Meltdown: What Happens to Dead Animals at Baltimore’s Only Rendering Plant

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Sept. 25, 1995

Consider these items: Bozman, the Baltimore City Police Department quarter horse who died last summer in the line of duty. The grill grease and used frying oil from Camden Yards, the city’s summer ethnic festivals, and nearly all Baltimore-area and Ocean City restaurants and hotels. A baby circus elephant who died while in Baltimore this summer. Millions of tons of waste meat and inedible animal parts from the region’s supermarkets and slaughterhouses. Carcasses from the Baltimore Zoo. The thousands of dead dogs, cats, raccoons, possums, deer, foxes, snakes, and the rest that local animal shelters and road-kill patrols must dispose of each month.

These are the raw materials of Baltimore’s fat-and-protein economy, which are processed into remarketable products for high profit at the region’s only rendering plant, in Curtis Bay. In a gruesomely ironic twist, most inedible dead-animal parts, including dead pets, end up in feed used to fatten up future generations of their kind. Others are transmogrified into paint, car wax, rubber, and industrial lubricants. Until the mid-1980s, some of the plant’s products were used in soap and cosmetics as well.

Like the use of human placenta in cosmetics and eating Rocky Mountain oysters, rendering is a phenomenon that many have heard of but few are tempted to ponder. Unlike those odd human practices, though, rendering answers a vital societal question: What to do with the prodigious amounts of carrion, offal, and fat that our society leaves in its dietary wake? Rather than classifying it as foul waste and incinerating it or burying it in a landfill, why not cook it into its constituent parts – fat and protein – and make a pretty penny doing it?

Valley Proteins does. The Winchester, Virginia-based company owns and runs Baltimore’s only rendering plant, tucked along the grassy shores of Cabin Branch, a tributary of Curtis Bay in the extreme southern tip of the city. Although a few out-of-state rendering plants attempt to compete in Baltimore, Valley Proteins’ Curtis Bay plant has a regional lock on the profitable recycling of dead animal matter and kitchen grease into ingredients for feed and industrial products.

Based on estimates from Neil Gagnon, general manager of the Curtis Bay plant, about 150 million pounds of rotting flesh and used kitchen grease from around Baltimore are fed into the plant’s grinders and cookers each year, resulting in about 80 million pounds of the plant’s three products:  meat and bone meal, tallow, and yellow grease. Most is reconstituted as chicken feed for North Carolina and Eastern Shore poultry farmers. Some goes for dry pet food. And some of the tallow is used by chemical “splitters,” who turn the fat into fatty acids, which in turn are used in thousands of products.


During a midsummer day’s visit to the plant, I gag upon first contact with the hot, putrescent air. My throat immediately becomes coated with the suety taste of decayed, frying flesh.

“You picked a bad day to visit a rendering plant,” Gagnon says, emphasizing the effect of the summer heat by describing the typical state of the “deadstock” picked up from Pimlico Race Course, which is delivered to Valley Proteins’ pet-food operations in Pennsylvania. “By the time we get them, they’re soup,” he says. “Summertime is bad around here.”

Gagnon himself is far from offended by the overwhelming miasma, though. “It smells like money to me,” he likes to say. Later in the visit, back in his office, he estimates Valley Proteins’ profit margin at somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 percent.

A load of guts, heads, and legs, recently retrieved from a local slaughterhouse, sits stewing in one of the raw-materials bins at the plant’s receiving bay. “That’s very fresh offal,” Gagnon says. He explains how it will be fed into “the hogger,” a shredder that grinds up the tissues and filters out trash, before it is deep-fried in cookers charged with spent restaurant grease and blood.

After being thoroughly fried, the solid protein is centrifuged, pressed, run through a magnet to remove metals, ground up, sifted, cooled, and stored in a silo. Today mid-way through the process, cooker operator Bud Kellner smiles, grabs a warm, brown, fibrous thatch of cooked tissues out of the production line in the cook room and shouts out above the mechanical din: “That’s all protein material! I could eat that right now!”

The liquid fat is cleaned, filtered, cooled, and stored in five tanks – two for tallow, a higher-grade fat product, and three for yellow grease. Kellner doesn’t mention whether he considers the fat potable.

The rendering processes at Valley Proteins’ Curtis Bay plant create three byproducts:  waste water, which goes into the city’ Patapsco Waste Water Treatment Plant at nearby Wagners Point; the stray fat and protein molecules in the air that generate the plant’s horrid stench; and reclaimed dirt, metal, plastics, and other trash, which go to the nearby Quarantine Road Landfill. Two boilers, which jointly generate 2,000 horsepower, run the whole operation.

While waiting at the receiving bay to watch another truckload of offal (this one from Baltimore County slaughterer J.W. Treuth & Sons, Inc.) tumble into a raw-materials bin, Kellner sums up why rendering is important. “If it don’t go here, it’d be laying on the side of the street somewhere.”

Blood and body fluids leak out from under the trailer gate. “Cranberry juice,” Gagnon remarks as we gaze at the repulsive pale-red effluvium. Suddenly a hot gust of wind blows droplets of it on our bare legs. As the bloated stomachs and broken body parts slide en masse from the trailer bed to the bin, Bud shouts out, “Watch out for the splatter!” After the load is delivered, a single jawbone rest on the pavement amid the bloody-liquid. Bud adds a final piece of sage advice, “Make sure you take a shower.”


Valley Proteins didn’t always have a virtual monopoly over the rendering business in Baltimore. In 1927, The National Provisioner, a meat-industry newsletter, published a map and list showing the geographical distribution of the nation’s renderers and slaughterhouses. At that time, Baltimore had 15 of Maryland’s 21 rendering plants, and there were 913 plants in the nation.

Today, according to Gagnon, Baltimore has one of the state’s six to 10 plants, which are concentrated on the Eastern Shore to serve the poultry industry. The nationwide figure has dropped to 286, according to Gary G. Pearl of the Fats and Oils Research Foundation. (Affiliated with the National Renderers Association, the foundation supports “increased utilization and new uses for products that are produced with the 50 percent of the animal that is not acceptable for human consumption,” Pearl says.)

Valley Proteins’ eight plants draw raw materials from the entire mid-Atlantic region, according to J.J. Smith, president of the company.  Smith describes the company’s territory as “from Newark [New Jersey] to Savannah [Georgia], and 300 miles inland.”  Its three-generation mini empire began in 1949 with company patriarch Clyde Smith’s buyout of an existing plant in Winchester, Virginia.

According to Baltimore City land records, Valley Proteins purchased the Curtis Bay plant in 1984 for $2 million from Benedict K. Hudson, president of another rendering company, Kavanaugh Products, which had purchased the property in the 1960s. Five of Valley Proteins’ eight plants were originally owned by other renderers, Gagnon says.

J.J. Smith says the industry’s trend toward concentration of ownership picked up momentum about 20 or 30 years ago with the creation of a market for “boxed beef.”

“Whereas cattle used to be sent to market in halves or quarters, and every community had its own slaughter facilities,” the company president explains, “now the slaughtering is consolidated in the Midwest, and they ship [the meat] out in boxes of 20- or 25-pound chunks.”

Boxed beef reduced the need for the neighborhood slaughterhouse, or abattoir.  According to Smith, “a new movement toward close-trim meat and tray-ready beef” similarly is eliminating the need for butchers and meat cutters in supermarkets because even more of the meat preparation occurs in Midwest slaughter plants.

“Baltimore used to have abattoirs all over the place,” Smith says.  Now Baltimore City has only one, a kosher slaughterhouse in the Penn-North area.  The 1927 Biennial Census of Manufactures, cited in the 1929 industry classic Inedible Animal Fats in the United Statesby Food Research Institute economist L.B. Zapoleon, indicates there were 40 slaughterers and meat packers in Baltimore at that time.

The decline of Baltimore’s slaughterers and butchers has meant less raw material for rendering.

“In 1965, at any given supermarket, we used to pick up [waste meat] three to five times a week at 1,000 pounds each.  Now we do it once a week at 600 pounds,” Smith says.  That’s an 80 to 90 percent drop in volume, and, as Smith often points out, “volume is what we thrive on in this business.”

Thirty years ago, according to Smith, 85 to 90 percent of renderers’ materials came from supermarkets and slaughterhouses.  Today, he estimates that a little more than half of the raw material for the Curtis Bay plant is from those sources.  The other half is kitchen grease and frying oils from restaurants, the proliferation of which he believes has made up for about a third of the loss resulting from the boxed-beef phenomenon.

“People used to eat at home more often,” Smith says.  “But now there are many, many restaurants, and people eat out all the time, so there has been an explosive growth at that level over the last 30 or 40 years.”

During this same period, the industry also underwent a technology shift.  In 1965, Dupps, a Germantown, Ohio, equipment manufacturer, started to make “continuous cookers,” which quickly replaced “batch cookers’” as the industry standard.

Batch cookers restricted the rate of processing because after each batch was cooked the cookers had to be emptied and prepared for the next load.  Continuous cookers made nonstop rendering possible, and the quantities the plants could handle grew greater over the ensuing years.  Today Dupps makes a continuous cooker that can handle the equivalent of 22 batch cookers, according to Smith.

“The change in technology was not a matter of new ways to cook,” Smith explains.  “It was a matter of bigger and bigger scales.  It was more efficient, but it was also more competitive for raw material.”

In Baltimore’s rendering industry, lower volumes of meat-packing and supermarket waste and higher production capacities combined with another factor – the dramatic rise of the poultry industry – to spell an end to all but one plant in the region.  Baltimore was a red-meat-packing town caught completely off guard by the continuing surge in chicken consumption, which began about 20 years ago.

“There were very few poultry-eviscerating plants in the 1960s,” Smith says.  But as the poultry industry expanded in the South and on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, those regions’ need for rendering increased. Baltimore City, meanwhile, was left with closed-down meat-packing plants, slaughterhouses, and rendering plants.  Only one of each remains.

Finally, the proliferation of environmental regulations has further encouraged ownership concentration in the rendering business. “Environmental requirements got expensive, so it became a trend to sell out to competitors who can handle the changes,” Smith explains. For the remaining firms, he says, increased regulation “was a two-edged sword.  It was expensive because it required high capital investments, but it was also a barrier for a startup company to compete with you.”

The changes amount to a classic case of “the bigger fish swallows the smaller fish,” Smith says. Pearl of the Fats and Oils Research Foundation agrees: “The general rule has been fewer and larger, with individual plants covering larger geographic areas and the investment per plant becoming much greater in order to meet environmental and water-quality standards.”


The use of dead pets, work animals, and wildlife as raw material is an aspect of the rendering business that neither Gagnon, Smith, nor Pearl likes to discuss. When they do address it, they emphasize its limited role and contend it is more a public service than a profitable practice.

“This is a very small part of the business that we don’t like to advertise,” Smith says. His main worry is bad publicity from animal-rights activists, who complain about the use of animal corpses for profit.

“We provide that as a service, not for profit, he says, pointing out that “there is not a lot of protein and fat” in dead pets and wildlife, “just a lot of hair you have to deal with somehow.” Smith believes that “shaming the American public into taking care of their pets is the way to combat the problem the animal-rights people talk about, not hassling the companies that manage the waste the pet industry produces in terms of dead animals.”

Smith says that while Valley Proteins sells inedible animal parts and rendered material to Alpo, Heinz, and Ralston-Purina, among other pet-food makers, dead-pet products are not among the products sold to these companies. “They are all very sensitive to the recycled-pet potential,” he explains. “They want no pets in the food they sell.  We guarantee them that the product we sell to them does not come from the pets we collect.  We handle them separately.”

A tiny amount of pet byproducts does get into the material sold to pet-food makers, however, according to plant general manager, Gagnon. Valley Proteins does have two production lines: one that uses only clean, fresh fat and bones from supermarkets and butcher shops and another that includes the use of dead pets and wildlife. However, the protein material is a mix from both production lines. Thus the meat and bone meal made at the plant includes materials from pets and wildlife, and about five percent of that product goes to dry-pet-food manufacturers, Gagnon says.

The higher end production line – the one without pets – makes tallow, fats whose “light colors give good consumer appeal,” Smith says. The low-end line makes yellow grease, which goes mostly for poultry and swine feed; as Smith notes, “the chicken doesn’t give a shit what it’s eating.”  Local feed makers that buy Valley Proteins’ products include Southern States in Locust Point. Gagnon says there are no longer any local purchasers of the plant’s tallow products.


Most of the dead pets that end up in Valley Proteins’ Curtis Bay plant originate from the city animal shelter in Southwest Baltimore. Earl Watson, administrator of the city Health Department’s Animal Control Division, is very aware of the use of dead pets and wildlife in Baltimore’s fat-and-protein economy, and he knows Valley Proteins’ overarching role in it. “Anywhere there are dead animals, they pick them up,” he says.  “They have a monopoly on that because no one else does it.  That means they can charge what they want for the service.”

An average of 1,824 dead animals per month pass through the freezer at the city animal shelter and onto trucks bound for Valley Proteins’ Curtis Bay plant, according to shelter statistics for April, May, and June of this year. Most of them were euthanized (three-month average: 1,339), though many were DOAs (three month average:  485). (DOA’s went up significantly in July and August, with 655 and 815 respectively, because of the hot weather and the city’s Clean Sweep program that targeted specific areas for cleanup.)

Here at the animal shelter, a staff of 10 wardens works every day but Sunday, picking up animals and bringing them to the shelter, while the shelter’s two veterinary technicians euthanize animals to make room for the newcomers.

“Having to euthanize animals all day is not pleasant,” Watson says, “especially if you like animals.”  He and shelter attendant Edward Rigney lead the way to Room 162 – Euthanasia – and Watson bows out after Rigney pulls open the door to the freezer, in which a dead fox lies stretched out on a table surrounded by barrels filled mostly with dead dogs and cats.  Fleas leap among the carcasses.

“Ten or 12 were euthanized this morning,” Rigney says. “Sometimes it’s thirtysome that get it. “Things get backed up over the holidays.”

Outside the freezer, atop another table, lie a bottle of the poison product Fatal-Plus, several syringes, a medical-waste container, and a hacksaw resting on a towel.  The hacksaw is for rabies testing:  “When people get bit, we have to cut the dogs’ heads off and test their brains,” Rigney explains, adding that the veterinary technician “never uses that – she just twists them off.”  Fatal-Plus is sodium pentobarbital; the warning label reads:  “Do not use in animals intended for food.”  This warning apparently does not apply for animals intended for pet food which is where the protein from these euthanized animals ends up.


Following Valley Proteins route driver Milton McCroy on his rounds is a colorful tour of Baltimore’s fat and protein sources.  Every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, McCroy enters the STAFF & DELIVERIES entrance of the city animal shelter and loads dead animals into his truck. He then continues his rounds to Parks Sausage, the city’s lone remaining meat-packing plant, where he picks up waste meat, and to the slaughterhouse in Penn-North, where he loads up with offal, before taking the shipment back to the Curtis Bay plant and dumping it in the raw materials bin.

“It’s a dirty, smelly job, yeah – but that’s all it is, dirty and smelly,” he say philosophically, leaving someone wondering what could be worse.

At the animal shelter, McCroy hefts two dogs stiffened by rigor mortis into the trailer of his truck, which is rigged for the rendering business with a lift, a catwalk, and a barrel cleaner. He then empties and cleans 11 barrels of assorted animals.  As he works, he describes where his load is bound. “Chicken feed, cosmetics, fertilizer, dog food, whatever – the way they cook that bad boy [the Curtis Bay plant] up, it don’t make no difference what’s in there,” he says, then pauses and adds: “When they start putting human bodies in there, that’s when I quit.”

After a brief stop at Parks Sausage, where McCroy empties 10 or so barrels of rancid meat and grease, he heads off to the slaughterhouse, next to a long-defunct animal-hospital building. He backs the truck up to a storage shed, hauls a bloated sheep carcass onto the lift, and dumps it in the trailer, then starts preparing to empty many barrels full of heads, legs, hides, and guts. Joking, he starts to make the jaws of a cow’s head clack, then gives up on the puppet how. He hoists two sheep’s heads in the air, one in each hand, and asks, “Which one do you want?” He punctures a stomach with a pocket knife and squeezes out the brown ooze inside.

The jocularity ends when the plant’s owner catches wind that the press has entered the property. As we explain that we are following McCroy on his run for a story on rendering, he ushers us off to the adjacent sidewalk. “With all our problems with OSHA [Occupational Safety and Health Administration], MOSHA [Maryland OSHA], EPA [Environmental Protection Agency], and the rest, there just is no good publicity for us right now,” he explains.

A plant employee explained later that tightening environmental regulations and concerns about the bacteria E. coli are coming down hard on slaughterhouses; any attention would just mean more problems. (A subsequent check with state and local regulators did not reveal any outstanding cases or suspected violations at the city slaughterhouse.) Disappointed in being shunted from the property, we leave without a proper good-bye to the good-natured McCroy.


Baltimore’s fat-and-protein economy has changed dramatically over the decades, but it remains essentially a profitable form of recycling.  The National Renderers Association sums up the industry nicely in its 12-minute video, Food for Life:

The rendering industry provides many needed services to the community at large; it safely recycles materials that otherwise would be a nightmare to dispose of; it creates products that are essential to modern life; it provides the needed to nutrition for our livestock and fisheries, so that a hungry world can be efficiently fed; and it supplies our pets with a healthy diet for longer, better lives.

So the next time you munch on fast-food fries (often cooked in grease the restaurants subsequently sell to Valley Proteins) or let your unfettered pet roam the city streets and backyards, or apply a little makeup to your face, or wax your car, or barbecue some chicken breasts, pause a second to think: Is this somehow connected to the Valley Proteins rendering plant in Curtis Bay, either on the donating or receiving end? Chances are it is.


Archie Bunker’s Taverns: Down in Curtis Bay, The Bars Say it All

By Van Smith

Published in City Paper, Feb. 12, 2003


The main drag of Curtis Bay enjoys what may be the city’s highest concentration of liquor establishments outside of Fells Point. Eleven bars, two social clubs, two packaged-good stores, and a strip club line a sliver of this historic neighborhood in the city’s industrial far-southern reaches. Its two north-south boulevards–Pennington and Curtis avenues, both one-way streets since the 1960s, after the nearby Harbor Tunnel was built–form an important portal for the city, one well-traveled by truckers and commuters. They also frame the neighborhood’s bar culture, where Curtis Bay’s long legacy is told over beer, cigarettes, and pool amid the sights and sounds of video poker, jukeboxes, and televisions.

An outpost among city neighborhoods, Curtis Bay feels the part. It’s been so since it first was developed by industrial interests at the end of the 19th century, when the B&O Railroad’s coal pier and car shops were built there–at that point the only major industrial investment along the city’s waterfront south of Fort McHenry. Before then, the area had been a quaint way station for farmers bringing produce and supplies to and from Baltimore. With a stroke of a pen in 1918, Curtis Bay was annexed to the growing city from Anne Arundel County, and has remained a hive of industry ever since–less job-heavy and less polluting now than during the peak spasms of 20th-century production, perhaps, but still humming at a steady clip.

Yet Curtis Bay in many ways is at odds with the rest of the city, and at times seems to rue its Baltimore citizenship. When lit up at night, the elevated conveyances that serve the piers form a gradually sloping “V” that is visible from downtown–a beacon marking the distance between Curtis Bay and the city at large.

The isolation, though, is far from complete. State Sen. George Della, who has represented Curtis Bay for two decades in Annapolis, says that back in its post-World War II heyday the area was a “very active, very vibrant community–even up into the ’70s. There were a ton of big employers there, and that’s why the bars prospered, because of all the workers.” In the decades since, Curtis Bay has been tossed about by the same problems that beset the city at large–violence, poor school performance, high poverty, high teen-birth rates, and child abuse and neglect, to name a few. Della notes that in recent years “a lot of effort has gone into chasing the hookers away and chasing the druggies away,” as well as “landlords who don’t maintain the homes.”

Despite the sometimes heart-wrenching reminders of these ills, Curtis Bay remains at home with itself. A tenuously comfortable order rules day-to-day life. Kids, white and black, can be seen playing in the neighborhood streets, careful to avoid the truck traffic. Relative calm and safety and an adequate measure of prosperity seem to prevail.

Originally created with downtown capital, Curtis Bay has always been bright on the radar screen of powerful interests. The plants, tank farms, and piers that give residents jobs also supply prodigious amounts of revenue both to industrialists and the government till, so the pull of politics is ever at Curtis Bay’s sleeve. The bar district, too, has its far-flung webs of influence.

Curtis Bay’s bars serve as a cluster of community gathering places, homes away from nearby homes. The timeworn tavern district makes perfect sense: to the east is an unbroken wall of industry, which still dips into the local labor pool, and to the west homes nestle on a quickly rising hill. Between work and bed, then, there’s always a corner pub. And there always has been since 1934, after Prohibition was lifted.

At Taylor’s 5000 Tavern, where a red-headed matriarch named Ann Taylor has been running the show since 1945, knowing patrons openly muse on the neighborhood. Many words are spoken, but the essential point is clear: In nearby Brooklyn it’s all about the churches, but here in Curtis Bay it’s all about the bars. And the smoky prism of the neighborhood’s saloons casts a colorful light on the neighborhood’s proud past and downtrodden but hopeful present.


The small Friday-night crowd in Pennington Station is split over whether it would be a good idea to warm up to a couple visiting members of the press. A bar mirror is hand-painted colorfully with the homely slogan there are no strangers here, only friends you haven’t met, but it’s corollary–we’ll stay strangers if we never meet–seems the rule tonight. Credentials are checked, and a hushed debate ensues. A jolly, mustachioed fellow finally breaks the embargo and saunters up to introduce himself as Ray Reed, former oil-company service manager. “Born and raised” here, he says proudly as he sticks out his hand. “Sixty years in the neighborhood. What do you want to know? Ask me some questions.”

Reed hooks his thumbs in his belt loops and proceeds to explain the lay of the land. A rapid recitation of neighborhood trivia is followed by a call for yet more grilling: “What else do you want to know?” he implores, like an ace student who knows all the answers. This prompts an open-ender: “Well, what would you like to have a newspaper say about your neighborhood?” “It’s a nice area,” he says without hesitation. “This neighborhood’s good. Strictly Polish. The problem is when they tore the old buildings down and moved the blacks in. I’m not against blacks, but they move blacks in here. What are you going to do?”

Up Pennington Avenue at the Rave Inn, a younger, mixed-race crowd enjoys the jukebox, chatting and laughing in small groups as a few loners sip and smoke alone between trips to the video-poker machines. “Tainted Love” comes on, singing breaks out. Then a hip-hop song, and a few couples stand and dance around the pool table. A middle-aged white woman, alone at the bar, gets solitarily angry at the urban beat: “Songs for niggers to jig to, that all it is,” she says in a quiet, venomous monotone. When the pregnant pause between songs ends, the opening strains of “Stairway to Heaven” change the room’s mood entirely. The couples sit down again. The angry woman, suddenly happy, proclaims it a “good song” and proceeds to sing every word.

The issue of race is unavoidable in Curtis Bay. Racial diversity has been slow to come to the area–and in the heavily populated bar district, it’s only just begun to arrive. For the greater Brooklyn-Curtis Bay area, the demographic shift has been pronounced: The minority population comprised nearly a third of the population in 2000, compared to a 10th in 1990. In the 16 populated census blocks that make up the Curtis Bay bar district, however, the proportion of minorities–primarily African-Americans–increased from less than one percent to a mere 11 percent over the same period. (African-American residents of Curtis Bay approached for this article declined to comment; messages left with 6th District City Councilperson Melvin Stukes’ office were not returned by press time.)

Some of the more vocal white locals presume a cause-and-effect relationship between the presence of minorities and neighborhood decline (census data indicates that homeownership has dropped, while housing vacancies have soared). “I used to try to run them out, but I’ve given up–but I got friends who still do,” says one tavern habitué who asked not to be named. (“If you put my name in there, I’ll be shot tomorrow,” he explains with mock-seriousness.) The attitude seems akin to a generations-old blood feud: The fighting is long over, but it’s still a matter of pride and duty to express your traditional disdain. On a personal level, though, the bar scene seems to resemble the neighborhood as a whole: Reserved open-mindedness quickly turns to full-on affability once newcomers have proven themselves innocuous.

Down at the Eagle’s Nest on Curtis Avenue, a black man and a white man play game after amiable game of pool as they pull from their beers, and the round-robin at the shuffleboard-bowling table is integrated, too. The only sign of discord comes not from culture clash but from a broken car window up Curtis Avenue at Cheyenne’s, another neighborhood joint. “Somebody busted out my passenger window,” an irate guy with a beard roars as he bursts through the door. “Three hundred dollars. If it was a Grand Am or something, it would be $50. But it’s an El Camino. They don’t make that shit anymore. I just want to find somebody to hurt. But I can’t do that anymore. I ain’t going back to jail anymore.”


At Cheyenne’s Smokehouse Pub, a few police officers grab some grub near the kitchen door as a DJ plays country and rock tunes for a paltry Thursday-night crowd. The long menu lists standard pub fare, but the kitchen’s all out of most everything–steamed shrimp will have to do tonight. The pool table is jealously held by two one-on-one players who won’t accept a challenge, but the bartender is sweet and the DJ is friendly as can be: “Whatch’ya like? Country or rock ‘n’ roll? Both? How about some George Jones?”

A visitor would never guess that a friendly place like this would have once been a lair for a cocaine ring, but in 1995, when it was called Marty’s and under previous ownership, police seized 15 weapons and $10,000 in cash here as they arrested the owner and an employee for possession and distribution of drugs. The bust stands as a testament to how things have changed in Curtis Bay’s bar district. With notable exceptions, the storied walls of many local taverns have given way to fast-grab entrepreneurship–sometimes of the shady sort–after a long legacy of stable family ownership.

Before Cheyenne’s was Cheyenne’s or Marty’s or any of its other incarnations, it was Garpstas Tavern. From 1934 to 1980, sons and siblings of the Garpstas family held the liquor license. Anne Taylor, of Taylor’s 5000 Tavern, remembers it as a “stag bar” with no chairs to sit on–except in the dining area, where women were allowed. After 46 years of calm and stability under the Garpstases’ steady hands, the place became Archie Bunker’s Tavern in 1980. At the time, the CBS sitcom All in the Family had just become Archie Bunker’s Place, transplanting the show’s titular working-class angry white male out of the Bunker household and into the bar business; the new owners of the old Garpstas presumably were trying to capitalize on Hollywood. It stayed open as long as the sitcom’s brief run, collapsing in debt in 1984. City Liquor Board files reflect nearly 20 years of turmoil and confusion ever since.

The former Garpstas Tavern then became the Spiral Staircase, Joe’s Pub, Marty’s, and Chubby’s Pub before the Cheyenne’s sign went up a couple years ago. When Joseph Laumann owned it in the mid-’80s, Joe’s Pub was raided for illegal video-poker payoffs and suffered the indignity of a patron’s wallet being stolen by a prostitute. As Marty’s, when Michael Chiles and Betty Ellis were on the license, there was another gambling raid–plus busts for sales to minors, assaults, and a drug-dealing patron–before Chiles was arrested on dope charges in 1995. Since then, one man was picked up for assaulting the new licensee, another came in and threatened the bartender and two patrons, there was another bust for video-poker payoffs, and a disorderly patron broke the establishment’s glass door.

When the Garpstases ruled the roost, it was clear who the owners were. Since then, actual ownership of the bar has sometimes been hard to ascertain. Taylor says the three gentlemen on the liquor license when it was Archie Bunker’s Tavern were surrogates for a ghost owner. In 1986, in the aftermath of a gambling raid, according to Liquor Board files, “one Wilbur Martindale alleged he was the actual owner of the business although licensees and Board’s files do not reflect same.”

Martindale actually did own the property where Cheyenne’s operates–until last December, when it transferred to a company named after the pub’s address, 4314 Curtis LLC, which is headed by former Cheyenne’s licensee Paul Rothenberg. The new licensee, meanwhile, is listed in the Liquor Board files as “Gail P. Leslie,” whose listed residence in Brooklyn is co-owned, according to property records, by Gale Patrick Leslie and Carol Mosack–a former co-licensee with Rothenberg.

When Mosack and Rothenberg held the old Garpstas license in 2000 and 2001, the corporate owner was P. Roth Inc., a dissolved company whose affairs were wound down by attorney Frank Shaulis. Shaulis, of West Friendship in Howard County, is one of three licensees for Fantasies, the spacious strip club 10 blocks south on Pennington. Shaulis’ name also appears on the incorporation papers of Leslie’s newly formed company, Cheyenne’s Inc.–the current owner listed with the Liquor Board. Shaulis did not return calls for comment.


The twisted fate of the old Garpstas Tavern is a microcosm of the neighborhood at large: Many years of familiar faces and trusted connections have given way to a shaky era of rapid and complex change that challenges the old ways. Some places have stayed in clear, consistent hands for decades at a time, and thus exude a certain permanence and a strong sense of locality–much like segments of the local populace. Still others have been in a state of entropy from the start, switching hands and changing names at a steady clip for most all the decades since Prohibition. The stories of such bars weave Curtis Bay into a broad cloth of connections and characters.

The Fantasies liquor license has been tossed around like a hot potato. Taylor recalls that, until it became a strip club, the location had been “a colored place.” In 1934, it was called Brownie’s Café. Then, in succession, it became Chester’s Lunch, Lil’s Café, Andersons Inn, Bayard Lunch Room, Cleve’s Lounge, and Mingo’s. As Bay East in 1982, it first won approval for go-go dancers, and adult entertainment has been the staple ever since. Shaulis, listing a South Baltimore address as his residence, took over the license in 1991, calling it the House of Class. Two others–Marc Rosenberg of Owings Mills and Lorraine Cummings of Pikesville–joined him as it switched ownership in 1995 to Kimmico Inc., under which it was first called the Platinum Club, and now Fantasies.

Kimmico Inc. is a player in political circles, showing up in the campaign-finance reports of key state senators–George Della, in whose district the club is located, and Nathaniel McFadden, the chairman of the city’s Senate delegation. It also hires topnotch lobbyists from Semmes, Bowen, and Semmes to forward its interests in Annapolis.

Fantasies has high connections but has also seen its fair share of trouble under Shaulis. In 1995 the establishment was found guilty by the Liquor Board of prostitution, nudity, gambling, and selling to a minor. Most of the problems arose from a bull roast featuring naked dancers–although one was reported to be wearing Baltimore City police uniform shirt with an official baltimore police patch on the upper sleeves. Since then, the establishment has had a few reports to the Liquor Board–two assaults and a robbery in 2000–but only one guilty ruling in 2001 for illegal nudity.

But Shaulis is not the only figure behind Kimmico according to the paper trail. The company contact for Kimmico in the State Ethics Commission lobbyist list for 2002 is “Cal Brockdorff,” who also is resident agent for the company that owns high-dollar property where Fantasies sits–Jaguar Asset Management Inc. of Laurel. Jaguar purchased this prime piece of real estate for $750,000 in 1994.

Calvin T. Brockdorff is an intriguing character. In 1983, when he was 26 years old, he was arrested in D.C. with $1 million’s worth of cocaine, according to Washington Postcoverage of the bust. During the 1990s, he built a company called the National Fitness Network, which often does business as the Mid-Atlantic Fitness Network, signing up corporations and health insurers to offer discounted health-club memberships to their employees and customers. And in 2001, he briefly made waves in South Florida, where he opened Orbit, a 2,000-capacity nightclub, over the protests of the club’s posh Boynton Beach neighbors. The club is now called Ovation and is under new management, according to its Web site. Attempts to reach Brockdorff, including a faxed letter, were unsuccessful.

On the Fantasies liquor license, Shaulis lists his home residence as 1649 S. Hanover St., a property he and his wife own in South Baltimore. At that address is a pub, Covahey’s Tavern. A few blocks east, on Bend Street, is the Friendship Inn. Shaulis owned this, too, until he sold it in 1998 to Raymond Makarovich, who transferred it Monica Makarovich last year.

The Makarovich name is a familiar one in the Curtis Bay bar district. The patriarch, Raymond Makarovich, is said by locals to have passed away, but his offspring and in-laws continue the family tradition of owning bars, vending-machine companies, and racehorses–concerns that put them all over the map, not just in Curtis Bay.

Ann Taylor doesn’t charge a penny to play songs on the jukebox at Taylor’s Tavern. “Don’t need a license for it because I don’t charge,” she explains. She says she got it years ago from Makarovich: “He owed me $500, so I just kept the jukebox.” Where the license would normally be displayed is a business card, browning with age: Cadillac Amusements, 3729 S. Hanover St. The address is for Norma Jeans, a bar in the heart of Brooklyn’s business district that is still in the Makarovich family. Cadillac Amusements is gone, but a new Makarovich vending-machine company, DRM Inc., is alive and well at that address, and dutifully paying its political dues by contributing to Sen. Della’s campaign coffers.

The Backstretch, the Rave Inn, and the now-defunct Sports Inn (whose license now belongs to a packaged-goods store on Pennington, the Soda Pop Shop) are all Curtis Bay establishments to which the Makarovich family has been tied through Liquor Board records. Outside of Curtis Bay, the Makarovich name is on the properties where the venerated Scallio’s (now called the Hollins Street Pub) sits in Sowebo. And over near the Westside Shopping Center on South Bentalou Street, a Makarovich is on the liquor license for Rosie’s Pub, whose property is owned by Joseph Laumann, the former licensee of the old Garpstas Tavern when it was Joe’s Pub.

The picture that emerges is one of a fiefdom–a city enclave where power courses through the hands of a few local burghers who have surprising and far-flung ties to the larger world. Shaulis and the Makaroviches are obviously well-connected people. Theodore Sanford, the owner of another Curtis Bay establishment, is, too. The Sanford name appears on a number of liquor licenses over the years, and local community activists say they are going to keep a close eye on the newly added second floor of his bar, Thumpers. He maintains the addition will contain office space, but more than a few locals murmur suspicions about what the red light out front suggests about the true nature of the expansion.

Between them, Shaulis, Makarovich, and Sanford appear to have a lot of pull. Their supporters say that’s good. “If you need something taken care of, they can take care of it,” one barfly who’s friends with Sanford says. But others in the neighborhood question the wisdom of having a strip-club lawyer, a poker-machine man, and a bar owner broker so much of the local power.

It would be nice to know what the old owners of Garpstas Tavern would have to say about the changes in Curtis Bay bar scene since their bygone era of seatless stag bars, when pubs tended to stay the same for decades and you always knew who was in charge. But the last of Garpstas Tavern’s owners, Anthony Edward “Cookie” Garpstas, a World War II veteran and Curtis Bay native, died at 85 last year, having spent his final years in Riviera Beach in Anne Arundel County.


At Annie’s Pub–a glistening, newly renovated place on Curtis, rebuilt after an extensive fire–owner Anna George has called the shots since 1964, and other members of her family did so before her. On a Friday afternoon, the bartender, Diane Smith, keeps up a good-natured banter with two regular patrons, Jack Allman and Mike Kitchner. George is napping, but those on hand are more than happy to share their thoughts about the neighborhood.

“Years ago you could leave your doors open down here,” says Allman. Those days are long gone, he explains, and goes on to tell a story about almost running over a prostitute on a recent, freezing cold night. “Must’ve been some kind of pimp to have her working in that cold,” he remarks, adding that “all those streets used to be cobblestone” in Curtis Bay. “Wouldn’t that be nice if they still were,” Smith chimes in with a chuckle. “The hookers would have a hell of a time walking the streets.”

Crime, while bad, is not as threatening now as it was only two years ago, explain two patrons of Taylor’s who asked that their names not be used. “A guy was shot dead, right in the head, across from my house two years ago,” says one. “He was a druggie anyhow. Deserved it,” the other retorts, adding that “things have gotten better since. There have been a lot more patrols–thanks to our mayor. You gotta give credit where credit is due. And these undercover narcs have been working hard. Let me put it this way–they’re good at their jobs.”

At the Gas Light, a stack of community newsletters sits on the bar. The “Eyes on Crime” section lists Curtis Bay police data for November 2002. Here’s the bar district’s tally: four aggravated assaults, a burglary, two thefts, and a stolen auto. With a new Communities on Patrol block-watch program getting started, hopes are high that a heightened sense of community-driven safety will prevail.

Either way, there’s still Taylor’s Tavern, where the same ornamental paper bell that was hung for the grand opening in 1945 hangs from the ceiling today, dusty and fragile but unmoved and unchanged except by age for almost 60 years. The old-timers, who gather here to talk about the news and the neighborhood and the glory days, play video poker before putting in early. They seem much the same as that paper bell–unmoved, unchanged for years, and quite content.

Ann Taylor, remembers putting up injured veterans on cots on the pub’s floor after WWII. She remembers visits from late mayor and governor Theodore McKeldin and late state Sen. Harry McGuirk–baseball great Micky Mantle even paid a call once. And she remembers Sen. Della as a youngster. “He used to run with my son, Lindy,” she explains, chuckling as she tells a few anecdotes. The only trouble the bar has ever been in, according to Liquor Board records, was connected to politics; under previous ownership in 1936, alcoholic beverages were served on Election Day–an illegal act then, drawing a $25 fine plus administrative costs. That’s a long time to keep a bar’s nose clean.

Taylor’s “workshop”–the kitchen–is open for lunch and dinner and is known for serving the fattest fried-oyster sandwiches around. And the beef-and-noodle soup is homemade, right down to the noodles.

“I’m chief cook and bottle washer,” Taylor says. “It’s all family here–the same old place, the same old people.”