Louis C. Baumel, whose Harvey House restaurant and bar was a popular meeting place for more than 40 years, died Monday of complications of kidney disease at the home of his daughter in Pikesville. He was 80.
The restaurant at 920 N. Charles St. was home away from home for those who reveled in its clubby and sometimes noisy atmosphere. Patrons drank its hefty cocktails and ate its aged beef and jumbo crab cakes and rode the buses it chartered to take fans to Colts football games on fall Sundays in the 1950s and 1960s.
"It was a an uptown 'Guys and Dolls' type of place, but the people were better dressed," recalled Steve Gavin, a former News American columnist and now an editorial writer with the Camden (N.J.) Courier Post.
"It was a hard-liquor place, and you didn't see white wine and beer on the bar. It was really a very Baltimore type of place with a real Baltimore feel and tone to it."
After learning how to cook aboard ships while serving in the merchant marine during World War II, Mr. Baumel went to work in the kitchen of Club Charles, owned by his brother Milton Baumel and partners Cy Bloom and Moe Levy.
Club Charles at Charles and Preston streets, perhaps Baltimore's most famous and toniest supper club, opened its doors in 1939 and brought into its rooms the cream of the entertainment world -- Sophie Tucker, the June Taylor Dancers, Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis, Lenny Bruce, Sid Caesar and Ted Lewis. It closed in 1951.
"Tony Bennett had played the Club Charles, and whenever he came to town, he came to see my father and mother," said Mr. Baumel's daughter, Shirley Weiner.
The year the Club Charles closed, Mr. Baumel opened the Harvey House. The only entertainment he provided in his new establishment was a piano.
Mrs. Weiner said the inspiration for the Harvey House was New York's famed 21 Club. She said her mother, the former Rose Bormel, whom her father married in 1938, oversaw the operation of the kitchen and the office and decorated the restaurant with bric-a-brac, cut glass and fancy plates. Mrs. Baumel died in 1991.
The restaurant was named after the Baumels' son Harvey and the popular play "Harvey."
The large neon rabbit on the door was a Charles Street landmark until the restaurant closed in 1992.
For years, Mr. Baumel was the acknowledged dean of Restaurant Row, which stretched from the 800 block of N. Charles St. to Danny's at Charles and Biddle streets.
"Lou was a dear, sweet, and wonderful host," Mr. Gavin said. "He really was interested in pleasing people and it wasn't the least bit phony."
Mrs. Weiner credited her father with helping popularize Caesar salad locally after bribing a waiter in Chicago's famous Pump Room to get the recipe.
"He was perhaps the city's premier innkeeper and the Harvey House was his baby," she said.
Born and raised near Patterson Park, Mr. Baumel, the son of Russian immigrants, attended City College. He lived in Northwest Baltimore for years until he and his wife moved into an apartment above the restaurant.
"After the Harvey House closed, he worked for a year as a host at Central Station because he couldn't give it up," Mrs. Weiner said. "He wasn't really able to close that book and with his death an era comes to a close."
Services were held Wednesday.
Other survivors include his two sons, Barry Baumel of Abingdon and Harvey Baumel of Washington; two sisters, Rose Kempler of Baltimore and Sophie Weinberg of Pikesville; six grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.
Pub date: 5/17/96