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Stephen L. Levinson, real estate manager, restaurateur, dies

Stephen L. Levinson, real estate manager, restaurateur, dies
Stephen Levinson also had a career in commercial real estate. (Handout)

Stephen L. Levinson, a real estate manager and restaurateur whose properties included the popular Café des Artistes alongside the Morris A. Mechanic Theatre, died May 21 at his home in Blythewood in North Baltimore. He was 77.

Mr. Levinson, whose interests ranged from restoring old cars to playing a wicked game of croquet, opened the Café des Artistes in the mid-‘70s. For years it was the restaurant of choice for both patrons of the Mechanic and the stars who played there.

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“The actors and actresses of the shows became our friends,” said his wife of 32 years, the former Kathleen Emche, who managed the restaurant and its bar, The Brasserie. “About a half-hour after the show, you’d have the Smothers Brothers behind the bar, you’d have Carol Channing walking in the door. It was really exciting.”

The son of Donald S. Levinson, one-time president of Baltimore’s Tomke Aluminum Co., a division of United Iron & Metal Co., and the former Bernice “Bootsie” Shapiro, a homemaker and arts patron, Mr. Levinson was born on April 22, 1942, in Pikesville. As a sixth grader, young Steve enjoyed a first taste of fame when he won a school spelling bee, correctly spelling the word “mistake” (after the second-place finisher misspelled the word “height”). “‘Mistake’ helps Pikesville boy win,” read an item in the March 31, 1954, editions of The Evening Sun.

After graduating from Friends School, Mr. Levinson earned degrees from Emory University in Atlanta and Columbia Law School. He later served in the Air National Guard.

Following law school, Mr. Levinson joined his father at Tomke Aluminum, working the machinery. He later tried his hand at several businesses, eventually settling on a career in real estate.

it was his work in the restaurant business, working with various partners, that delighted him most, said his son, Joshua H. Levinson of Towson. “My father was on the real estate side and had this opportunity to open a restaurant, it kind of fell into his lap,” he said.

Occupying a space that had previously housed a restaurant called the Charcoal Hearth, Café des Artistes was part of the same structure as the Mechanic, which had opened in Hopkins Place in 1967 to attract Broadway plays to Baltimore. For years, ads for Cafe des Artistes could be found in programs for plays at the Mechanic; often, tickets for shows at the theater were delivered to patrons in envelopes with an ad for the restaurant on the front.

Her father happily took to the job of restaurateur, especially playing the part of the welcoming host, said his daughter, Maren Marquart of Los Angeles. “He talked to all the customers.”

Added Joshua Levinson, “He loved showing people a good time.”

Mr. Levinson also operated the Baltimore Food Bazaar, a market-type eatery housing multiple vendors that opened in Hopkins Plaza in 1976 (offering lunches that averaged between $1.50 and $2.50, according to an article in The Evening Sun). Café des Artistes eventually moved to Mount Washington; by the time it closed in the 1990s, Mr. Levinson was no longer an owner. He and partners later operated other restaurants out of the Hopkins Place space, including Oyster Bay and The Plaza Grille. He and his wife also operated International Foods, a wholesaler specializing in Asian foods.

Mr. Levinson was pretty much out of the restaurant business by the mid-‘90s, said his wife, but he continued to work in commercial real estate. Among his most recent projects, she said, was the Federal Development Building at 1525 N. Calvert St., which opened about three years ago.

Her husband had myriad interests, Kathleen Levinson said. He was a certified scuba diver. His musical tastes ranged from classical to reggae to doo wop. He was a former board chair of the Maryland Ballet. And cars were a special passion, said his son, noting with a trace of amazement, “He would read Road and Track and Car and Driver cover-to-cover.”

Mr. Levinson was an avid football fan, of both the Colts and Ravens. He took a train to New York City in 1958 to see the NFL championship game between the Colts and the New York Giants, ever after known as “the greatest game ever played,” and separated his shoulder at a Ravens fantasy camp in the 1990s.

In fact, Mr. Levinson liked playing many games, including backgammon, billiards and — especially — croquet, spending more than 20 years enjoying weekly games with Monkton Croquet. “It was a big part of his social life,” Kathleen Levinson said, “but you also had a competitive thing going on.”

In addition to his wife and children, Mr. Levinson is survived by his sister, Gail L. Shawe of Roland Park, and by four grandchildren.

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