Leonard Bowman, 82, owner of the Ambassador House

February 25, 2000|By Jacques Kelly | Jacques Kelly,SUN STAFF

Leonard Bowman, a restaurateur whose no-nonsense menus appealed to the palates of pre-urban renewal Baltimoreans, died Tuesday of complications related to a circulatory ailment at his home in Northeast Baltimore. He was 82.

His Ambassador House, at Eutaw and Pratt streets, flourished as a city institution from the 1950s through the 1980s, when it was open 24 hours a day and fed the city's shift workers, University of Maryland physicians, off-duty police officers, and patrons sobering up after a night on the town.

Its original site, an 1830s Federal-style rowhouse, was torn down to make way for the Marriott Inner Harbor Hotel.

Born and raised on a Rockmart, Ga., dairy farm, Mr. Bowman came to Baltimore in 1931 as a 14-year-old dishwasher. He took what jobs he could find, working the counter in the old White Coffee Pot restaurant at Charles and Oliver streets near Penn Station.

His years at the White Coffee Pot demonstrated to Mr. Bowman what Baltimoreans wanted: solid, inexpensive fare. Until he retired in 1982, his restaurant carried these signature Baltimore platters: crab cakes, crab imperial, sour beef and dumplings, and roast pork. His restaurant always offered three soups daily, lima bean, chicken noodle and vegetable.

"The Ambassador attracted everybody. ," said Homeland attorney Stephen R. Bailey. "I took the lunch break from the bar exam when it was given at the Civic Center. A group of us did the post-mortem from the morning questions at one of the Ambassador's tables."

Mr. Bowman's Ambassador House was on the western edge of what once was a busy, working downtown. It also was the subject of several newspaper articles, including a 1977 Evening Sun profile.

"We have everybody from millionaires to street cleaners eating here," Mr. Bowman said in that interview.

The article described the patrons as "cops, showgirls, longshoremen, bartenders, charwomen, all-night disc jockeys, emergency room nurses, bustout gamblers, stationary engineers -- the hard workers the sleepwalkers the nightstalkers the ghost-haunted."

It described him as "a short man with a long memory, a bald head, a bristling mustache and a lot of energy."

His restaurant was forced by urban renewal to move to Lombard and Eutaw streets in the early 1980s. Mr. Bowman sold the operation and retired in 1984. Only then did he stop working 12- to 14-hour days.

"We had full houses," Mr. Bowman said, speaking of the restaurant's busy nights and days. "We were looking for seats instead of customers from the early '60s to about 1970. Seventy's when they started tearing down and moving out."

He also owned the Bowman Restaurant, which now operates on Harford Road in Carney under different ownership. He also owned a small chain, the Stone Taverns, a 1930s-style collection of sandwich shops scattered around the city.

In 1938, he married Dorothy Drew, who survives him.

Services will be held at 11: 30 a.m. today at Ruck Funeral Home, 5305 Harford Road.

He also is survived by a daughter, Susan Clare Barnes of San Jose, Calif.; a brother, William Bowman of Resaca, Ga.; four grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

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