Annapolis' presidential pub Restaurant: Bill Clinton's visit to The Little Campus Inn on Maryland Avenue pushes the little tavern into the limelight.

February 12, 1997|By Dan Thanh Dang | Dan Thanh Dang,SUN STAFF

Of all the trendy pubs and historic restaurants in Annapolis, Bill Clinton chose a dim tavern on Maryland Avenue.

That impromptu visit from the leader of the free world Monday was all it took to nudge The Little Campus Inn into the limelight. And it was more than enough to cause a ripple of wistful envy from other hot spots in a city where the owners of even the tiniest pub vie for the title of the political place to be seen.

"Oh sure, we would have loved to have had him in here," said Rusty Romo, owner of Harry Browne's on State Circle, where politicians and lobbyists go for a dining experience rather than a quick bite before a hearing. "But, we're very happy for Little Campus because there's a very friendly atmosphere of rivalry here.

"Besides, maybe we'll get the next president," said a chuckling Romo, who welcomed former President Jimmy Carter when he was in town for a Naval Academy class reunion last year.

Long overshadowed by its more tony counterparts, the 73-year-old Little Campus is enjoying newfound prestige because the president of the United States ordered a bowl of seafood chowder while perched on a stool in the long, narrow bar along with the governor of Maryland, the senior senator from Maryland and the secretary of Health and Human Services.

Clinton and his entourage were taking an impromptu shopping tour of Maryland Avenue after his speech to the Maryland General Assembly when the President's famous appetite took over.

Even the owner of Little Campus said he was a little taken by surprise.

"There are a lot of places he could have gone to in town," said Angy T. Nichols, whose family has owned the restaurant since it opened.

After all, the city offers several other politically popular eating establishments vying for a piece of the power lunch and schmooze-fest opportunities that are up for grabs when the General Assembly is in town.

There is Middleton Tavern near the City Dock, where George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin once dined. And Chick 'n' Ruth's Delly on Main Street, where a turkey breast sandwich is named for Clinton and owner Ted Levitt has written several letters inviting the president to lead the Pledge of Allegiance some morning, a ritual of 32 years.

"I'm happy that he came to town, and he didn't go to a big franchise restaurant like McDonald's," Levitt said. "But I can't say that I'm not disappointed that he didn't stop by here. Especially since we've been inviting him since he was first elected."

Some chalked up the Little Campus visit to location.

"I would have been a little envious if he were downtown and he stopped off in McGarvey's instead of here," said Angela Fridley, the manager at Middleton. "But he was in a totally different area. So we weren't at all offended."

The Little Campus Inn is an unassuming restaurant known more for its down-home hospitality than its role in the political arena. For a president looking to rub elbows with the common man it might be the perfect place.

It's a place where 67-year-old waitress Peggy Kimbo will automatically bring you a cup of hot tea because it's cold outside. A place where you can get a $3.95 burger real quick or a filet that one customer says tastes "just like buttah."

It's also a place where the mayor of Annapolis dishes the dirt with a group of 1943 Naval Academy alumni, whose average age is 75, and where St. John's College students nurse late-night beers at a round table near the back of the bar and ponder the works of Plato, Aristotle and Homer.

Nichols, whose personality is as low key as his restaurant, shrugged. His theory? Reasonable prices, convenient location and a good friend in Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, a fellow Greek-American and family friend.

"I knew him when he was still a state legislator," Nichols said. "I've got my suspicions."

Pub Date: 2/12/97

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