'It's sad to see it go' Restaurant: Patrons lament the closing of the Little Campus Inn, for 74 years a down-home place that spawned some offbeat traditions

Little Campus Inn, Annapolis 1924-1998

July 03, 1998|By Andrea F. Siegel | Andrea F. Siegel,SUN STAFF

When bartenders in their signature dark green shirts serve the last call tonight at the Little Campus Inn, it really will be the last call. Operated in the shadow of the State House by its founding family for 74 years, the Annapolis haven is closing.

For weeks, regulars have come in to pay respects to owner Evangelos "Angy" Nichols and his staff.

Some took photos of the dimly lighted hangout, posing with a favorite longtime waitress. Others took menus. So few menus remained by Wednesday's final lunch there were barely enough to go around -- as if most patrons needed a menu anyway.

"This is my last lunch, my fifth last lunch," said Mary Smith, one of dozens of General Assembly employees in the dining room.

So devastated is Ron Baldwin, partner in an antiques shop a few doors down and a 22-year Little Campus patron, that he can't consider another pub for his ritual day's-end glass of wine. "I won't go anywhere. I'll go home," he said.

His partner, Dennis Claude, shook his head. "It's probably the oldest continuously run restaurant by the same family in Annapolis," he said. "It's sad to see it go."

Downtown Annapolis has no shortage of restaurants and bars. But much of the City Dock area has grown trendy or gentrified or both. The Little Campus, on Maryland Avenue tucked away from the better-traveled tourist section, is the antithesis of all that. Loyalists pining over the loss of the Little Campus don't want fruity vinaigrettes or exotic coffees or loud music or a lot of ferns or a mural-sized TV.

They want cheap, reliable home cooking and a beer, a place to gab or watch sports quietly on the small television, and waitresses who know their families. Fake flowers suit them fine, though a garden's worth of live ones bloomed at the Little Campus this week, courtesy of well-wishers.

Patrons have been coming there so often for so many years that Nichols jokingly claims to have sold them along with the furniture. New owners will reincarnate the restaurant as an Irish bar and restaurant at the summer's end.

"Enough's enough. It's time," said Nichols, 66, who in retirement may bottle the Greek salad dressing that is a hallmark of his restaurant. His immigrant parents, now deceased, opened the place in 1924 and named it Little Campus, because it's between the Naval Academy and St. John's College.

Over the years it has become a haunt for midshipmen and professors, Johnnies and tutors, legislators and lobbyists, downtown shopkeepers and their customers, the rest of the neighborhood and anyone who wanted to be part of the Little Campus family.

In the friendly atmosphere, the varied clientele joined whatever conversation intrigued them:

St. John's students argued Socrates over beers, Navy retirees recalled academy days, lawmakers fussed about politics, neighbors planned vacations. And all could dig under the coatrack to consult the atlases, encyclopedias and baseball almanacs.

"This is where you could come in and sit down and discuss some obscure aspects of naval history next to people who would argue Plato and baseball stats," said Frank Young, a 28-year patron.

Its moment of fame came on Feb. 10, 1997, when President Clinton downed seafood chowder there with Gov. Parris N. Glendening and U.S. Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes. Clinton's spot is immortalized by a brass plaque on the bar.

A vinyl booth in the back gave birth to an Annapolis tradition, that began over a good-natured feud between Mids and Johnnies over whose institution was better.

"The Mids said, 'We could beat you at any sport,' and one of the St. John's kids asked, 'How about croquet?' " Nichols recalled. The Annapolis Cup, recording the winner of the annual match, sits in the Little Campus lobby.

A lesser-known tradition was the Christmas party. Everyone brought his or her gift-wrapped, most-detested item from home to unload -- and, taking a number corresponding to each present, went home with someone else's white elephant.

A big appeal of the Little Campus was its seeming permanence. The waitresses who served Annapolis' youth ice cream sodas were still there to bring them a beer two decades later -- and to set a plate of french fries in front of their grandchildren still later.

Peggy Kimbo, 68, a 41-year waitress and honorary member of the Naval Academy Class of '58, and Vernyce Hight, 51, waitress of 33 years and honorary member of the Naval Academy Class of '43, have done a lot of reminiscing with customers these past few weeks.

ZTC Patron Aubrey Baden III, 30, gave "Miss Peggy" flowers -- and a kiss on behalf of his parents, who started coming there just after their marriage -- because she had made the restaurant a second home to him.

:. "Family, this is like family," Kimbo said.

Pub Date: 7/03/98

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