Exactly one year after a New Year's Eve party resurrected a beloved beer hall that had seemingly been left for dead, revelers are primed to polka at Blob's Park once again.
But this Thursday's celebration at the popular Jessup venue won't be tinged by the drama or sorrow of years past.
Tears won't be flowing as they were in 2007, when guests thought they were watching the 1,000-seat Bavarian beer garden take its last breath after nearly 75 years. And the liquor license won't need signing a mere nine hours before the doors open, as was the case in 2008, said owner Max Eggerl.
"We pulled out all the stops last year in order to reopen in one week, and we still managed to draw between 250 and 350 people," recalled the 64-year-old entrepreneur, who was named for his great-uncle and Blob's Park founder, Max Blob.
Preparations are proceeding at a less hectic pace this year, with more than half of the 600 available reservations already sold.
Party-goers will usher in 2010 to the music of Charm City Sound, feast on a buffet that features prime rib and crab along with traditional German fare, and toast the new year with the customary pickled herring and champagne.
While there's still "a lot of ethnicity here," Eggerl said, Blob's Park isn't just for German and Polish immigrants, who comprise about 20 percent of his loyal customer base.
Nor is polka music the outdated, Old World throwback that some people imagine, said Mike Matousek, leader of the seven-piece Baltimore band that will headline Thursday night.
"Many of us [polka bands] fight those stereotypes," said the lead guitarist. "We work to break the perception that we play old standards like 'Too Fat Polka' when polka music is rather quite diverse."
"Push" is a contemporary style of polka music that is driven by a rock beat and an accordion that acts more like a rhythm guitar, he said. There's still room in their repertoire for Bavaria's oompah sound and Polish polkas, Matousek is quick to add, noting his band has two accordion players.
"A night at Blob's is like one huge wedding reception where we play a little of everything - Latin to big band to '50s rock to line dances," he said. "Certain tunes are edgy, but we play German waltzes, the Hokey Pokey and the Chicken Dance, too - there's something for everyone."
Eggerl estimated there will be 200 people up on their feet dancing at all times on the 2,000-square-foot dance floor, from the band's first song at 9 p.m. until festivities wind down at 1 a.m.
The hall also adheres to an old European custom that dictates that women and men also dance with partners other than their spouses or dates, noted the bandleader.
"This is about dancing, not romancing," said Matousek.
Eggerl agreed that the social aspect of Blob's needs to be broadcast.
"Women are often apprehensive about going out to nightclubs, but those worries don't apply here," he said. "In the 12 months since we reopened, we have not had to put one person out for being unruly. That is one amazing statistic."
Eggerl made a nearly impromptu decision to bring Blob's Park back to life right before Christmas last year. The sluggish economy had put a temporary damper on a local developer's agreement with Eggerl and his brother and two sisters to build more than 1,000 townhouses and condominiums on the 268-acre compound, which abuts Fort Meade and the National Security Agency complex.
That delay spurred Eggerl's decision to give the business another go.
It's the venue's wholesome atmosphere that attracts a loyal following, said the man who described himself as "It" - the person who is responsible for overseeing everything, from the band to the party favors to the kitchen.
And it also explains his devotion to running the place, which picked up with customers where it left off - even though it's operating on borrowed time.
"I only managed to lock in a three-year lease before development is scheduled to start," said Eggerl, adding that it won't be possible for his business to remain in operation once construction begins, a date that the property's managing partner will determine.
After January 2012, Eggerl's lease will be up for renewal on a year-to-year basis contingent on the pace of development in the region, he said.
He knows the parcel is strategically located for construction of new residences to accommodate the influx of military personnel who will be relocated to the area by the base realignment and closure plan, but he thinks that could be later rather than sooner.
"I'm usually an optimistic person, but I think the stock market may hit 8,000 before it hits 12,000," he said.
In the meantime, Eggerl is quite content.
"I reopened Blob's for sentimental reasons - for all the right reasons," said Eggerl, who was born in the family farmhouse in 1945. With the exception of one year when he was first married, he has lived on the property his entire life, doing assigned chores back when it was a truck farm that grew and sold tomatoes, cucumbers, cantaloupe and other produce.
According to a plaque awarded by the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, Blob's Park is believed to be the site of the first Oktoberfest in America, held in 1947. This pedigree still holds deep meaning for Eggerl.
"But I might not be open long enough to get out what I put into it," he acknowledged, referring to the money he's put into renovating the hall, whose original building opened in 1933.
German immigrant and decades-long customer Max Bauer, who helped Eggerl build a new 100-foot bar, said his friend did him a huge favor by opening Blob's doors again.
"That place is like my home, and I haven't missed a single New Year's Eve party at Blob's since I came to America in 1958," said Bauer, a 24-year Ellicott City resident and retired cabinetmaker.
The 73-year-old, who said he feels more like 39, met his ex-wife at Blob's and built a new life around activities at the beer hall. He will be there Thursday night to celebrate once again.
At about 11:45 p.m. New Year's Eve, Matousek will alert guests that midnight is rapidly approaching. Later, following a two-minute warning, revelers will grab their noisemakers and favorite libations, stand with their loved ones and listen to the band count down from 30.
The sappy sentimentality of "Auld Lang Syne" will ring out as the clock strikes 12, quickly followed by a rousing rendition of "When the Saints Come Marching In."
As another year begins, Eggerl will be silently doing a countdown of his own - only two more years before Blob's may shutter its doors a second and final time.
"Blob's Park is a lot like Disneyland; it's a destination," said Eggerl, who said he doesn't take this second chance for granted. "What we have here is something very unique."
Is there a noteworthy person or event in your neighborhood? Contact Neighbors columnist Janene Holzberg at firstname.lastname@example.org or 410-461-4150.
If you go
Tickets for the Blob's Park New Year's Eve party are $65 per person and are available by calling 410 799-7130. For more information, go to blobspark.net.