Peter Allen Denzer, founder of Peter's Inn in Fells Point and a motorcycle enthusiast, died June 30 at his home in Hedgesville, W.Va. He took his own life after a lengthy struggle with Parkinson's disease. He was 67.
"His mantra was to drive fast and take chances" said his wife, Christine Feathers, 53, who met Mr. Denzer at his tavern in 1987. "He was the master of his destiny until the end."
Born in Washington on May 30, 1947, to Peter W. Denzer and Beryl Shoenfield Denzer, Mr. Denzer used to sneak trips as a teenager to Baltimore and moved there at the age of 18 to work short stints as a gravedigger, a Bethlehem Steel locomotive repairman and a Triumph motorcycle mechanic. He attended one year of college at what is now Towson University and was working nights as a cabdriver when he got a call from a woman about to deliver a baby.
"The husband was so panicked that Pete locked him out of the car, and he delivered the baby himself in the back seat," Ms. Feathers said. "But he was ultimately stiffed on the fare."
She said the story was one of many Mr. Denzer used to tell at his tavern.
"He could chat anyone up," said his younger brother, James Denzer of St. Paul, Minn. "He could remember names of everybody, what they did for a living, what was happening with their sports team and every joke you ever heard."
Mr. Denzer opened Peter's Inn in Fells Point in 1977 on the advice of a friend in the real estate business. "A friend remarked that as much money as I spent in bars, I might as well own one," he told The Baltimore Sun in an interview years ago.
At the time, Fells Point was mostly populated by blue-collar workers from Baltimore's shipyards and Sparrows Point. During the 20 years Mr. Denzer owned and operated Peter's, it grew into an eclectic neighborhood tavern beloved by local craftsmen, bikers and artists, including Baltimore-born director John Waters, who once listed Peter's as his favorite Baltimore bar and gave Mr. Denzer a small role in his movie "Desperate Living."
"His customers were like a family," Ms. Feathers said.
"He was an intellectual," said friend and patron Teresa Moore, 58, of Baltimore. "You wouldn't suspect that, with Peter behind the bar and his love of guns and motorcycles."
Ms. Feathers said his favorite authors were Ernest Hemingway and Rudyard Kipling, whose poem "Gunga Din" he would often recite in the bar.
A man of relatively small stature at 5 feet 7 inches, Mr. Denzer proved to be formidable force at keeping the peace in his tavern with a weightlifter's chest, dark wavy black hair and a trimmed beard. "The trick is to throw out a 200-pound man and make it look easy," he once told The Sun about the key to keeping a safe bar.
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"He was very muscular and famous for giving the bum's rush to troublemakers in the bar," said friend and patron Robert Grover, 72, of Baltimore. "He would grab them by the collar with one hand and pants with the other and throw them out."
In 1987, Mr. Denzer met Ms. Feathers in his tavern and within two years, the two were married at Baltimore's City Hall and on their way to a two-month honeymoon riding a two-seater BMW motorcycle through what was then the Soviet Union.
Throughout his life, Mr. Denzer, who had bought his first beat-up Harley Davidson at age 16, would sneak away on motorcycle trips wherever he could in the country and abroad to Greece, Germany and Switzerland.
He and his wife sold the tavern in 1995 and moved to Hedgesville to have more time to explore back roads, dive bars and writing and to walk their dogs. He wrote two unpublished novels and then worked as a reporter for the Morgan Messenger and The Hancock News from 1999 to 2006, until his hands failed him.
In 2004, Mr. Denzer was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease but he continued to ride motorcycles, lift weights and travel as long as he could. "He refused to let it define him," Ms. Feathers said. After he could no longer ride motorcycles, he switched to fast cars, she said.
A celebration of Mr. Denzer's life will be held from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Sept. 7 at Peter's Inn, 504 S. Ann St.