With a wink, Mr. Boh selling more than beer


Mr. Boh is back.

Not that he ever really left - not when his image was pulled from beer cans in the 1960s, not when the company he was mascot for closed its Baltimore brewery in 1980, not even when beer marketing went the way of gusto-grabbing hunks and scantily clad babes.

Long before Mr. Whipple pushed toilet paper and geckos took to hawking car insurance, there was Mr. Boh - the round-headed, mustachioed, one-eyed mascot of National Bohemian beer, aka Natty Boh.

And today - even though he is nearing 80, and Baltimore's hometown beer hasn't been brewed in Baltimore for 26 years - Mr. Boh is enjoying a resurgence. His likeness, returned to the can years ago, is popping up all over.

Today, you can find Mr. Boh's winking face - a 27-foot-tall, red neon version - atop Brewers Hill, capping the newly remodeled, 11-story Natty Boh Tower. Inside the former brewery one soon will be able to buy Mr. Boh souvenirs and view parts of a new documentary, Mr. Boh's Brewery, which premiers tonight.

Across the street, you can visit the memorabilia-filled Natty Boh Lounge on the second floor of Canton Station, a tavern whose third floor is being transformed into what may strike some as a contradiction in terms, given the beer's blue-collar image: the "Natty Boh VIP Lounge."

"There definitely seems to be a rise in Natty Boh fans," said Ben Shayne, who runs the fan site nationalbohemian.com. "And I think part of it is the resurgence of the city as a good place to live again."

Iconic accessories

Whatever the reasons - urban renaissance, kitsch appeal, nostalgia - Mr. Boh is an icon again, a fact easily seen at the Fells Point shop Natty Boh Gear, sanctioned distributor of all things Boh.

The shop opened in October, and between it and its online arm, Nattybohgear.com, Mr. Boh is being sold in the form of bumper stickers, golf balls, ties (including Boh-ties), dog collars, signs, clocks, caps, flying disks, Christmas ornaments, crab mallets and T-shirts, including a black one that says simply, "BOH-LIEVE."

While the shop sells newly produced items, vintage Boh memorabilia has enjoyed a jump in value on eBay, according to longtime collectors, some of whom have outfitted their basement bars, their living rooms and even their bodies with his image.


It is for bona fide Boh enthusiasts such as Ben Donovan, a Baltimore firefighter whose online handle is "Bohlover," whose basement overflows with Mr. Boh memorabilia and who motors around his Lutherville neighborhood in a converted golf cart he calls his "Boh-cart."

Donovan, 31, sports a Mr. Boh tattoo on his right calf; his wife, Elizabeth, has a Mrs. Boh tattooed on her left.

"I've loved it ever since I first started drinking - it was one of the first beers I ever drank," said Donovan, who is currently bidding on eBay for a vintage Mr. Boh ashtray that carries the slogan, "Oh boy, what a beer." (Bidding started at $14 and is now well over $100.)

"A lot of things have doubled in value," Donovan said, attributing the surge in popularity - of Mr. Boh and, to a lesser extent, the beer - to the restoration of the former National brewery by Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse Inc.

In the past few years, Mr. Boh's popularity "has just grown and grown," said Todd Unger, who obtained the rights to market Mr. Boh's image from Pabst Brewing, the company that now makes National Bohemian. "And with the Natty Boh Tower and the resurgence of Brewers Hill, it caught even more steam," he added.

`Boh knows'

Two and a half years ago, Unger made some T-shirts for his fellow Ravens tailgaters that read, "Boh Knows Baltimore Football." So many people asked about them, he made more, broadened his inventory and started selling Mr. Boh items at sporting events and festivals before opening his store and Web site last fall.

Though Unger owns the rights, for years Baltimoreans have pretty much helped themselves to Mr. Boh's image.

Mary Prankster, the name used by a New York (via Dundalk) musician, came up with the "Mrs. Boh" character as her logo. At Nacho Mama's, a Canton restaurant, the walls are decorated with vintage National Bohemian memorabilia; Mr. Boh's image, wearing a sombrero, is on its menu; and wait staff often wear National Bohemian-inspired uniforms. In the city and suburbs, athletic teams have adopted him as mascot, and tattoo artists have added him to their repertoire.

All that - and the fact that Mr. Boh and his beer have long held a warm place in the hearts and bladders of many Baltimoreans - kept the 1930s-era character from fading away entirely.

"He went into hiding a little bit," said Mike Citro, who manages Natty Boh Gear, in the former home of a sub shop, thrift store and fortune teller on Thames Street in Fells Point. "The beer always had a die-hard following, but I think there's been a resurgence - some of it in people drinking, but mostly in the image becoming popular, especially in the Canton area."

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