A festive tradition stays true to roots

Brooklyn Park's Easter block party hasn't changed a bit

April 16, 2001|By Allison Klein | Allison Klein,SUN STAFF

You can tell it's Easter in Brooklyn Park when a Rodney Dangerfield impersonator is on stage telling bad jokes about his doctor and Krazy Glue.

Or when grown men dressed as Batman, Superman and Spider-Man are on a balcony dancing to rap music and Jimmy Buffett tunes.

Hundreds of people turned out yesterday for the annual Easter celebration at the Club 4100 restaurant in Brooklyn Park, just as they have for the last 42 years.

Most years, Baltimore Colts legend Johnny Unitas shows up and throws a few footballs, but he didn't make it this year because he was out of town, organizers say.

But this Easter party is not about Johnny or Rodney, loyalists say, though the two have become fixtures over the years.

It's about tradition, children getting their faces painted and people catching up with old friends from the neighborhood, which is in Anne Arundel County, just over the Baltimore City line from Brooklyn.

"Money can't buy this," said host Manny Spanomanolis, as he surveyed the crowd smacking their lips with pink cotton candy under the strong afternoon sun. "We love to do it to get the people here each year."

Spanomanolis and his brother, Dino, who own the Club 4100 restaurant, provided hundreds of pastel-colored hard-boiled eggs, 1,000 bags of candy and mountains of cotton candy. The free food was passed out by the Brooklyn Lions Club.

Generations of Brooklyn and Brooklyn Park families mingled with superheroes, the Oriole Bird and the Easter Bunny amid Easter decorations galore.

"I haven't been here in 15 years, and everything is just the same as I remember," said Jeanette Tamburo, 53, who moved from Brooklyn to Pasadena 25 years ago.

"This morning I said, `Let's try 4100 Club and see if they're doing Easter,'" said Tamburo, who was there with her mother, children and grandchildren. "I was really surprised. Even the cotton candy is in the same place."

Most people there know Brooklyn resident Mark Bishop, 35, as "Rodney Dangerfield." He has been doing his impression at the party for 12 years. He says he doesn't switch to, say, Elvis, because people look forward to Rodney every year.

"It's the most requested," said Bishop, who also uses his Dangerfield voice in a television commercial for a local carpet store.

Also on hand was Miss Club 4100, who passed out gold-sprayed cloth roses as she wore a white-and-gold sash proclaiming her title. "Happy Easter!" Stacy Ritter told guests as she handed them flowers. She also released two dozen white doves, which were dwarfed by enormous floating balloons decorated like a soccer ball and baseball.

Club 4100 began its Easter bash tradition in 1959, when then-owner George P. Coutros threw a party for disabled children and sweetened the day by bringing in professional sports stars. The party was outside the restaurant, which was in the basement of his house at 4118 Fourth St. The party became well-known and slowly evolved into a community gathering.

The Spanomanolis brothers bought the restaurant in 1969, moved into the house and carried on the tradition. It became a place politicians and athletes frequented.

Legend has it that the restaurant established such a love affair with the Colts that it would contact the control tower at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to send a message to the pilot on the homecoming Colts' charter plane telling the team the place was still open and the steaks were on the grill.

And the tradition continues.

"If Johnny Unitas was in town, he would have been here," said Manny Spanomanolis.

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