Margaret R. Schirmer, 85, longtime hostess at area clubs, restaurants

April 19, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Margaret Rowe Schirmer, one of Baltimore's legendary restaurant and nightclub hostesses who kept the drinks flowing and the customers happy, died Thursday of heart failure at Oak Crest Village retirement community. She was 85.

Mrs. Schirmer lived in Ruxton before moving to Oak Crest Village, in Parkville, in September.

During almost six decades in the hospitality business, Mrs. Schirmer worked in some of the area's most famous clubs and restaurants.

Beginning in the 1930s, she worked as hostess at the Madison Club, a nightclub, rathskeller and restaurant at Madison and Chester streets, and at the Ambassador Club at Orleans and Castle streets in East Baltimore.

"All the big acts and bands like Frankie Fontaine, Woody Herman, Harry James, Artie Shaw, Benny Goodman and the Andrews Sisters came into the Madison after playing the State Theater on East Monument Street to eat and have a couple of drinks. And she'd take care of them," said her nephew Frank Hessler of Perry Hall.

Mrs. Schirmer and her first husband, Frankie Rowe, whom she married in 1956, owned the two clubs. He died in 1962.

"In addition to being a nightclub, the Madison also was a catering hall for weddings and private parties. She was well-known as a Baltimore hostess," Mr. Hessler said.

After the death of her husband, Mrs. Schirmer went to work in 1963 as hostess at Bernie Lee's Penn Hotel on West Pennsylvania Avenue in Towson.

The Penn Hotel was a well-known watering hole for Baltimore County politicians, lawyers and judges who filled the Quill Club and Stag Bar to trade gossip.

After the Penn Hotel closed in the early 1970s, she worked as a hostess for Bill Pellington, the former Colt linebacker who owned Pellington's Iron Horse Restaurant in Yorkridge Shopping Center in Timonium.

When the Iron Horse was sold in 1984, she continued working for the new owners, who renamed it the Hunt Ridge. She retired in 1993.

A small woman with black hair that later turned white, Mrs. Schirmer was a commanding presence in spite of her size. She also had a weakness for off-color jokes.

"She was always good for a joke," said her nephew, laughing.

"She had a cool demeanor and knew the business. She ran those restaurants and clubs right and tough but was always fair. She liked people, especially the Damon Runyon-type characters who came into the clubs and restaurants," he said.

Born Margaret Bryan on Belt Street in Locust Point, she was raised in Bethlehem, Caroline County. After graduating from Preston High School in 1930, she returned to Baltimore and went to work at the Madison.

She was married in 1972 to Robert Schirmer, a safety engineer and consultant, who died in 1988.

"In the old days, she liked visiting Atlantic City, but her real hobby in life was her work," said Mr. Hessler.

Services were held Monday.

Mrs. Schirmer is survived by another nephew, Michael A. Hessler of Anchorage, Alaska; and several great-nieces and great-nephews.

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