Restaurateur Cy Bloom, who died last week at 80, took a delight in greeting all his patrons by name, knowing their drink preferences and favorite songs. He was the kind of character any city could use many more of, but seem to lack today.
Cy loved to circulate in a room filled with all his Baltimore regulars, mixed in with jockeys, theater people, television, radio and newspaper reporters and professional baseball players. He was equally comfortable with the bookmaker and the judge.
Many people recall his Place in the Alley. There were those who said he was crazy for opening a restaurant in Wilkes Lane, the alley that parallels Baltimore and Fayette streets and lies between them. "The spot had character. I got the idea from a place in Boston. And it was a winner from the beginning," Cy said.
Indeed. He pegged his trade to the rebuilding of downtown Baltimore in the 1960s. And he courted entertainers, show and media people. After Johnny Carson finished a Civic Center performance, he'd drop by the Place in the Alley. So too, Betty Grable, who opened the Mechanic in 1967. The entire cast (Ruby Keeler, Bobby Van, Patsy Kelly, etc.) of "No, No Nanette" had its 1970 Christmas party at Cy's. Word got around town.
He was a man of style. He dressed in a sporty, Palm Beach manner. He had long white Cadillacs. He drank Rob Roys when nobody drank Rob Roys. And, as the night grew on, he edged up to the piano and coaxed out a few songs on the ivories. He ended with "My Little Margie," the song that mentioned his wife's name.
Cy could talk about his long career in Baltimore, about how he was once an International League Orioles' bat boy. Then on to the restaurant and bar business, the small lunchrooms where he began until his big break, the Club Charles, not to be confused with the present bar of the same name.
"I made Charles Street. There weren't any clubs there until I opened mine," he said in 1980, indulging in a bit of exaggeration.
Cy's Club Charles stood at the northwest corner of Charles and Preston streets in what is today the Loyola Federal Building. At the end of the Great Depression, it was a fraternal lodge headquarters being offered for sale by a bank.
Cy got his backing and soon had the city's swellest night spot, with an orchestra, chorus line, celebrity talent and a line waiting to get in. It certainly had the draw, with his competition being the Chanticleer, at Eager Street.
During World War II, he had to turn away so many customers that he had cards printed, thanking them for their intended patronage.
"I always operated one way. I'd build a place up and sell it. From the Club Charles I went to the Coronet Lounge [St. Paul and Centre streets], the Cadillac [St. Paul and North Avenue], the Blue Mirror [1000 block of N. Charles St.] and the Celebrity [21 E. North Avenue]," he recalled.
He'd cover the walls with the pictures of the celebrities who happened in town. Lucille Ball, Sophie Tucker, Robert Preston, Henny Youngman, George Goebel and Jack Cassidy were all in Cy's picture gallery, often posed with the impresario himself. In very picture, Cy was all smiles. He looked like a little bat boy pleased at getting into the game for free.