Archive for the ‘Information’ Category
So, you’re sitting in the bar with your friends and you start to think about ordering food. A good steak usually satisfies, but you are not that hungry. Chicken tenders and wings have become old hat, and nachos or chili go in easy and exit violently. What to order? What? Then the hot waitress or waiter you’ve been ogling and hoping may find you appealing, suggests sliders.
It’s not surprising because they’ve been appearing in scores of bars, taverns and restaurants lately, and now’s your chance to check them out. Hell, even Burger King is advertising them these days, but theirs are called “Burger Shots.” As if you stuff one in a small glass and gulp it down with a beer.
They’re nothing new, even though they seem to be all the rage. The tiny burgers (sliders) originated with White Castle restaurants in 1921; the true beginning of the fast food hamburger trade. Then in 1928 Harry Duncan relocated from Louisville, KY to Washington, DC and opened the Little Tavern at 814 E Street, NW. The onslaught of “deathballs” in the Washington – Baltimore area began, and by 1939 there were 50 locations.
Devotees of Little Tavern affectionately called it “Club LT,” and referred to the mini-burgers as “deathballs,” which was a reference to how they were cooked. The “chef” would line the grill with little balls of meat, with chopped onions and fry a bunch, then place them on the small buns along with a pickle, and store them covered by a damp towel in a drawer under the grill.
I didn’t really frequent Club LT when I was a kid. As a teenager riding around in cars and drinking beer with my friends, we usually stopped at Eddie Leonard’s for a sub when the munchies set in. It wasn’t until about 1973, while driving a cab, that my gourmet habits developed. You see, I always worked the night shift and Little Tavern was open 24 hours. The only other place open was 7-11 and at that time their food just wasn’t very tasty. They carried the Stewart sandwiches that needed to be heated in their toaster ovens (microwaves weren’t available), so my late night meals were three LT deathballs and a cup of coffee. I’m not one who usually goes for coffee with anything other than breakfast. It just sort of says, “I’m an old fart and don’t care any more.” Coffee with dinner just doesn’t seem right. But, at Club LT the coffee was delicious, served in the thick mugs that somehow made it better. Not to mention, I needed the caffeine buzz to continue working.
After relocating from the Marlow Heights territory to the Hyattsville driving zone, my favorite cab stand was the College Park Little Tavern, referred to by the cab company as “The Ritz.” Since this location was right across the street from the Rendezvous Inn, I’m sure they had many visits by drunken U of MD students when the bar closed. Like all Little Taverns, this place had a few stools (a large LT had about a dozen). The sit-down crowd was certainly welcome, but “Buy ’em by the bag” was the slogan. When Harry started the business, burgers were a nickle, so walking out with a bag full was a pretty easy task. You could feed the whole family.
In 1981 at age 82, Harry sold the chain to an attorney, Gerald Wedren, and moved to Florida. The business had dwindled to 30 locations at this point, caused primarily by the proliferation of fast food burger chains in the area. McDonald’s, Burger King, Red Barn, Wendy’s and others had been tapping into the profits of LT for quite some time, and Harry decided to let go. The imminent demise was on the horizon, as Wedren tried to “class up” the joints and extract some profit by competing with the big guys. Dress codes were implemented, and the menu was changed by adding more items. They even opened a fancy diner named appropriately, “Club LT.” But, the flavor of Little Tavern was lost and in 1988 Wedren sold the enterprise to Atlantic Restaurant Ventures, Inc., a firm that held the local Fuddruckers franchise. The writing was on the wall.
After only three years, ARV sued Wedren for fraud, accusing him of misrepresenting the value of the business. Shortly thereafter foreclosures of the various properties began and four of them hung on, being temporarily rescued by Al Wroy of Belair, who had joined the company during the Wedren reign. He tried to keep it going, but the last Little Tavern, located in Dundalk, closed on April 29, 2008.
Well, that’s the story of the deathball; gone from our area forever, but living on in its evolved form. The next time you’re at the Green Turtle, Burger King, Chili’s or any place advertising sliders, think of Harry Duncan as you bite into your order. They’re no longer a nickle, and probably not as good, but three deathballs and coffee always hit the spot.
Bake My Fish
It is generally accepted that duckpin bowling originated in Baltimore in 1900. There are references to it as far back as 1892 in the Boston Globe, claiming the sport to be of New England birth. Personally, I prefer the Maryland version, attributing it to the efforts of John McGraw, the famous New York “Baseball” Giants Hall of Fame manager and Wilbert Robinson, the Hall of Fame catcher who played for two Baltimore Orioles teams; from 1890 – 1899 (the National League team that folded after 1899), and the 1901-02 Orioles of the American League, who moved to New York City in 1903 to become the Yankees. That’s right, those Yankees.
Growing up in Maryland with duckpins was terrific. During my formative years (the 60s) the sport was in its heyday. My best friend’s dad coached our team and Saturday was anxiously anticipated. I couldn’t wait to get to the lanes for the bowling (but really for the french fries). Bowling Alley fries were the best. That was when they cooked them in real fat, not this sissy trans fat-less stuff we use today. Grease, salt and ketchup . . . . mmmmm, the best. We were active kids, not slothy adults, so the cholesterol didn’t clog our arteries. In my adult years I bowled with a fellow who drenched his french fries in mustard. If we wanted to snatch a fry or two while he was on the lane bowling, we had to eat them with the yellow stuff. I guess his intent was to thwart our thievery of his snack. It worked. Or, maybe he just liked them with mustard. On our team, he was the only one.
During the 1960s there were Fair Lanes alleys all over Maryland, and several independent lanes, as well. The sport was going strong. I bowled on leagues in Suitland, Forestville (Parkland), Queenstown, Hyattsville (Prince George’s Plaza), Marlow Heights, Catonsville (Westview), Laurel (with mustard guy), Silver Spring (White Oak), Riverdale (Rinaldi), Wheaton (Glenmont), College Park, and probably a couple of places I’ve forgotten.
The good thing about duckpin bowling is anybody can do it. The balls are small, weighing from 2 to a maximum of 3.75 lbs. But, don’t get the impression it is easier than ten pins, because it’s not. You can throw the ball right down the middle and “chop” for just two pins. No one has ever bowled a perfect 300 game in duckpins, but in ten pins it is a frequent occurrence. Many ten pin bowlers think they’re “tough guys” because they can roll the heavy ball down the lanes. They ain’t so tough when ending up with two pins for a whole frame because the first ball chopped, and the next two were rolled through the hole. I guess they really don’t appreciate the challenge and precision necessary to be a good duckpinner, so they make fun of it. With the game disappearing, there won’t be as many opportunities to test their skill as in the past. In 1967 there were about 300,000 duckpin bowlers. In 1973 nearly 40,000 were sanctioned (league) and today there are about 9,000; virtually all concentrated in Maryland and Connecticut. The biggest factor in the decline was the demise in 1973 of the only company manufacturing automatic pinsetters (one source says it was 1969).
Ken Sherman invented the automatic pinsetter for duckpins in 1954, but refused to sell the rights to Brunswick because he didn’t want to leave New England. Shortly thereafter, AMF developed a pinsetter for ten pins, and eventually the device became the preferred equipment due to their willingness to expand and Sherman’s desire to stay at home. His company didn’t survive, and today Fair Lanes establishments are named AMF.
After enlisting in the Air Force in 1969, I came back to Maryland in 1973, but didn’t join a league until 1980. Then I bowled for a few more years and stopped in 1987. I still had the itch, so in 1992 I organized a tournament for my employer, which included 40 teams, with 5 bowlers each from companies with whom we did business. Two hundred people participated during the middle of February to have a grand time of socializing and duckpin bowling. It was required that each team have at least two females, so those participating would have to allow the clerical employees (peasants) to take the afternoon off to bowl. Otherwise, they would just send the males, who usually golfed and found other ways to waste their afternoons while the peons did the work.
After five tournaments I left the company, but the event survives to this day. We gave trophies for 1st, 2nd, 3rd and Last Place finishers. That’s all fine and dandy, but my preferred awards were for Best Team Name and Best Bowling Attire. My favorite team name and attire (designed by my son) is in the picture to the left.
Many of you reading this participated in one or more of those tournaments. Most of the pictures from the 1996 Awards Ceremony are posted in the sidebar link “5th Annual CIC Tournament Pictures,” which is under the “Boomer Memories – Duckpin Bowling” category. Take a peek(ing) and you may find yourself or someone you know. Don’t be alarmed by how much older and fatter you look today. It’s always fun to see what used to be.
If you have not bowled duckpins in the past (or even if you have), find an alley and have a good time. Take the kids. Most centers will put down gutter bumpers so the ball stays on the lane, and the child feels like a star. Spend a few minutes clicking on the links (particularly the videos) in the sidebar under “About Duckpin Bowling.” You might want to check out Robin’s Web, a site devoted to the sport.
It won’t be long before duckpins are completely gone. The equipment can’t last forever.
Roll one for the Gipper.
Bake My Fish