Augustino "Buddy" Paolino, whose East Baltimore crab house was a favorite of politicians, sports figures and show business celebrities and known for serving piles of steamed crustaceans and pitchers of cold National Beer, died of a heart attack Saturday at Franklin Square Hospital Center. The Essex resident was 80.
Mr. Paolino was born in Baltimore, one of nine children of Italian immigrant parents, and raised in Highlandtown. He attended Our Lady of Pompei Parochial School until the seventh grade, when he left to help support his family.
In 1943, Mr. Paolino enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in England. On June 6, 1944, he was aboard a glider with 14 other soldiers who landed before dawn behind enemy lines in German-occupied France - shortly before the main invasion forces stormed ashore at Omaha Beach.
"We didn't know when D-Day would be," Mr. Paolino told The Sun in a 1994 interview. "Then, three days before the invasion, they put us in a marshaling area. We got live ammunition. And they gave us cigarettes. Everybody got two cartons of Lucky Strikes. It felt like they were sending us to the electric chair."
Mr. Paolino - who was wounded twice in subsequent combat and earned two Purple Hearts - fought in the Battle of the Bulge and later crossed into Germany with Allied forces. His other decorations included the Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman's Badge and Glider Wings.
He returned to Baltimore in 1945 and, with his wife of two years, the former Annabelle McDonough, opened a small bar in the 3900 block of E. Lombard St. Its house specialty was three meatballs served with a half-loaf of Italian bread.
"They couldn't make 'em fast enough," said Anthony "Boo" Catafamo, a longtime friend who later went to work for Mr. Paolino. "Then they decided to go into the crab business in the early 1950s, and it took off."
They expanded what had been a mom-and-pop corner bar into Bud Paolino's Restaurant, including two dining rooms, a bar and an outdoor beer garden that was later enclosed.
"All the pols like [City Councilman] Mimi DiPietro began stopping in. It was a good watering hole with good food. It became a regular good hangout because Bud was such a great host," Mr. Catafamo said.
"Bud was a great restaurateur. That was his profession, and he did it well," said former Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III. "He always had a smile and was so welcoming."
Diners didn't mind waiting in line - sometimes for hours - to get a table.
"He sold more crabs at one time than anyone in Baltimore, and they were the best. ... He used his own seasoning, and we steamed them in a pot we called Big Bertha that could hold six bushels. We didn't boil them; we used live steam from a boiler," Mr. Catafamo said.
"Bud would sell 600 to 700 bushels of crabs a week, and on holidays over a thousand," he added.
Regulars included baseball stars Ted Williams, Billy Martin, Hank Aaron, Yogi Berra and Mickey Mantle. Hall of Famer Joe DiMaggio, when in Baltimore, would drop by to eat crabs - while dressed in a suit and tie.
"He'd walk into my place and everybody in the place stood up. It was like a general walking in," Mr. Paolino said in a 1999 article in The Sun.
"I used to bring in Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin to eat steamed crabs. All the important people went there. Even the Boston Red Sox baseball team used to go there for crabs," said Albert C. Isella, former owner of Gussie's Downbeat, a Highlandtown nightclub.
In 1980, Mr. Paolino established Tiffany East Catering, which furnishes crab feasts for private social gatherings.
In the late 1980s, he closed the crab house and opened Enrico's Sports Bar and Cafe on Haven Street with his daughter Marylou Scardina, and continued serving his famous crabs there.
In 1991, he reopened his original restaurant - now called The Normandy Room - which functions as a private catering hall. That and Tiffany East Catering now are operated by a grandson.
Despite failing health in the past year, Mr. Paolino continued to play an active role in the businesses.
He was a communicant of Our Lady of Pompei Roman Catholic Church, Claremont and Conkling streets, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Thursday.
In addition to his wife and daughter, Mr. Paolino is survived by another daughter, Diann Helen Baker of Hampstead; four grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.