Michael D. Pangalis Jr., who abandoned his dream of becoming a professional clown and became the owner of a popular Essex crab house, died of cancer Thursday at his Middle River home. He was 70.
He was born Michael Botsaris in Farrell, Pa., and after the death of his father moved with his family to Quantico, Va. When his mother remarried, he was adopted by his stepfather and given his name.
In 1945, the elder Pangalis sold his successful restaurant in Quantico and moved to Essex, where he opened A-1 Cocktail Lounge at Josenhans Corner, Old Eastern Avenue and Stemmers Run Road.
After graduating from Kenwood High School in 1953, the son worked briefly at Bethlehem Steel's Sparrows Point plant.
A lifelong love of circuses and clowns led to his enrollment at Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in Sarasota, Fla.
"I really wanted to be a clown, I had seen them in circuses and thought they were beautiful," Mr. Pangalis told The Sun in 2000, when he was closing the restaurant and retiring.
His hope of becoming a clown was thwarted when his parents drove nonstop from their Essex home to Sarasota and told him, "Michael, you're going to run the restaurant," he recalled.
After taking over the bar in 1960, Mr. Pangalis changed its name to A-1 Crab Haven, for years recognizable by a 15-foot-long maroon canopy that protected waiting patrons from the weather.
Working from 9 a.m. until 2 a.m. seven days a week with other family members, Mr. Pangalis served up generous piles of steamed crabs, steaks and Greek dishes such as moussaka, stuffed green peppers, pastitsio and roast lamb.
The A-1 was popular with recreational boaters heading to eastern Baltimore County marinas and with blue-collar workers from nearby plants. It also was a gathering spot for celebrities and politicians.
"Whenever the New York Jets visited town, they came in. So did Johnny Unitas and a lot of the old-time Orioles," said his son, Michael D. Pangalis III of Pasadena.
Even though a career under the big top eluded him, Mr. Pangalis never lost interest in clowns or the circus. His collection of more than 1,000 clown paintings -- including two by comedian Red Skelton -- figurines and other circus memorabilia filled the walls of the restaurant's Clown Room.
"Mike used his own seasoning on his steamed crabs and shrimp, which was made up of rock salt, dry mustard and plenty of pepper," said Bill LeRoy, a friend of 40 years who is an area district manager for Bond Distributing Co. "Another dish I liked was the New York strip steak and crab cake platter. I also loved his crab cakes, whose secret he took to the grave."
"The lumps of snowy backfin I plucked out of them with no effort were magnificent," wrote a Sun restaurant reviewer in 1976. "The A-1's seasoning is fine too. Not quite as peppery-hot as I've had elsewhere, it seasoned the crabmeat without anesthetizing my taste buds."
Corn on the cob and loaves of hot bread served with apple butter accompanied entrees.
"Mike had a great sense of humor and was good to everyone. He was very family-oriented and took care of his people. If an employee needed a little help, he took care of them on the side," Mr. LeRoy said.
In the early 1970s, Mr. Pangalis opened the Kansas City Steak House in Ocean City, but despite its success he closed the business several years later.
"It was just too much of a commute," his son said.
In the mid-1970s, Mr. Pangalis and a brother opened Michael's Restaurant across the street from A-1 Crab Haven. After a kitchen fire destroyed the restaurant in the mid-1980s, the partners never rebuilt it.
The A-1 closed in 2000. The site is occupied by a strip mall.
An avid golfer, Mr. Pangalis was also an enthusiastic owner of thoroughbred racehorses, whose names reflected his family's Greek heritage.
"They had names like Greek Salad, Greek Aperitif, Greek Brunch and Feta Cheese," said his son.
Mr. Pangalis was a member of St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.
Services were held Monday.
In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 50 years, the former Connie Jagelski; three daughters, Valli B. Reid of Essex, Sylvia A. Schiaffino of Perry Hall and Stephanie Sweet of Bel Air; a brother, James Pangalis of Bel Air; a sister, Dimitria Tsambikos of Bel Air; and four grandchildren.
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