Girlie's bar gets new life

Hoffman's: A family tavern in Canton gives way to development, but pieces of it will get a second chance.

December 18, 2003|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

If you ever find yourself drinking a beer at a certain hot dog-themed tavern in Hampden, raise a glass to Girlie. That'll be her old wooden bar you're leaning against.

Lula Elizabeth "Girlie" Hoffman, still peppy at 85, has moved out of the place on Southeast Baltimore's grimy waterfront where she had lived her whole life and had long run the family bar, Hoffman's.

The two-story building will be torn down today to make way for businessman Ed Hale's big Canton Crossing development.

But the things from Hoffman's live on. Cafe Hon owner Denise Whiting paid Hoffman several thousand dollars for her 22-foot-long wooden bar, among other objects. Whiting intends to install the 1940s-era bar in a new beer-and-dogs joint she hopes to open this spring on The Avenue in Hampden.

A job-training enterprise called Second Chance Inc. sent a crew to Hoffman's former South Clinton Street property this week on a salvage job. Workers removed a cornice, pine floorboards, a clawfoot bathtub and floor-length spittoon trough. They will be sold at Second Chance's South Baltimore warehouse, at 1645 Warner St.

Hoffman, who now lives with sister-in-law Marie Hoffman in Dundalk, professes to feel not a bit of nostalgia for her old world.

"I got it so good I don't think nothing of it," she said yesterday while recovering from a cold. "Here, I got it lovely. That's why I don't miss being away from it."

Even so, she is glad the bar will survive. Whiting agreed, calling it a fitting move from one Baltimore neighborhood that used to be solidly blue-collar to another. "It's what should happen to things like that," Whiting said. "We will rebuild the bar almost exactly as it was there."

Whiting learned about the bar from newspaper accounts of Hoffman, who initially resisted Hale's efforts to buy her property. This year, though, she changed her mind and expressed gratitude for Hale's $225,000 offer.

When Whiting walked into Hoffman's, she saw a distinctive bar with small mirrored tiles and others in red and green. It was perfect for Whiting's new establishment, whose name she is keeping secret for now.

Whiting also bought some knickknacks, including one with "Made in Occupied Japan" stamped on it. The spittoon she didn't want, though, unnerved by tales that similar ones in Fells Point were used as urinals.

The rest of the building's contents went to Hale, who paid Second Chance to cart it away. The payment helped a worthy nonprofit group, he noted, and gave him a tax deduction.

Yesterday, Durrell Majette and three other green-shirted workers toiled in a chilly rain to pry off the front cornice.

"We don't know exactly how old it is, but it's old," said Majette, one of two site supervisors. "We try to go at it almost like we're dissecting it. We try to preserve as much as possible."

Inside, stacks of pine floorboards, molding and the spittoon lay on the floor. A 1952 Bible inscribed to a Dorothy Trautner "from Mother" sat on an old Zenith TV with dial channel changers. In a breezeway out back, the front page of the Oct. 27, 1959, Evening Sun lay in a puddle. One headline read, "Nehru Accepts Peiping Offer."

"Each site, you never know what you're going to find," said Majette, who joined Second Chance after losing his job as a sewing machine repairman when London Fog closed its local operations.

Today, the big Caterpillar wrecker parked next door will level the place, erasing any evidence that Hoffman's once stood there. Hale has a Gunther's Beer sign that Hoffman gave him and plans to hang it if a restaurant is built on the site.

Meanwhile, Girlie Hoffman is looking forward to her first-ever trip to Hampden to see Whiting's new business. "I always say to Marie, `When is she opening it up, when is she opening it up?'"

It seems likely she will sample the hot dogs Whiting plans to sell, some with a Baltimore flavor (think fried baloney) and others with a Chicago or New York signature.

"Yeah, I like 'em," Hoffman said with a laugh. "In fact, my preacher's coming to pay me a visit because I'm on the sick list at church. We'll have lunch for her. We're going to have hot dogs."

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