John Stratigakos, a Greek immigrant who parlayed a "gift for gab" and strong desire for people to simply have a good time into managing four nightclubs in the Baltimore area for nearly 20 years, died Saturday of cancer at Union Memorial Hospital.
Mr. Stratigakos, 77, of Timonium operated clubs at separate times in Glen Burnie, Catonsville, Rosedale and Baltimore. All were dance clubs with dissimilar personalities but one thing in common: They were fun.
"People always came back because they could have fun there whenever they were there," said Clarence Lestrum, a friend and former patron at the old Hollywood Palace on Baltimore National Pike in Catonsville.
"If you had a problem [at the Hollywood Palace] he took care of it. He wanted you to keep coming back."
In addition to the Hollywood Palace, Mr. Stratigakos managed the Rhapsody Club in Glen Burnie, the Latin Casino on Pulaski Highway in Rosedale and the Pumpkin Patch in South Baltimore. All have gone out of business.
Known as "Uncle John" by all who knew him, Mr. Stratigakos spent long days at his clubs -- booking bands and disc jockeys, helping refurbish and modernize club interiors, and experimenting with new forms of entertainment.
Disco music and dancing were popular when Mr. Stratigakos ran the Rhapsody Club and Latin Casino in the late 1960s and 1970s, so he had popular bands and disc jockeys provide music. Country music was popular when he operated the Pumpkin Patch in the 1980s. He retired in the early 1980s.
"He had an uncanny knack of reaching everybody," said Mike Athas, who worked with Mr. Stratigakos at the old Club Venus in Perring Plaza in the late 1960s. "He was tailor-made for that line of work."
With his broken English and a style of putting his hands on people when he spoke to them, Mr. Stratigakos gained many friends and prevented trouble when he managed clubs.
It also helped that he was 6 feet tall and solidly built.
"He had a natural talent for talking to people," Mr. Athas said. "He'd put his hands on people and they'd freeze, but he never came off as a doorman. He'd say, 'No trouble, no trouble. Good time here. Let's have drink.' "
Born in Sparta, Greece, Mr. Stratigakos served in the Greek army and later on the police force for 25 years in Athens, Greece. He immigrated to the United States in 1966, living first in Shippensburg, Pa., and later that year moving to Baltimore.
Services are planned for 11 a.m. today at St. Demetrios Greek Orthodox Church, 2504 Cub Hill Road.
Survivors include his wife, the former Noula Kapasouris, whom he married in 1959; two daughters, Lea Stratigakos and Toula Stratigakos, both of Timonium; a brother, Tassos Stratigakos of Baltimore; and four sisters, Vasiliki Papamichalopoulos and Sophia Patsis, both of Athens, Greece, and Koula Stergiakis and Anna Margaritis, both of Chesapeake, Va.