Last call nears for former saloon

Old Bromwell Inn in Balto. Co. goes to auction today

October 19, 2006|By Josh Mitchell | Josh Mitchell,SUN REPORTER

For sale: an old saloon on a commercial strip in northeastern Baltimore County. For years, a renowned political haunt. Once labeled by an out-of-town critic "the best little barroom in Baltimore."

That would be the former Bromwell Inn, which will be put up for public auction today.

The bar operated in recent years under different names and owners before closing its doors. But in its heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, patrons arrived by the dozens for the cheap American beer and Milly Bromwell's homemade crab cakes and crab soup. Her son, Thomas L. Bromwell, later ran the place while rising to political prominence as a state senator.

Now, Thomas Bromwell, who co-owns the property with two siblings, says a neighborhood tavern can no longer compete with chain restaurants in the area.

And he said he needs to raise money for legal expenses to defend himself against federal corruption charges.

An auction will be held at noon at the building, on Belair Road and Fullerton Avenue.

Bromwell recalled the old bar as "the closest thing to `Cheers' on Belair Road."

Former state Sen. Michael J. Collins called it a "landmark," adding that his fondest memory of the place was the night the Americans beat the Soviets in hockey in the 1980 Olympics. At one point, one of the Bromwell brothers grabbed an American flag and ran around the bar, and patrons followed, Collins recalled.

"All of us were parading around the bar, singing and carrying on and having just a marvelous time," said Collins, adding, "I spent many, many happy Friday nights there."

The two-story building, the exterior part-brick, part-yellow vinyl siding, sits on about a half-acre between a Chinese carryout restaurant and a motor sports shop.

Weeds sprout from the base of the structure and political posters cover the sides. A sign above the entrance displays a palm tree and the words "The Getaway" - the last of several incarnations of the bar.

The property is assessed at $338,000, according to state property records.

A liquor license for the site was recently sold to a pizza parlor in another part of the county.

The last tenant failed to make a go of the business, said Terry Havrilak, Bromwell's twin sister. "I think people don't realize how much time you have to put into a place," Havrilak said. She said it's tougher these days to compete against bigger chains, such as Carrabba's Italian Grill, which has a restaurant several blocks away on Belair Road.

Her father, Ed Bromwell Sr., bought the bar in the early 1970s and immediately turned it into a place where neighborhood families would feel welcome, with his wife making crab cakes and simmering soup on a porch out back.

"Everybody went in there to get her crab soup," said Baltimore County Councilman Joseph Bartenfelder, a Fullerton Democrat who grew up in the area. "You could count on a home-cooked meal for lunch and a reasonable meal for dinner."

The bar had events like celebrity bartender night, with Baltimore Colts players serving drinks to raise money for a local Boy Scout troop.

Ed Bromwell - "Mr. Bromwell" to patrons - was a patriotic man who did not tolerate swearing, Collins said.

Collins remembers one night, around the time of the Iran hostage crisis, when a patron walked into the bar wearing a pin with a profanity next to the word "Iran."

"Mr. Bromwell made him take it off - `We don't use that word in here, and if you don't like it you could leave,'" Collins recalled.

The elder Bromwell died in the early 1980s, Thomas Bromwell said.

Bromwell said the saloon was also a hub for local politicians. "At one end of the bar, you'd have some lawyer-politicians, on the other end of the bar you'd have ironworkers and their wives, bricklayers, and then the local rec council on the other end," he said.

In a review that appeared in the Los Angeles Times in 1982, writer Chris Barnett called the bar "the kind of neighborhood cafe and tavern you see in beer commercials." He wrote that patrons could play "The Star- Spangled Banner" on the jukebox and that the bar banned imported beers.

It was last called the Bromwell Inn in 1997, Thomas Bromwell said.

Prosecutors accused Bromwell in October last year of steering millions of dollars in building contracts to the construction company Poole and Kent, at the request of its president, W. David Stoffregen. In return, federal prosecutors allege, Bromwell's wife, Mary Pat Bromwell, was paid a salary for a no-show job at Namco, a subcontractor controlled by Stoffregen.

Bromwell and his wife have pleaded not guilty.

As part of the case, scheduled for trial in February, federal authorities moved to seize the Bromwells' home, bank accounts and retirement funds.

But sources familiar with the investigation said that the tavern was not subject to the pre-trial forfeiture because it was co-owned by Bromwell's siblings.

The Bromwell family never sold the property but leased it to a number of tenants who unsuccessfully tried to run the restaurant under new names: the Brewha Bar and Grille, Charcoal Pit and Pub and, finally, The Getaway, which has been closed since 2004.

Thomas Bromwell's son, state Del. Eric M. Bromwell, who worked at the tavern while growing up, said constituents still share their memories of the bar when he knocks on doors campaigning.

"I met a couple when I was at a senior center in Overlea. They told me they met at Bromwell's. They had a blind date there," Eric Bromwell said. "It was a touching moment."

Sun reporter Matthew Dolan contributed to this article.

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