Frank M. Gittings Sr., 79, owned E. Baltimore tavern

July 17, 1999|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Frank Murray Gittings Sr., co-owner of Kisling's Tavern -- an East Baltimore saloon where some of Baltimore's more colorful characters traded tales and toasts -- died of cancer Sunday at Good Samaritan Hospital. He was 79.

Sometimes working 18 hours behind the bar at the Fleet and Chester streets gin mill, Mr. Gittings welcomed burlesque queen Blaze Starr, east-side political legend Dominic "Mimi" DiPietro and athletes such as Paul Blair of the old Baltimore Orioles as customers.

Kathryn Gittings, his widow and the tavern's other co-owner, said local luminaries blended with longshoremen and Canton residents "because it was that kind of place, real Baltimore. Sour beef and dumplings were our specialty, and one gentleman would drive over from West Baltimore to have dinner.

"Frank enjoyed talking with all of them," she said.

The couple owned Kisling's, located in two rowhouses, from 1961 until 1991, when they sold the business and retired. The couple enjoyed traveling and attending sports events.

A video aficionado, Mr. Gittings documented the rebuilding of the Pride of Baltimore. And when a local work crew repaired a bridge near his Northeast Baltimore home, Mr. Gittings documented the work on the span that crossed Belair Road.

Born on Belt Street in southern Baltimore, Mr. Gittings was raised in foster homes and played amateur baseball. As a young man, he went to work as a meatpacker at the Esskay plant in Highlandtown. He then worked for the Boston Strauss Pie Co. and, later, the Wills Dairy, where he was a milkman.

Mr. Gittings served during World War II in the merchant marine and sailed across the Atlantic on liberty ships carrying fuel and ammunition.

After the war, Mr. Gittings returned to Wills Dairy and worked there 16 years until he and his wife purchased the tavern. The couple would have been married 50 years next month. They resided near Herring Run Park in Northeast Baltimore.

Besides his wife, the former Kathryn Nies, survivors include a daughter, Carole L. Gittings of Rosedale; a son, Frank M. Gittings Jr. of Shrewsbury, Pa.; a stepsister, Margaret Lederer of Towson; three grandchildren and several nieces and nephews.

No services are scheduled.

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