Joseph M. Regan

The World War II veteran owned and operated a tavern at Eastern Avenue and Grundy Street in Highlandtown

January 30, 2009|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

Joseph Michael Regan, a longtime Highlandtown tavern owner and World War II veteran, died of heart failure Jan. 23 in his home above his Grundy Street establishment. He was 84.

Mr. Regan, the son of an Irish-born East Baltimore saloonkeeper, was born in Baltimore and raised in a rowhouse at Grundy Street and Foster Avenue.

He attended city public schools and enlisted in the Navy in 1941. He served aboard the USS Pheasant, a minesweeper, as a fireman in the ship's engine room.

During 1943, the minesweeper helped protect convoys steaming along the Eastern Seaboard and Gulf Coast before being assigned to Europe, where it swept mines before the Normandy invasion on June 6, 1944.

"He could see his father's bar from his home, and the only time my father left East Baltimore was when he was in the service," said a son, Patrick Shannon Regan, who now owns and operates the bar.

After the war, he worked as an Internal Revenue Service field agent before buying the bar at Eastern Avenue and Grundy Street, which he named Regan's Tavern, in 1962.

"He was known to generations of Highlandtown neighbors, friends and customers as 'Mr. Joe,'" said a nephew, Tim Regan. "He was always available for lively and informed conversation, as he lived right there in the building upstairs from the bar."

Mr. Regan, a dapper man who often dressed in a tie and sweater vest, oversaw his operation from his favorite spot - a bar stool in the back, near the pool table.

"That was his special stool," his nephew said. "He's really one of those Baltimore stories. He'd be on that stool, and the neighbors would come in for a beer and hang out and chat for a while."

Mr. Regan was also known as being extremely generous.

"He kind of had a hard edge to him until you got to know him, and once you did, you realized he was a compassionate man with a heart of gold," his nephew said.

For Mr. Regan, St. Patrick's Day was a major annual event.

"He'd decorate the bar, played lots of Irish music and served green beer," Tim Regan said. "And there was always lots of good food."

His son maintains that tradition, he said.

Mr. Regan retired in 2000, but he would still come downstairs and spend time in the bar chatting with friends and neighbors.

"Yeah, he'd come in and sip a Pabst Blue Ribbon," his son said.

A history buff, Mr. Regan also enjoyed reading and making jewelry.

"He also fixed appliances and gadgets for friends and neighbors in a workshop above the bar," his nephew said. "And he never charged for his work."

In recent years, he learned how to use a computer and enjoyed searching his family's genealogy.

"He even found some long-lost relatives in Ireland," his nephew said.

His wife of 51 years, the former Joyce McGee, died in 2002.

Mr. Regan was a communicant of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Roman Catholic Church in Highlandtown.

Services were Wednesday.

Also surviving is another son, Richard Regan of Tampa, Fla.; a daughter, Nancy Regan, also of Tampa; three grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.

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