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City Folk

The Baby of the Family

The octogenarian brother of the beloved restaurateur remembers the way things used to be

Photo: Michelle Gienow, License: N/A

Michelle Gienow

His birth name is Alexander, but his father called him “Boodgie,” the last of five kids born to Polish immigrants named Martick on the second floor of a downtown bar at Mulberry and Tyson streets, back when the neighborhood was Baltimore’s Chinatown.

Alexander R. Martick came into the world above Martick’s, the workingman’s tavern at 214 West Mulberry Street on June 18, 1928, delivered by a local doctor who charged about nine bucks for the service. His mother, Florence, didn’t like hospitals and, to the best of his knowledge, she delivered her first four at home too: Sanford, Rosie (91 and still kicking), Morris, and Jeanette.

The third child born was Morris, the fabled, celebrated, bedeviled, and beloved odd duck who turned the family business into a 1950s Dixieland hangout for newspapermen and beatniks and, later, a French restaurant with a wait staff of artists and students.

Morris died in 2011. His restaurant remains shuttered, its fate at the mercy of the city’s stalled west side renewal project. At a memorial for his brother, who was mourned by thousands, Alex said: “Morris was innovative and he had balls. You couldn’t give me a restaurant.”

He pauses over a bowl of Maryland crab to sip a glass of bourbon and says: “You’d have to be old to know the memories I’m talking about. . .”

As a kid, Boodgie sold three-penny copies of the News-Post and the Sun to riders of the No. 32 streetcar that rolled up Park Avenue toward Gwynn Oak. He was only 10 or 11 when four gunmen robbed the one-time speakeasy they lived above, wounding a reporter having a drink at the bar. Sometimes a city street sweeper named Bill helped the patriarch, Harry (a socialist not especially fond of work), tend bar.

At 12, Alex was tapping wooden beer barrels down in the dirt-floor basement. “You had to use a wooden mallet, [pop] the cork just right, and hook it up to the coil that ran upstairs to the bar,” Martick recalls. “If you let that thing go, you’d lose a whole fucking barrel of beer. During the Depression that was like losing a fortune.”

To glimpse moments of long-gone Baltimore, vivid images that arrive in sepia with each story Martick tells in his low, sometimes mumbled rasp, share a meal with the 84-year-old attorney, who still goes to the office every day. He’s likely to take you to Michael’s Steak and Lobster House, on the 6200 block of Eastern Avenue, between Highlandtown and Dundalk.

Martick, a 1953 graduate of University of Maryland’s law school, started going to Michael’s with a client named Betty Bohrer when the dark-paneled, maritime-themed restaurant was called Smitty’s. Betty owned a gin mill in old Canton above Boston Street, and Martick did business with her the same way he once sued the Baltimore Colts for a couple old vaudeville performers who claimed the rights to the team’s fight song. He was able to get the performers a couple thousand bucks from a local radio station that broadcast the Colts’ games, but not the copyright. No one can win them all, but Martick fights fair, his word is his bond, and he rarely needs a contract.

“You need something, call me at any hour, I do the work, you know I’m not going to cheat you, and I know I’ll get paid. Life’s too short to be fucking around with people without integrity.”

The no-nonsense barrister likes Michael’s the same way he used to enjoy the now-defunct Eastern House in the heart of Highlandtown. That was also a Greek-owned family restaurant, known for a good crab cake (Martick stopped eating meat after heart surgery) and something special Martick hankered for, “the peasant’s salad—no lettuce, sauteed potatoes, cucumbers, tomatoes, olives, and, if you liked, some feta cheese.”

The things he remembers are micro-histories of forgotten footnotes—how waitresses from the Chinese restaurants would run in to buy beer for their customers; how that got his mother in trouble with the liquor board; dozens of daily dramas that most are too young to know.

But Boodgie can’t recall the last meal he had at Martick’s Restaurant Français. Maybe he doesn’t want to.“When an [independent] restaurant like Marconi’s or Burke’s or the Eastern House goes out of business, the city loses something,” he said. “It’s like a person dying. Not just a place to eat, the city loses some of its personality.”

Asked what is going to happen to the old family bar, Martick looks up from his crab cake and coleslaw and says: “You want to buy it?”

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