A bit of old Towson dies with tavern owner

December 17, 1991|By Larry Carson | Larry Carson,Evening Sun Staff

They buried Harris Christopher "Bobby" Souris yesterday with a $1 bill for tolls, a bottle of Crown Royal whiskey, a Baltimore County police badge and a calendar book signed by family and friends.

A bit of old Towson also died with the passing of Bobby Souris, 62, who owned Souris' Saloon, a fixture at the corner of York Road and Alleghany Avenue since 1936.

The saloon is closed and will not reopen under family management, say family members.

Bobby Souris, of Lutherville, died Friday of heart failure at St. Joseph Hospital. After the funeral yesterday, friends and family gathered at the saloon in his memory.

The saloon, which originally opened a few doors south of its present location in 1933 when Prohibition ended, was a Towson landmark and a hangout for firefighters, police officers and students from Towson State University and Goucher College.

The saloon featured a white-painted brick front, a stamped-tin ceiling, dark stained plywood floors, solid walnut booths and a long bar. One of its distinguishing features is no longer around -- the huge, stuffed white polar bear that stood on its hind legs at the entrance.

The bear, whose fur had gradually darkened from the smoke of cooking and cigarettes, arrived during the early 1950s and left several years ago, according to Joanne Deitz, sister of Souris. "He [the bear] ran off and got married," Deitz said she told mourners at the funeral.

Bobby Souris' nieces, Erin McLernon and Kelly DeFries, have been running the saloon for the past several weeks, but they can't keep it up for long. His daughters, Maggi, Molli and Millicent Souris, are all under 21 and in college, and their father didn't want them in the bar business, anyway.

The family attorney, G. Warren Mix, said the saloon would remain closed until Souris' legal affairs are straightened out and the liquor license sold.

The family plans to keep the building and its large upstairs apartment where Bobby Souris and his three sisters were raised by their parents, Christopher C. and Areti Souris.

The origins of Souris' Saloon go back to 1928, when the parents arrived in Towson. From relatives, they bought a candy store and soda fountain a half-block south of Souris' Saloon. The Crease restaurant now sits on the site.

Both Christopher and Areti Souris were born on the Greek island of Kythera. They were married there when Christopher Souris returned briefly after 10 years in Missouri, where he had become a U.S. citizen.

In 1933, the young couple moved their candy store to larger quarters a few doors north, converted it to a restaurant and lived in the large apartment upstairs. In 1936, another change was made and Souris' Saloon resulted.

Areti Souris was known as "Mom" to her customers and worked at the restaurant every day until 1985 when she was 80 years old. She couldn't stay away, even for a day, family members said. Christopher Souris died in 1966.

In its heyday, the saloon was the place to be, said Mark Formwalt, 33, and Dave Cottle, 35, who were college students and bartenders at Souris' about a decade ago. The saloon was crowded every night, full of college kids and county workers and others who became regulars over the years.

Bobby Souris, who ran the saloon with his mother, who died in 1986 at 81, co-signed the loans for Formwalt's and Cottle's first cars, they said, and helped set them up in their own restaurant and bar a block away.

Bobby Souris always hired college kids and lent them money, took them out to breakfast sometimes, helped them with personal problems and was their friend. He was close to his family.

"We lived our whole lives here," said McLernon, 34. "We learned how to walk on these floors. We washed glasses when we were 5 or 6, and Uncle Bobby let us sweep up sometimes and keep any change we found under the tables. He always gave female employees rides home or arranged rides for them to make sure they were safe. . . . "

It was that family atmosphere created by the Souris' that kept customers coming back, several mourners said.

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