From Pretzels To Baked Brie: Pete's Place Survives

Former Pool Room Has Changed Along With Annapolis

January 03, 1991|By Arthur Hirsch | Arthur Hirsch,Staff writer

Pete Palaigos was sitting around with his boys again the other day, the local kids who used to scramble out of his Annapolis pool room when the nuns from St. Mary's High School flushed the place like a vice squad.

But that was long ago. And everything is different.

The "boys" are all in their 40s and the pool tables are gone from Pete's Place. The Main Street pool room has become a restaurant where the menu offers baked brie. It's not the sort of stuff apt to be ordered by the likes of Doc Stevens, Beno DiMaggio or The Chief, the 9-ballers who once populated the room like so many house cats. Haven't seem them in years.

Larry Winegrad is another story. When he flies in from California for the holidays, he finds the visit incomplete without roosting with some of the old gang at Pete's. He bellied up to the bar the other day with two other members of the St. Mary's class of '64: Donald Kennedy and Mike Kumer.

Pete's was THE place in those high school days, said Winegrad, who now lives in San Diego.

"This is where we'd all meet, before a party or something: 'Meet you at Pete's'. . . We used to come in here when there were pool tables instead of fern plants. We went from potato chips and pretzels to baked brie and potato skins. Man, that's a change."

Winegrad -- brother of state Sen. Gerald W. Winegrad -- has an attitude about all this. It's more than just a pool hall turning into a polite restaurant, he says. It's everything. It's more traffic, less parking, "yuppies all over the place." The first time he visited after Pete's switched from pool hall to restaurant, in the spring of 1987, it was like something out of "The Twilight Zone."

"I told somebody 'I'll meet you at Pete's.' I walked in the door, I thought I was in the wrong place. I said 'Where did it go?' To me, that symbolized all the changes in Annapolis."

Pete Palaigos has seen the changes through the big front windows that look out on Main Street, the windows that once rattled like mad when the trolley went by.

Palaigos and his wife, Helen, are two of the last of a generation of Greek-Americans who once held sway over the Annapolis restaurant trade. He sat at the bar the other day, looking toward the street and recalling names of Annapolis restaurants once owned by Greek-Americans. He called them off like names on a war memorial.

"The Capital, sold out. Sanctuary, sold out. Mandras Grill, sold out. The New Grill, he left. The Ward Room, he soldout. Presto Restaurant, sold out."

Now there are just Pete and Helen, and the Fotos family, which owns Dimitri's restaurant, right across from Pete's. Helen Palaigos was born in the apartment upstairs from Dimitri's, when Dimitri's was the Palace Confectionery, long before the appearance there of sprouts and multi-grain breads.

Palaigos, 68, whose parents were born around Sparta, Greece, grew up in the Bronx and moved to Washington in 1939 to work in the restaurant business. He used to come down to Annapolis to go to the beaches and met Helen Pappas, the woman whom he would marry, at an engagement party. The two were married in 1948. Helen's father, George, had opened the six-table pool hall and bar with the bas-relief metal ceiling in 1919. By 1948, Palaigos said, George Pappas was ready to retire. Pete took over the business.

It was called the Brunswick Billiard Hall when Pappas opened it and was still the Brunswick Billiard Hall when Palaigos came in. As time went on, though, word of mouth had it as "Pete's place." Not until the 1960s, though, did Palaigos break down and put up a little wooden sign identifying his place as "Pete's Place."

Eventually, Palaigos also removed one table and extended the bar, which served alcohol and soft drinks. He kept the hat-cleaning counter and the two-seat shoe-shine stand at the front window. Donald Kennedy remembered how you'd sit up on that shoe-shine stand when you were meeting someone at Pete's. From there you could see way down the street. You could see your company coming.

It was always a nice crowd in the place, Palaigos said, "Fathers, sons, grandfathers . . . There was never a bad element in here."

The kids from St. Mary's made Pete's their place, when the nuns weren't making periodic checks for malingering students. When the nuns came in the back door the boys would scram out the front. And vice versa. "Bunch of good kids," said Palaigos.

The nuns were among the few women you'd see in Pete's. It was just understood in those days that women did not go into pool halls. Mike Kumer remembered that high school girls would show their bravado by invading the male sanctum with mad dashes from the back door to the front.

In the 1970s, Palaigos took out the shine stand and the hat-cleaning counter. That was just the beginning of the end of Pete's Place as the old gang knew it.

By the late 1980s, Palaigos was ready for a change, maybe kick back and let someone else run things.He decided to switch to a restaurant and take in a partner.

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