Amedio J. "Mimmie" Lorenzo Sr., whose Pulaski Highway nightclub was a popular venue for bands and entertainers during the 1950s, died Sunday of liver failure at Franklin Square Hospital Center. He was 85 and lived at Martin's Glen, an Essex assisted-living facility.
Mr. Lorenzo, a former Bank Street barber turned saloon keeper, purchased his first bar, Mimmie's Musical Bar, at Eastern Avenue and Conkling Street in 1945. There, he kept his customers amused with the musical antics of Mimmie's Hell Cats, a trio.
His purchase in 1951 of the Surf Club, a nightclub on Pulaski Highway at Highland Avenue in East Baltimore with a green and orange neon sign brought Mr. Lorenzo into the big time.
"He brought to the Surf Club the most famous name bands and rock 'n' roll groups of the day including Count Basie, the Dorsey brothers, Woody Herman, Bill Haley and the Comets, Freddie Bell and the Bell Boys, Fats Domino, Louis Prima and Jimmy Cavello and the House Rockers," said a son, Angelo "Sonny" Lorenzo of Bowleys Quarters.
"Most of these bands had performed on Sunday night live on the Ed Sullivan show and were traveling down Route 40 to their next gig, so he got them to perform at the Surf Club on Monday night," he said.
"In those days, Wildwood, N.J., was a hotbed of rock 'n' roll, and he booked a lot of bands that had performed there into the club. He used to book Bill Haley, for instance, three times a year, and he'd pack them in. The crowds were so large that we couldn't let anyone in until someone left," said Mr. Lorenzo.
A small man who dressed informally, Mr. Lorenzo moved easily among the performers who played his club.
"He was a very intelligent nightclub owner who knew what people wanted," said the son.
"We served National Bohemian beer, and the place was so crowded that customers would hold up a finger and cover an eye like the patch over Mr. Boh's eye to order a beer," he said, laughing.
Sunday jam sessions were popular. Their host was Al "Mad Man" Baitch, a saxophone player whose trio was a regular at the club. Another Sunday feature was the "Battle of the Bands," when three bands would play starting at 2 p.m. and end five hours later.
During the rest of the week, Mr. Lorenzo booked such local bands and singers as the Romanos, the Swingtones, the Crystals, Teddy Bell, Mickey Fields and his All-Stars, and the Versatiles.
The popularity of live television and rising paychecks steered groups and singers away from clubs such as the Surf Club toward network television.
In 1962, Mr. Lorenzo sold the Surf Club and opened Lorenzo's, a bar at Belair Road and Putty Hill Avenue in Fullerton in Baltimore County, which showcased local bands.
In 1975, he sold the business and moved to Ocean City, where he opened Lorenzo's on Route 113. He later closed the business and retired in 1990.
"He devoted his life to the business and loved being in it," said the son.
Born in Bristol, Pa., Mr. Lorenzo moved to Baltimore as a child and attended city public schools. He left school to help run his family's Lombard Street restaurant after his father was killed during a hold-up in the 1920s. During World War II, he worked building airplanes at the Glenn L. Martin Co. in Middle River.
In 1935, he married the former Theresa C. Fleig, who died in February.
He was a longtime communicant of Our Lady of Pompei Roman Catholic Church.
A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church, 8420 Belair Road in Fullerton.
Mr. Lorenzo is survived by three other sons, Amedio J. Lorenzo Jr. of Towson, Eugene Lorenzo of Overlea and Artie Lorenzo of Baltimore; two brothers, William Lorenzo of Bel Air and Joseph Lorenzo of Mays Chapel; a sister, Josephine Broccolino of Hamilton; nine grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.