Blob's big comeback

Slow development lets polka hot spot reopen, and loyal patrons are lining up

December 27, 2008|By Julie Scharper | Julie Scharper,

Attention polka nuts, boot slappers, schnitzel nibblers and lager quaffers: Blob's is about to reopen - at least for a little while.

Blob's Park, the Jessup beer hall that closed last year after serving German food and beer with a side of lively dancing for more than seven decades, will reopen on New Year's Eve.

"Everyone can't wait till it's open so we can have a reunion," says Mary Kotowski, a professional polka dancer who married her husband on Blob's dance floor. "They're just waiting for those doors to open."

Max Eggerl, the great-nephew of founder Max Blob and the younger brother of the most recent owner, has leased back the hall from a family trust and plans to keep the beer flowing and the accordions wheezing for at least another three years.

The hall sits on a 268-acre parcel of land just off Baltimore-Washington Parkway and not far from Fort Meade. About 1,000 condominiums and town homes are slated to be built there to accommodate a surge of new residents brought by the huge military base realignment.

But with construction several years off for the area closest to Blob's, Eggerl, 63, decided to reopen. He is hopeful that the sluggish economy will slow construction and allow him to run the hall for as long as a decade.

A few people interested in building a slots parlor have approached him, Eggerl says, but there are currently no plans for slots. The land is one of four sites in Anne Arundel County that meets state guidelines to be a slots parlor.

Eggerl tore down the battered signs along the drive, gave the hall a face-lift inside and out and commissioned a mural of an Alpine castle to be painted on the building. He has expanded the menu to include new takes on sausage and schnitzel and booked polka bands from around the country.

His brother, John Eggerl, 71, shuttered Blob's after last New Year's Eve, saying that he was exhausted.

"I always thought that when Johnny decided to retire, I would take over," said Max Eggerl, who owns an electrical contracting company. The brothers grew up in a farmhouse next to the hall, back when the family tended fields of strawberries, cantaloupes and turnips when they weren't serving beer.

Frank Bittner, 53, a retired engineer, recalls driving down a dirt-and-gravel path to get to Blob's when he was a little boy. Chickens and cows wandered through the parking lot and a "one-armed bandit" slot machine stood in the hall.

As workers hammered and sanded on a recent morning, the cavernous space looked decidedly more modern than the Blob's of yore. A flat-panel TV screen hangs above an expanded bar, and a gift shop packed with steins and Hummel figurines has been built near the door.

The countless newspaper clippings, photos and religious icons that hung on the walls have been removed, as has the disco ball.

The Washingtonia Schuhplattlers - performers of a traditional shoe-slapping dance - have pledged to string flags above the dance floor, Eggerl said. Since he announced the reopening, he has fielded dozens of calls from old customers asking if they can help - an indication of the devotion that many feel to the hall.

"It's a step back in time that takes you to an era when what mattered most is family," says Elaine Eff, a Blob's fan who heads the cultural conservation program for the Maryland Historical Trust. "It's 4-year-olds dancing with brothers and sisters, grandparents, great-grandparents."

Pauline Eckenrode, a retired McCormick's spice company worker from Dundalk, danced at Blob's for more than 50 years. Still polkaing at 81, she eagerly awaits the hall's reopening. "Oh, I had good times there with very good friends," she says.

In the year that the hall has been closed, polka dancers have twirled and skipped through VFW halls and the Polish Home Club, but no place is quite like Blob's, they say.

"When they closed up, where could you go? You thought it was the end of everybody being able to get together and have a good time," says Milton Brzozowski, 79, who had a radio show called The Polka Sweethearts with his wife. "I think it will be a shot in the arm for people to go out and have a good time again."

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