Ronald H. “Ron” Carback, the irrepressible former banker who became a co-owner of the venerable Mount Royal Tavern, whose rowhouse barroom was a home away from home for generations of Bolton Hill denizens and Maryland Institute College of Art students, where it became an auxiliary classroom, died of complications of skin cancer Sunday at his Owings Mills home. He was 71.
“Ron was the numbers and financial man and I was the operations guy and it worked perfectly,” said partner Chris Kozak, a veteran Mount Royal Tavern and Bertha’s bartender and MICA graduate. “He was really good at it and loved doing it. He was there every day.”
Ben Franklin, a longtime Mount Royal Tavern bartender, has worked there for more than 25 years.
“Ron was awesome and a very generous man. He had no children of his own and adopted us,” Mr. Franklin said. “He helped me through the hard times and was just a kind and generous soul. He was outgoing, friendly, and had a great attitude and was just a great guy to work with, plus he was filled with great stories.”
Ronald Henry Carback, son of Henry Charles Carback, a longtime Waverly Press worker, and his wife, Elizabeth Sarah Carback, a homemaker, was born in Baltimore and raised on Taylor Avenue in Parkville.
He was a 1968 graduate of Parkville High School where he had been an outstanding lacrosse goalie, and because of his athletic prowess, earned a full athletic scholarship to the University of Baltimore where he was a star goalie.
After graduating in 1972 from college with a bachelor’s degree in business, Mr. Carback served in the Army for two years and then was a reservist for four. He then entered the field of banking, rising to chief loan officer at the old Maryland National Bank.He later worked at Suburban Bank, and was vice president and commercial lending officer at Provident Bank of Maryland at the time of his retirement in 1993.
It was Mr. Carback’s daily custom to drop into Bertha’s in Fells Point for a cocktail after work. Mr. Kozak worked there as a bartender.
”We first met at a party on Mount Royal Terrace in the mid-1970s and we’ve been friends ever since,” Mr. Kozak said.
While attending MICA, Mr. Kozak bartended at Bertha’s and at Mount Royal Tavern, then owned by Elliott Robinson.
“I was working 32 hours a week and trying to go to school, and I said to Elliott that we needed to hire some bartenders and he said, ‘No problem. Go ahead.’ That way we could keep the place rolling. One day, he had a hissy fit and said he was going to sell the business, and then a day or two later, changed his mind but said if he was, he’d give me first shot at buying the place, and he eventually did.”
Mr. Kozak turned to Mr. Carback and asked whether he wanted to own a bar.
“Ron said to get the numbers and ‘Let’s go for it.’ I told Elliott, who said he wanted to meet Ron because when he heard that he was a banker, he was afraid he was going to buy and flip it,” Mr. Kozak recalled.
“We were getting ready to leave and Elliott said he’d let us know his decision, but not before jamming his index finger into Ron and said, ‘I’m doing this for Chris,’ and Ron said, ‘OK,’” he said. “We had driven several miles when Elliott said, ‘That guy Ron is a prince,’ so we bought it in 1985.”
What the two friends purchased was one of the oldest bars in the city, in the 1200 block of W. Mount Royal Ave., that had earlier been the home of the 5th Ward Democratic Club.
“In other words, it had been a speak-easy during Prohibition,” Mr. Kozak said, that became a legitimate watering hole after the Repeal of Prohibition in 1933.
“He tried to make it into the sports bar he always wanted,” said his wife of 22 years, Michelle Chard, who got to know her future husband in 1984 when she was a MICA student. “I was from Greenwich, Connecticut, and 19, and he was 35,” Ms. Chard recalled.
Ms. Chard said he caught her eye as she was going into the school store. They married in 1999.
Legions of patrons, students, characters and bartenders have enjoyed the bar’s unique quirkiness and vibe through the years.
“Ron was a classic and The Tavern is a classic,” said Jim Burger, a MICA graduate and a Baltimore photographer-writer.
Kevin O’Malley, also a MICA graduate, is a Towson artist and author of children’s books.
“Over 40 years of visiting The Tavern he was always a pleasure to chat with,” Mr. O’Malley said. “I always hoped he’d be there working when I visited. He was warm, smiling and joking, and I thought he was a proper guy all around.”
In 2011, alarmed at the rise of profanity in the place, the two partners initiated a “Cuss Bucket” for “those getting a little too loud and creative with their profanity,” The Baltimore Sun reported.
“It’s a bar, and I don’t mind a ‘hell’ or ‘damn’ — they’re allowed to use them — but when people start yelling the other profanities, that’s it,” Mr. Carback, who’s far from being a prude, told the newspaper. “I thought we needed a little civility around here. ... We think if you don’t use those words at home or work, then why here?”
The bucket, which was Mr. Carback’s idea, was a large plastic pretzel jar with a sign taped to it: “M.R.T. Cuss Bucket. 25 cents a cuss.” The money gathered — which at times was sizable — was donated to the SPCA. “My thought was: ‘Be an animal, then help the animals,’” he told The Sun. The cuss bucket became a national story when NPR mentioned it on the air at the time.
Mr. Carback was also intimately involved in Foodscape, the annual spoof of Artscape, that dated to 1985, and was held at The Tavern.
“He was our biggest cheerleader, a huge fan,” Mr. Burger said. “On December 18, the final Foodscape will open at the Baltimore Creative Alliance. Ron Carback and Chris Kozak will be honored on our ‘Wall of memories.’ I’m sorry Ron can’t be there to take his victory lap, but if I know Ron, he’ll be there in spirit.”
The Tavern’s annual Super Bowl party was a neighborhood event that was enlivened with bubbling crockpots of meatballs, sausages, chicken wings, hot dogs and the occasional deep-fried turkey, were provided by the two partners.
“Ron was a kind and benevolent employer who did not need to be haunted by ghosts to learn about generosity,” wrote Charlie Vascellaro, a former Mount Royal Tavern bartender and Baltimore writer, in an email. “He took care of his employees beyond their wages and took legitimate concern in their welfare.”
Mr. Carback was gifted with a booming baritone voice. “You knew when he was in the room. He cast a large presence physically as well, he was a big outsized guy with an outsized personality,” Mr. Vascellaro wrote. “He could often be found occupying his favorite stool on the consumer side of the bar in late mornings or early afternoons during the first shift watching ‘The Price Is Right’ with some of the daytime old-timers.”
Or he could be found sipping his favorite drink, citrus lemonade mixed with vodka, his wife said.
When he wasn’t at the bar, he indulged his passion for reading — especially newspapers — as well as following the Orioles and the Ravens.
“He never missed watching a game,” Ms. Chard said. “He was a huge Baltimore Colts fan and especially Johnny Unitas — No. 19. He cried the day he died.”
“He also was a huge fan of sour beef and dumplings,” said his wife, who had prepared the classic German dish shortly before his death.
“There was a sign at The Tavern that Ron liked so much that said, ‘If you’re drinking to forget, please pay in advance,’” Ms. Chard said. “The Mount Royal Tavern will be his legacy.”
Plans for a celebration-of-life gathering are incomplete.
In addition to his wife, Mr. Carback is survived by a brother, Glenn Carback of Parkville; a sister, Nancy Schoppert of Mount Airy; and a half-sister, Jeanne Conner of Seaford, Delaware.
This story has been updated. A previous version misidentified Elliott Robinson, a former owner of Mount Royal Tavern. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.