named for an island at the mouth of the Cuyahoga.

The company produces spices, rubs and salsa. Products include Nonna Pyrate, Paco, Zeke's Coffee Rub, Spyced Salt, Twisted Pyrate, Red Hot Hon Sauce, Juke Joint Mojo and 'Mazin Crab Salsa.

For Orioles and Ravens home games, Mr. Kipp was out front cooking his signature quarter-pound Raven dog, topped with peanut butter, cream cheese and grape jelly, and pulled pork that he seasoned with one of his rubs.

"In addition to a buoyant, cheerful personality, the man could cook," said Rob Kasper, the former Baltimore Sun food columnist.

"He also came up with names for his specials, which he matched with the Orioles' opponents. For the final game of the 2011 season, he prepared a highly spiced hamburger called 'the choke burger,' a reference to the failing ways of the visiting Red Sox," Mr. Kasper said.

Mr. Kipp was an early supporter of Baltimore Beer Week and served as its treasurer for five years.

He was also a member of Team Pickles, which raises money for Leukemia Lymphoma Society. In March, as he had done in past years, he served as volunteer kitchen manager for Empty Bowls, a fundraising program of St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church that helps the homeless.

Mr. Kipp enjoyed hiking around Harpers Ferry, W.Va. He told a co-worker last week that he "hoped to end up there one day."

"We are going to bury his ashes at Harpers Ferry," said Ms. Kinsella.

A memorial Mass will be offered at 10:30 a.m. Friday at St. John Neumann Roman Catholic Church, 620 Bestgate Road, Annapolis.

In addition to Ms. Kinsella, Mr. Kipp is survived by his daughter, Matoaka T. Kipp, 18, a freshman at Simmons College in Boston; his parents, Karl and Emily Kipp of Lancaster, Pa.; a brother, Daniel Kipp of Beaver Creek, Ohio; and a sister, Karla Kipp of Columbus. He is also survived by Ms. Kinsella's two sons, Zack T. Kinsella, 11, and Fionn T. Kinsella, 7. His marriage ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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