For 53 years, a Chrzanowski tended the family-owned bar at 2306-16 Boston St.
Last Sunday, the tradition ended as the most recent Chrzanowski to run the Canton waterfront bar -- known as "Numbers" -- shut it down.
"Business has been pretty much nonexistent for the past six months because of the gay-bashing," said Paul J. Chrzanowski, 32, who followed his father and grandfather into the family business. "A lot of people don't feel safe in this neighborhood since that incident. I think their fears are somewhat unjustified. But the perception was this was not a safe neighborhood. Perception, whether it's true or not, became the truth."
The incident to which Mr. Chrzanowski referred occurred early March 27 as he was closing Numbers, a brick structure running half the length of a block and serving a predominantly gay clientele.
Three Dundalk men have been charged with assaulting patrons in a brawl that allegedly began outside the bar with taunts. When police arrived on Boston Street that night, several people had been knocked down on the sidewalk. At least three bar patrons had been struck by cars allegedly driven by two of the Dundalk men, who were apparently trying to flee the scene, according to witness accounts and police reports of the incident.
Police recovered a baseball bat, a pipe, a crowbar and a piece of wood at the scene. Witnesses described what happened as a melee.
The men arrested that night, Anthony Michael Ambrosino Jr., 21, James Aaron Randolph, 24, and Matthew Taylor Randolph, 21, contend they were goaded into a fight that erupted into a life-threatening brawl, according to their attorney. They have all pleaded not guilty.
"It was a damn gang fight, and they were defending their lives," said the Randolph brothers' father, Billy W. Randolph.
But in Baltimore's gay community, the March 27 incident at Numbers is regarded as the most egregious case of gay bashing since the harassment of two gay men in Wagners Point several years ago. In that case, after the couple's car was overturned, police provided 24-hour surveillance of the men's home for two weeks.
Gay advocates believe the incident outside Numbers reflects a national shift in the tenor of gay-related harassment, from name-calling to acts of violence.
"This example at Numbers, holy smoke, they knocked people over in cars. People went flying in the air," said Ann Gordon, of the Baltimore Justice Campaign, the political action group that led the fight for the city's gay rights bill.
In the past three years, the hot line at the Gay and Lesbian Community Center on West Chase Street has received 153 reports of harassment. The majority occurred in Baltimore, and more frequently involved men than women. Nearly all were described as verbal taunts or threats.
"Is there more than there ever has been? I don't know. Our reporting system may be [better] than it ever has been," said Ms. Gordon.
"The closing of Numbers is a great loss," said one member of Baltimore's gay community who asked not to be identified. "It's gotten rather nasty down there along with other sections of the city insofar as gay bashing is concerned. We are still finding other attacks going on in Mount Vernon and around Patterson Park."
In the Numbers case, a Baltimore Circuit Court jury will have to decide whether the three men charged in the case assaulted the bar patrons as they left that night. Donald Daneman, the lawyer for Mr. Ambrosino and the Randolph brothers, refused to discuss the case. But Mr. Daneman said in a court hearing earlier this year that patrons from Numbers made comments to one of his clients and "grabbed his buttocks." The trial is set for Jan. 26.
On the night of the assault, Mr. Chrzanowski, the owner of Numbers, recalled that the last customers were filing out the door when "one of the patrons came in and said, 'You better call the police. There's trouble outside.' "
When he walked into the chill night, Mr. Chrzanowski said, the fight was already under way. He said he saw one man get "hit in the head with a baseball bat."
"It was total chaos," said Mr. Chrzanowski. "I couldn't believe what I was seeing."
The street fight allegedly began as the Numbers patrons left the bar and were met by three young men who began taunting them, according to police reports, court records and interviews with several witnesses and victims.
Then two of the jeering men dropped their pants and exposed themselves, said witnesses. The verbal taunts soon escalated into a fist fight, and later to a brawl.
Witnesses, including Mr. Chrzanowski, said they saw a white station wagon speed up Boston Street and strike someone in the crowd that had spilled across the road.
"He hit a guy very hard. It knocked him up in the air, and he hit the ground like a rag doll," said one witness.
K? Dwayne Carlos was among the Numbers patrons leaving the bar
When someone hit him, he said, he fought back. When the bouncer from Numbers offered him a crowbar from the back of a van, Mr. Carlos said he took it.
He swung it at a Mercury Capri that was roaring up Boston Street, heading for a dazed friend who had been hit in the head with a bat. Mr. Carlos said he was trying to stop the green sports car.
But the car struck another bar patron and drove into a convenience store parking lot at the end of the block. The sports car turned around, raced its engine, sped down Boston Street and hit a third bar patron, according to police and court records.
When police arrived, the station wagon stood idling, abandoned by its driver who had disappeared into the darkness. The driver of the Mercury Capri and two other young men were running away. Police ordered the trio to stop, but the fourth man was never detained.
"They didn't resist arrest," said a Canton resident, who like many interviewed did not want to be identified. "The driver starts taunting the gay people. The gay people are threatening them. I'm standing there kind of like in a daze."
Police arrested the three men that night. Two were taken to hospitals.
When Mr. Chrzanowski's grandfather ran the bar as "Julian's Lounge," the customers reflected the Polish music played inside. As people's taste in music changed, from Top 40 to country to disco, so did the bar's clientele. About 10 years ago, a mostly gay clientele began drinking and dancing there. Last October, business was so good, Mr. Chrzanowski expanded the tavern into three adjacent rowhouses.
But after the March 27 incident, Numbers' business dropped off and never recovered. Where once the bar served 200 to 300 people on a weekend night, Mr. Chrzanowski said only about 20 patrons have been showing up in recent months.
"There's no turning back on it now," said Mr. Chrzanowski.