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Video by Yi Chen/WAMU
On a Sunday afternoon, George Ward is out on the dance floor at Blob's Park, a Bavarian beer garden and polka hall in Jessup, Md. He's been coming here a long time — since 1958.
"There's a family kind of feeling to it," he says. "It's hard to express unless you've been a part of it a long time, but there are not many places like it around here."
He's right, Blob's is an unusual place — a restaurant that can seat up to 968 diners and boasts a 2,000 square foot dance floor.
"I just last night had someone who travels the circles, the dancing circles, who said as far as he knows this is the largest dance floor outside of hotel ballrooms," says Max Eggerl, the owner of Blob's Park.
Eggerl is the grand-nephew of Max Blob, the German immigrant who founded Blob's in 1933.
"My uncle Max had a clubhouse during Prohibition, and when Prohibition ended, he got a beer and wine license and opened the clubhouse to the public. He got an accordion player and charged a dime for people to come in. Now it's $10," he laughs. "Things have changed a little bit."
Change on the way
And the biggest change is still to come. The Catholic Archdiocese of Baltimore owns the land on which Blob's sits, and last month, Max got the news that the Archdiocese has decided to develop the property.
"On the first of December, they sent a messenger out from the law office with a short notice that I had 120 days to vacate the place, they were taking it over," he says.
That means Blob's will close for good on March 31.
Longtime patron Peggy Rice says she's "having a hard time not crying about it all." She and her husband Dave have been coming to Blob's Park for 25 years.
"My very favorite memory is the fact that my son-in-law, the first time he told my daughter he loved her, was while they were dancing here at Blob's."
Many a romance has bloomed on the dance floor at Blob's Park. And many unsure dancers have taken their tentative first steps here, learning not just polka, but the waltz, rumba, cha-cha, tango, and other partner dances.
Butch Kotowski has taught thousands of those dancers. On a recent Sunday afternoon, he and his wife Mary hosted the final performance of a dance group for children called the Polka Kids. They founded the group in 1984.
"I was kind of at a loss for words, I was struggling," says Butch. "In between songs, as the kids were dancing, I was looking at Mary for help. There was so much to say... there were so many memories."
That sentiment was echoed over and over again as patrons hugged old friends on the dance floor and pore over photo albums from decades past.
There's no replacing Blob's
Max Eggerl says he'd like to open a new German restaurant once Blob's closes, but the focus will be on food, not music.
"You know, I'm not a spring chicken either. I'm going to be 69 at my next birthday," Eggerl says. "Most people retire then — I'm looking at a whole new career!"
But before he gets too far in planning that "whole new career," Max has something else up his sleeve — a way to make his goodbye to Blob's as much a beginning as it is an ending.
"We just this weekend made some really special plans for the last day," he says. "I'm going to get married on the last day we're open."
He says he and his fiancée, Sandra, will say their vows and host a private party for friends. Then they'll throw open the doors to the public, so that all the people who love Blob's can take one last twirl across the dance floor and remember the good times they've had here.