The historic black bars of St. Mary’s County, Md.: center of ballgames, entertainment, and mayhem now mostly vanished

Butlers Place mayhem. With Mr. C’s closed, crowds swarmed over Butler’s Place in the early 90’s. THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY photo

The historic black bars of St. Mary’s County, Md.: center of ballgames, entertainment, and mayhem, now mostly vanished

  • Robinson Barnes bar in Ridge, Md., with St. Mary's Sheriff Detective Cpl Ted Belleavoine and Maryland State Trooper at murder during Valentines Day dance.

Sis’s Hideaway and Gateway Lounge were two black-owned bars on Leonardtown’s “Louse Alley”, a source of music, dancing, fun, and fights which began when blacks were not allowed in segregated bars and continued to flourish after integration.

Beginning about 1988, Southern Maryland’s minority-owned bars were overrun with drug dealers, as were the white bars and massive fights were often met with K-9 dogs and numerous arrests. Biker and redneck bars such as Toots Bar and Dew Drop Inn, in Sandy Bottom, Duke’s Bar and Leonardtown Wharf, Friendly, Town Inn, Bennetts Bar in Leonardtown, the Mouse Trap in Mechanicsville, Victory Bar in Avenue, Brass Rail in Great Mills, Monks Inn in St. Inigoes and Charlies Villa in Callaway all contributed greatly to more work for the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner and overtime for police and crime lab personnel as the shootings and murders stacked up over the years in St. Mary’s County — with much of the mayhem chronicled in ST. MARY’S TODAY each week – as folks were dying to get in the paper one way or another.

The black bars sometimes were a major part of social gatherings with horseshoe and dart leagues and an occasional murder. Gateway Lounge is now part of the parking lot of Bell Motors (now Winegartner) and Sis’s Hideaway lived on as Kevin’s Kafe, though now Kevin Thompson has moved his popular seafood restaurant to the old Willows located on Rt. 5 south of Leonardtown.

Most of the black-owned bars have disappeared, Blossom Inn, Jolly Gents, Fenwick TavernHorseshoe Club, Mr. C’s, Two Spot, Happyland, L & L Goodtimes, White Pine Club, Starlight, Mirage, and so many more…all gone.

About the only locally owned bars left are Vincent Biscoe’s Seaside View in St. Inigoes and Butlers Place in Hermanville. Rufus Butler has worked hard to keep his bar open while local thugs work hard to create mayhem. In recent years, the place is quiet and sedate with few problems. While the number of small businesses has soared, the number of minority businesses may have dropped, at least it has for bars.

Now, in 2018, the wild bars are run by new minorities, with one bar in the San Souci Center shut down for allowing sex acts on the stage at which Leonardtown lawyer Shane Mattingly famously defended his clients before the Liquor Board by stating that Lesbian sex was not officially an act of intercourse and therefore not in violation of the regulations and laws of the Alcoholic Beverage Board.  The old Loveville Tavern in Loveville, Abell’s Tavern in Callaway, and the Lexington in the former Roost in Lexington Park have become chronic scenes of fights as the owners run establishments worthy of the Dodge City days of Lexington Park when the town was known as Sin City.  Strip clubs and slot machines were on every corner.

Grace Bryan posted on Facebook:

Grace Bryan It is a good article, and no! I am not surprised, though I did wonder what happened to all the Black-Owned Bars. During my early days, it was all the entertainment we had..and boy! what I wouldn’t do just to go and dance with Hilda, Sophia, Mamie, Ada, Aunt Nane, Alice…that’s all we had to look forward to and then there was only “Two-Spot”, “Melinda Barnes”, “Lee’s”, “Horseshoe” and “Robinson Barnes”…we would work our way from Robinson’s and end up always…at the “Two Spot Club”. And now ALL this is gone and the joy of “Dance” has been deleted with the exception of what Rufus Butler is trying to hold on to….it will take some support from the Black Bar Lovers to help him keep this piece of fading history alive. No battle can be won, fighting alone and that what it is when a Black is trying to keep that “ONE BLACK BAR” in existence.

(Editor’s Note: The following article appeared in ST. MARY’S TODAY in 2008) 

Black on Saturday night and no place to go

By Kenneth C. Rossignol


HERMANVILLE — The doors are going to swing shut this weekend at Butler’s Place, an old-fashioned black bar south of Lexington Park, after action on Thursday by the St. Mary’s Alcoholic Beverage Board to yank its license for a month.

Butler’s Place owner Rufus Butler told ST. MARY’S TODAY that the action is likely to be a death sentence for the business he has run for the last 24 years.

That is exactly what Vice Chairman Tom Sacks wants to see. Sacks, a retired DC police captain who works for St. Mary’s Sheriff Tim Cameron in personnel, when he isn’t serving on the liquor board, argued forcefully for revoking the bar’s license for good, saying that the board’s failure to support his motion would not be on his head in case a cop is hurt or killed answering a call at the bar.

But the issue isn’t about a cop being killed, as, fortunately, there never has been an officer killed in the line of duty at Butler’s Place or anywhere in St. Mary’s County. One was shot on Great Mills Road, and others have been involved in serious car crashes and a deputy, Darryl Greb, was shot on Midway Drive when he attempted to check out a gang of hoods who were in the process of robbing a local crackhead. Greb survived but was forced to retire from the job he loved.

The issue really isn’t about St. Mary’s County’s hellhole bars, as Butler’s Place has never soared to the levels of mayhem as the Brass Rail, Monk’s Inn or the Happyland Club.

No bar’s license has ever been suspended before for a hell hole white bar such as the old Mousetrap where a gang of bikers beat a man to death at the Mechanicsville bar, right on a Sunday afternoon after the annual Blessing of the Bikes.

When a former operator of the old Happyland Club, a black bar, gave a deputy some lip and less than full respect, the county went after that bar and yanked his license over the objection of one member of the liquor board.

The action taken this past week was ignited by a culture clash.

Blacks in St. Mary’s County have pretty much done as they please on Saturday nights for decades and they have done it in a variety of county black bars and clubs.

At Robinson Barnes, where a man was murdered at a Valentines Day Dance in the early nineties, at the old Gateway Lounge on Louse Alley in Leonardtown, where a Navy sailor who was into dealing drugs shot and killed a man, with thirsty patrons stepping over his body in the doorway to get more beer while cops were on the way, to the Mirage, where a bunch of mental midgets took a parking lot fight into the middle of Rt. 234 at 2 am, and several of them were killed as a truck came speeding over the hill.

To be black on Saturday night means that this special time gets anyone who wants it a free pass from accountability.  No one really ever knows anything about what happens and for those with responsible employment, what happens at the ‘club,’ stays at the ‘club.’

The old Callaway bottle club was a ready-made ruckus every weekend until the place was torn down to make room for the Food Lion. Many fights started there which ended in death for someone elsewhere.

A drug dealer killed a man that a police officer was attempting to shield in a shootout at the Brass Rail bar in Great Mills.  The killer even shot at the cop.  But instead of lifting the license of the politically connected owner, just two weeks after the murder, the liquor board and the police all joined together at the bar for a luncheon to talk about the annual drug and drunk driving promotion.  The brain dead officials couldn’t understand the irony when asked by this newspaper. But that was a different set of liquor board members and really dumb police officials.  They are all gone. Only the States Attorney is still in place.

An argument could be made that there really haven’t been all that many murders at black bars as the rednecks have committed their share of mayhem.

A dispute at the Victory bar in Avenue was ended when one fellow went home and got his gun to return and murder his protagonist.

The drug culture crowd, which includes about a third of St. Mary’s County has seen its share of murders including notorious ones which took place in the 1970’s in Patuxent Park.

But for the young black crowd, it’s a sense of entitlement, boldness and wilding that has set a pattern of conduct after bar closing time that has the cops chasing crowds of hundreds of hooligans going from one all-night store and gas station to another, dumping over counters, stealing merchandise and fighting with guns in the parking lots.  Police are either pre-stationed at the all-night places or in the past, many just closed at 2 am and didn’t reopen until about an hour later when the hooligans went home.

For Rufus Butler, a 62-year-old Viet Nam veteran, his business is his livelihood.

With his attorney Walter Sawyer, Butler answered questions for more than an hour as he attempted to present his side of the story for events that took place last June.

Several police officers first explained that how on June 28th when they attempted to place a woman under arrest that they were besieged by a crowd of nearly 100 people and the young officer called for the cavalry to arrive to save him.

Butler is aided by other old blacks who he explained to the liquor board are his friends and family.

Those friends clean up messes made by broken bottles or spilled beer, they tend bar, mop the floor and assist Butler with making sure vehicles are parked without blocking others.  Butler doesn’t pay them or have any employees. He says there isn’t that much business anyway and only gets any type of crowd on Saturday night.

Butler told ST. MARY’S TODAY a year ago that he rarely has any bands anymore at his bar due to the cost of the band, security and the trouble caused by rowdy young blacks.

But in June, Butler did have a band, and a large family came into his bar from a wedding reception, and these folks weren’t ready to go home.

The proverbial manure hit the fan, and when police told Butler to shut down, even though it wasn’t yet 2 am, he went ahead and shut down.  Some police officers told those who went outside to go back in. Officers inside told patrons to go outside, said Butler.

The last thing Butler wanted was a fight or mayhem or the police coming down on him.

The attorney who represents the liquor board argued to have old minutes of the liquor board introduced into evidence even though the minutes of those meetings didn’t result in a conviction on a violation which Butler faced at the time.

Joann Wood argued that she wanted to have the current board made aware that Butler had promised to hire two security personnel inside and have two outside and install security cameras.

What Wood either didn’t know or bother to present to the Board was that Butler erected the brightest outside parking lot lights of any bar in St. Mary’s County, lights which, if the liquor board were on its toes, would require all bars to have.

As Oliver Wendell Holmes once said the electric light is the best policeman.  Cameras help too, but it can’t be said that Butler did nothing. But Wood was not alone in failing to mention the lighting, as Sawyer failed to offer that issue into evidence.

Sawyer did object to Wood’s old minutes, but he was overruled by Chairman Moses Saldana.

Butler’s bad luck was doubled on the next night after the Signal 13 brought a dozen cops roaring down Rt. 235.  Some jerk shot a guy outside the bar. Sawyer pointed out that no one knows who shot him, where he was shot, or how it happened, which is pretty routine when blacks are the only witnesses. Nobody saw nothing but this was on Sunday.

Police were asked what kind of activities take place at Butler’s.

One young deputy recited about 10 arrests he has made there and perhaps assisted on 20 others.

As impressive as that might sound, it appeared he was puffing a little.

The old days of 1990, 1991 and 1992 would have seen the only effective deterrent to a rowdy crowd in the Butler’s parking lot was a K-9 dog and a reporter’s camera which would get the crowd running for their cars to avoid being in the newspaper the next week.

Butler rarely sees any crowds anymore, but no one can blame the young cops for getting their adrenaline pumping at the prospect of having their ass whipped by a crowd of drunk and mad blacks ticked off because their relative is being locked up.

But the young cops just ought to get used to it. The Sheriff needs to get some older cops working on Saturday nights as dealing with nasty crowds of drunks comes with the territory.

With Happyland gone, the Callaway Club a distant memory, the Horseshoe Club and the Two Spot part of the clutter of Technology along Rt. 235, the Mirage closed, it really leaves the old Jolly Gents which uses a different name.

That is if Butler’s never again reopens its doors.

Butlers is sometimes a dangerous and unpredictable place.

Three drunk women who were black and entitled to have everyone get out of their way, walked out the front door and into traffic, caring not for the car heading towards them. All three were killed with one of them sailing through the windshield.

One of the cops at the liquor board meeting said that often the police hide out in the dark and watch for drug dealing in the parking lot.

Too bad they don’t spend more time at the Back Road Inn, the Hole in the Wall or Dew Drop as they can find the same thing there, the young cops can ask the old cops but if locking up blacks on drug charges is the goal, then Butler’s Place is a good place to conduct undercover investigations.

Rufus Butler retired some years ago from his job on the base running a printing operation, and now his bar is one of the few minority-owned establishments in St. Mary’s County.

With Smith’s Repair shop, Curtis Tire and Seaside View Campground, that is just about it for blacks.  There may be more than one local defense contractor who is black, but the name besides Hal Herndon is unknown to this writer.

Race relations is always a show in St. Mary’s County.

The liberals and politicians show up for the show at the Salt & Pepper dinner, at St. Peter Claver, the black Catholic church in Ridge, at the Martin Luther King breakfast in January and everyone shows how much they like blacks.

But for Butler’s Place, the bar is a place for blacks to show up, to eat lunch specials of home cooked food, get a cup of coffee and talk.

Old Mr. Taylor, who is 87 and owns the apartments next door, limped into the board hearing on Thursday and told the board that while he lives next door, he is too old to go to the bar at night, but it’s his opinion that Butler runs a nice place.

Taylor admitted that he found shell casings in the parking lot, but that incidental evidence should have been tossed, as first of all, the Board attorney failed to provide any link to the shell casings and actual gunfire.

This is St. Mary’s County, and there are beer cans and shell casings in any church parking lot.

People shoot up roadside signs and let loose with guns all the time. Some of them are hunters, to be sure, but many are just idiots.

But the liquor board always has been a Kangaroo Court. However, this current board is a big improvement over some of the collection of twits who have served in the past.

The young Mr. Joe Taylor said he and Butler have been fast friends since they were in first grade together.  He said he helps Butler without compensation, as do all the others in the community.  One liquor board member said Butler must be very trusting, implying that he was either stupid or that his black friends were inherently criminals and would steal from the register.

Rufus Butler told the Board that he was told that all these bars were on a hit list to be shut down.  The chairman hotly contested that remark and stressed that there was no such list.

What should be done, is for the police to use racially balanced enforcement, which actually has occurred from time to time in the past.

Blacks, with their hellion behavior on Saturday nights, paint quite a target on their backs for enforcement actions.

Many times citizens have been slowed to a stop by vehicles parked in Rt. 235 or nearly hit by vehicles spinning wheels coming out of the parking lot.

Rufus Butler may be paying the price for the hooliganism of much younger blacks, and it’s a cinch that the last thing he wanted for was for a wedding party who got drunk elsewhere to come to his bar and cause him to lose his liquor license for thirty days.  Butler sure didn’t want a shooting to take place the next night.

But the cops are frustrated because they couldn’t solve the crime of the shooting, so they ganged up on the bar owner.  Rufus Butler was easy to blame.

Who are the cops going to blame when Butler’s Place is closed and the hellcat blacks of St. Mary’s are still running wild?

Will the liquor board apply the same standard to Dickie Gatton’s bar at Great Mills the next time the place explodes in a fight or the next time there is a murder?  Not a chance.

The white folks just don’t get it when they hear Butler describe how his friends join him in running the neighborhood lunch counter and bar. The only black on the board is the retired secretary to President Bill Clinton, and she lives the life of a privileged white person in a waterfront home, and if she has been in Butler’s Place, I’ll buy her a pickled pig’s foot.

But to the board’s credit, the motion of Sacks to put Butler out of business forever failed to get a second.  Sacks was steamed.

The decision to suspend Butler’s license for 30 days passed but without Sacks who voted no out of spite because his effort wasn’t supported by the other members.  They were all smart enough to realize that Butler shouldn’t lose his business due to the crimes of others.

  • A Maryland State Trooper works to sort out the facts at shooting scene while onlookers look on. THE CHESAPEAKE TODAY photo
  • Calvert Sheriff Mike Evans

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