Crazy John's gone, but the craziness goes on

Gun incident this week at takeout joint on The Block recalls part of a rough past

February 18, 2010|By Peter Hermann |

Crazy John hasn't owned Crazy John's in at least a dozen years.

But the takeout still bears that signature name and red awning, snuggled on The Block between the oversized red lips logo over the doors to Club Lust and the more pedestrian Arcade Liquors store.

Boasting everything from Chicken Alfredo (Wednesday's special) to pepperoni pizza spinning on a wheel in the window, the place still attracts a crowd of sundry visitors. And it still attracts the attention of miscreants and the police, as it did earlier this week, recalling the days when the strip was filled with nefarious characters, such as the original Crazy John, who lives on today, plastered on FBI wanted posters.

By day, Crazy John's fills with cubicle workers from the state office building down the street, police officers and firefighters from headquarters, delivery people on a break and folks with nothing else to do. By night, patrons of seedy bars mix with barkers and strippers over coffee and a slice, sometimes negotiating to continue unfinished business elsewhere.

As the 2 a.m. bar closing time approaches, stern-looking Baltimore police officers twirling batons replace cars on East Baltimore Street and impose a strict interpretation of the loitering statutes, so much so that the owner of the building containing Crazy John's complains that the deployment is killing business.

But those very same cops were the ones who responded to the restaurant manager's urgent call for help early Tuesday when women started fighting in his entranceway. The manager pounded on the glass window and shouted to an officer, "Get these people out of here," according to police charging documents.

Officers broke up the fight and arrested a man in a hoodie, hat, jeans and a belt that police said not only held up his pants but kept a .22-caliber handgun loaded with nine bullets from falling to the ground. Police said he withdrew the gun, and an officer knocked it out of his hand.

Police posted the bust on Twitter, another example of bad guys with guns. To quote from the officer's charging document, that one block of East Baltimore Street, around the corner from City Hall and police headquarters, is an "area well known for high drug activity."

Crazy John's is indeed a crazy place, a landmark (if a takeout place can ever be considered such a thing), an institution amid the old burlesque joints and the self-proclaimed "upscale" adult entertainment spots.

More than a dozen years ago, Crazy John (formally known as Ioannis Markos Kafouros) owned Crazy John's, not just on The Block; he had another spot on West Baltimore Street near 1st Mariner Arena. Kafouros sold that location in 2000 to the city for several hundred thousand dollars as part of its west-side redevelopment project.

The sale sparked outrage because two years earlier, Kafouros had fled the country after his conviction in federal court for selling black-market tuna across state lines. The FBI, which at the time vowed to arrest the fugitive if he showed up at City Hall to pick up his check, says Kafouros was last seen years ago on a Greek island. His wanted poster lists his nickname, "Crazy John."

Kafouros was back in the news in 2008 when federal authorities from the FBI and the IRS raided buildings, several owned by a man convicted years earlier of bribing a city zoning official and now known as a "bail bonds king," and another owned by the Greek fugitive. No charges have been filed as a result of the raids.

The feds are still hunting Kafouros, and his name lives on in Baltimore. (His family now owns a Greek restaurant on Coral Way in Miami.)

Tuesday's gun bust seems nothing more than an isolated act of thuggery, unrelated to any sophisticated enterprise, but it recalls the rough and tumble of the city's past and old characters who still haunt streets that haven't changed much over the years.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.