John A. “Bud” Hatfield Jr., the personable, longtime Valley Inn owner who served his guests unadorned Maryland cuisine in a roadside 1832 tavern setting, died Friday of complications of a fall he suffered at his Brooklandville home earlier this year. He was 94 and a patient at Greater Baltimore Medical Center at the time of his death.
Mr. Hatfield was the second owner of the Valley Inn. His father, Capt. John A. Hatfield, opened the historic stone inn in 1922 after his service in a World War I artillery unit. His mother was Elizabeth Scarborough. He attended St. Paul’s School for Boys and Baltimore City College and earned a degree at the Johns Hopkins University. After briefly living in Mount Washington, Mr. Hatfield resided with his family atop the restaurant and later bought the old Brooklandville railroad station as his residence.
"I remember when farmers still traveled the Falls Road with horse-drawn hay wagons, and some even still rode in buggies," he said in a 1997 Sun story.
He could recite the celebrities the inn attracted — President Harry S. Truman, who was an Army buddy of his father’s, film star Clark Gable and his wife, Carole Lombard, and Alfred Gwynne Vanderbilt, who owned Sagamore and Pimlico Race Course. As a child he was fascinated by the dog races held alongside the inn. He loved animals and grew up with a kennel that housed 30 whippets.
He spoke of how John Vernou “Black Jack” Bouvier, the father of first lady Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, once changed into polo-playing attire at his parent’s Valley Inn for a polo match held near the restaurant.
"It was Prohibition and the era of the roadhouse. Vince and Lou Young's jazz band broadcast live from one of the rooms over the radio. The parking lot was jammed with Packards, Chryslers and other fancy cars. It was a high and fun time,” Mr. Hatfield said in a 1997 Sun article that referred to him as the "unofficial historian of Brooklandville."
"In those days, it was a beautiful, quiet valley, but after World War II, they took land and built a high transmission power line. And then the Beltway and the Jones Falls Expressway came along, and they took even more land," he said.
"It's not like it used to be — too much noise. I wish they'd put it back like it was before the Beltway, but I know that's not possible," Mr. Hatfield said.
Patrons at the inn were loyal and Mr. Hatfield was as much a part of the experience as the destination’s squeaky wooden floors, beamed ceilings and walls painted with fanciful hunting scenes.
“Bud Hatfield knew everybody,” said Michael Mutscheller, a family friend. “If you ate at the Valley Inn and Bud wasn’t there, you didn’t eat at the Valley Inn. He was the pulse of the place.”
Another patron, Stiles T. Colwill, recalled visits with his parents on Sunday nights.
“My mother always had the lamb chops with stewed tomatoes. My father had his first-ever drink at the bar,” Mr. Colwill said. “Bud was quite a character. He knew everybody’s name and he clearly loved his business. There were a lot of good times at the Valley Inn. You went because you knew everybody in the joint. Bud welcomed his guests from Pikesville to Hunt Valley.”
Mr. Hatfield enlarged the inn with a bar-dining room addition in 1971. He otherwise did not alter the playbook his parents established.
His menu included a Valley Inn steak, crab cakes, crab imperial, fried oysters and shrimp cocktail. Because the place was a destination of the steeplechasing racing crowd, he had a point-to-point parfait — creme de menthe and vanilla ice cream and a cherry. He was not afraid to retain old-fashioned, comfort food favorites, such as apple brown betty. Some customers went there for his kitchen’s grilled liver and onions.
Newspaper food critics were not as taken with plain Maryland fare as were its patrons. Writing in 1971, Sun critic John Dorsey said: “Customers may have liked the big comfortable bar, the vaguely Williamsburg look of the dining room, the respectable drinks. But whatever brought them there, it couldn’t very well have been the food.”
Louise Keelty, a patron at the inn, recalled visits with her parents, the developer James Keelty, and his wife, who was also named Louise.
“I had my first-ever soft-shell crabs at the Valley Inn,” Ms. Keelty said. “Bud and my parents became very close. He went around to every table.”
Family members said Mr. Hatfield cultivated the generational aspect of the restaurant and reveled in recognizing his customers.
“My father could be gruff, but he was one-of-a-kind,” said his daughter, Callahan Hatfield of Baltimore. “He was the kind of father who would take us to play pinball machines at 1 in the morning. He loved to dance, and he loved music. He grew up in the area and would show us where the wild cherry trees were so we could go picking.”
In his free time Mr. Hatfield visited Baltimore jazz spots. He also stood along the sidelines of high school sports games and liked watching young athletes — he knew many of their parents — compete.
“My father was a big, strong man with a big heart as well,” said his daughter, Laura Cromwell of Phoenix in Baltimore County. “He loved his jazz, lacrosse — in fact all sports — and his local history.”
In 2011, after working in the family business since the 1940s, he sold the Valley Inn and retired.
Funeral services will be at 11 a.m. Thursday at the Episcopal Church of the Redeemer, 5603 N. Charles St. Mr. Hatfield was a member of the Church of the Good Shepherd.
In addition to his daughters, survivors include a son, John A. Hatfield III of Brooklandville; another daughter, Nancy Hatfield of Bermuda; and a sister, Elizabeth “Bonnie” Proutt of Virginia Beach, Va. His wife of 25 years, Grace Janet Callahan, who assisted in running the inn, died in 1982.