William Tutton Jr., 86, operated popular Eager House restaurant

January 25, 2004|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

William Tutton Jr., the jovial Baltimore restaurateur who in the mid-1940s transformed a former West Eager Street lunchroom into the swank Eager House where drinks were always doubles and steaks were charcoal-cooked to perfection, died Tuesday of Parkinson's disease at his Glen Burnie home. He was 86.

"The Eager House was always a big-time place and was the best in town. It was the place to be seen," said Peter "Buzz" Beler, owner of the Prime Rib restaurants in Baltimore, Washington and Philadelphia.

"The decor was nice, and it always had a busy bar. I was a big customer before I opened my own place and was a member of the Golden Horseshoe Club, which was upstairs. The club featured a piano player," he added.

"At its high point, the Eager House, under the regime of Bill Tutton Jr., ... had its own Rolls-Royce hospitality van and its own private bunny club around the corner," wrote a Sun restaurant critic in 1982. "It was the absolute pinnacle of the Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis and Tony Curtis years and it was a sitdown paradise for sitdown comics of all sorts."

Mr. Tutton was born in Baltimore and raised at 15 W. Eager St., where his parents operated a lunchroom. He was a 1936 graduate of Polytechnic Institute and earned his law degree from the University of Baltimore School of Law in 1940.

After serving in the Coast Guard during World War II, he practiced law briefly before deciding to convert his parent's lunchroom into a restaurant. What emerged was one of Baltimore's most popular postwar dining venues and cocktail-hour hangouts.

The Crow's Nest Room was designed around a nautical theme, with mermaids on the wall, ship models and waitresses who wore sailor suits. Restrooms were marked Buoys and Gulls.

In 1972, an earlier Sun critic wrote, "If it only didn't look so much like the place to take your sweetie-pies (sweetie-pie?). You know, one of those places with black imitation leather with studs in it, marbleized mirrors and lots of red all over everything."

Decor aside, the crowds jammed the bar to quaff jumbo martinis, Manhattans and scotches on the rocks.

And from an enormous menu that probably weighed a couple of pounds, they ordered such house specialties as Oyster Roast Eager House, which were oysters on the half shell, topped with backfin crab meat and finished with a sauce containing cheese and capers. It was roasted and brought to the table on a bed of rock salt. Escargots Eager House was another favorite.

A tank held lobsters that could be prepared nine ways. The Surf and Turf combo featured an oversized lobster tail and a generous slab of prime rib. Prime beef and the components of the restaurant's London Mixed Grill were prepared over charcoal fires.

"Bill was a top-rate operator and a very good restaurateur," Mr. Beier said. "It was always a well-run place, and he'd pack them in. He was the man on North Charles Street. And he was the most gregarious person that you'd ever want to meet."

"He loved to walk around with a vodka in his hand talking to the customers," said his wife of 29 years, the former Katherine Miller, who had been a Playboy bunny and waitress.

Mr. Tutton later added the Gaslamp Club in the 900 block of Cathedral St. The club, housed in a three-story rowhouse, was a private dining club that operated in conjunction with the Eager House.

After selling the Eager House and Gaslamp Club in 1976, he went to work in the state attorney general's office, where he was an assistant attorney general until retiring in 1995.

Mr. Tutton was an avid boater who owned a succession of yachts he named the Eager Miss.

Services were Friday.

In addition to his wife, Mr. Tutton is survived by three stepsons, Robert P. Griffin Jr. of Millersville, Ronald P. Griffiin of Ferndale and Michael P. Griffin of Glen Burnie; and three grandchildren. His previous four marriages ended in divorce.

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