Monday, December 17, 2007

The Last Dance

It's the end of an era in Baltimore. After 74 years, Blob's Park in Jessup is closing its doors. A group of us went this weekend to bid a fond farewell.

The story of Max Blob and his Bavarian Biergarten began in 1933 (a time when German sentiment was not at its best). Blob wanted a place for his friends from the Old Country to gather, so he built a small frame structure on his farm for drinking, dancing polka, and bowling. Word spread and soon he opened it to the public on weekends. In 1958, the original building burned and the interior was renovated. In 1976, realizing the need for more space, the family expanded and the current building opened its doors.

Blob's Park sits on a piece of open land just off the 295 Capital Beltway, near Fort Meade, between Baltimore and Washington, DC. When you enter the hall, you give over a $5 cover to a woman sitting at a clothed picnic table. Inside is one massive room, with long tables and a 2000 square foot dance floor (with a disco ball). There's a proper stage for the polka bands. Most nights, it's the house band, the Rheinlanders, but the accordion player, Leon (pictured above in a 2005 Baltimore Sun article), broke his leg so there was a stand in. Some nights, traveling bands come to town, like Brave Combo. We saw them play here last March and they are hands down one of the best live shows you'll ever see.

There is a long, wood bar serving over 70 kinds of beer including a smoked Marzen that tastes a lot like licking your Weber grill.

Dinner is a menu of German classics: sauerbraten and dumplings, sauerkraut, wiener schnitzel, bratwurst. There's a sausage sampler for $10.

Blob's Park is one of those special intergenerational places where a diverse crowd mingles together. People take to the dance floor without shame. This night, there was an 80 year old couple who danced to every song. There were 20-somethings hamming it up. There was an older gentleman named Bill who led me around the dance floor, trying patiently to teach me to polka. When I asked where he would go to dance once Blob's closed he shrugged. "Not sure. There really isn't another place like this."

Growing up, my own grandparents belonged to the Moose Lodge. I remember being a kid at these dances, with my grandmother decked out in a flowing dress and pearls and my grandfather polished with a perfectly tailored swoosh of gray hair. The two of them danced up a storm. Nights at Blob's Park make me miss them both a lot.

In spite of the crowds and the good feelings that always come out here, the family has decided to sell the land. Now in its third generation, the pull of the market is just too great. First off, there is BRAC - or the Base Realignment and Closure - and it means that many new military families will be moving to Maryland to work in and around Fort Meade. This is coupled with the fact that the corridor between DC and Baltimore is becoming one, big piece of sprawl. Farmland like this is at a premium. Soon, Blob's Park will be demolished to make way for tract housing.