Paul G. Stamas, 76, owned Hilltop Diner depicted in film

October 25, 1999|By Gary Cohn | Gary Cohn,SUN STAFF

Paul G. Stamas, the engaging, longtime Baltimore restaurateur whose Hilltop Diner was depicted in the 1982 film "Diner," died Friday of complications from a stroke at St. Joseph Medical Center. He was 76 and lived in Towson.

Known for his easy smile, congenial personality and zest for Greek dancing, Mr. Stamas owned and operated several restaurants before retiring in 1986, including the Old Court Inn and Restaurant 3900.

But it was the Hilltop at Reisterstown Road and Rogers Avenue, which he owned with his brothers, for which he is best-known.

The diner, the inspiration for the Barry Levinson film, was a mecca in the 1950s and early 1960s not only for teen-agers, but for people of all ages in Northwest Baltimore.

Featuring waitresses with starched uniforms and high hairdos, it was open all night, 365 days a year, a place where people could talk with friends while eating hot dogs wrapped in bologna, pecan rolls, crab cakes and french fries with gravy.

"It seemed to some of us youngsters that the great issues of the day would get decided at one of Dad's tables," said his son George P. Stamas of Baltimore, an attorney and counsel to the Baltimore Orioles.

Born in a rowhouse near the Shot Tower on Lombard Street in 1923, Mr. Stamas moved with his brothers and mother to Greece for several years during the Depression while his father ran the Coney Island Grill on Baltimore Street. The years in Greece left him with deep pride for his heritage.

Returning to the United States, Mr. Stamas graduated from Polytechnic Institute, where he earned varsity letters in soccer, tennis and track.

He enlisted in the Army and saw heavy combat during World War II, for which he was decorated. After the war, he graduated from the University of Maryland and, in 1949, married Bess Arbes of Elizabeth, N.J.

He was a passionate family man and an avid golfer, and he combined the two to organize an annual family golf tournament. He was long active in the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, and served as parish president in 1959.

A humble man, he could nevertheless lift a crowd's spirits when he took the floor to perform one of the Greek dances he loved, the Tsamiko or the Kalamatiano.

"He really executed the Greek dances beautifully," said Evan A. Chriss of Ruxton, a friend for 55 years. Mr. Stamas was godfather of one of Mr. Chriss' sons.

"He was always a very caring friend who always was there when you needed him," Mr. Chriss said.

Services will be held at 11: 30 a.m. tomorrow at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, Maryland Avenue and Preston Street.

In addition to his wife and son, Mr. Stamas is survived by another son, Dr. Peter G. Stamas of Owings Mills; a daughter, Annitsa S. Searles of Timonium; a brother, James Stamas of Wildwood Crest, N.J.; and six grandchildren.

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