Zissimos Bar

Where Lou Costello tap danced on the bar

Family-owned since 1930, Zissimos lays claim to being the oldest business in operation on the Avenue.

In Charles Barton's 1948 romp, The Noose Hangs High, Bud Abbott and Lou Costello argue over shrimp cocktails. Abbott tells Costello to imagine he's in Grand Central station with a ticket in his pocket. Where is he going? Costello doesn't understand why he should be going anywhere, but Abbott presses him:

"I'll go to Baltimore," Costello says.
"Of all the towns in the United States, why did you have to pick Baltimore?"
"I got friends in Baltimore!"

Lou Costello's connection to Baltimore was more than casual. His aunt, Eva Zissimos, owned Zissimos Bar with her husband, Atha. Eva would host Costello when he was passing through town. His exploits at Zissimos became a riotous neighborhood event. He was known to tapdance on the bar and hand out autographed one-dollar bills to children. Costello was fond of his Baltimore family. During a show at the Hippodrome, he invited Eva's four year old granddaughter, Leiloni Pardue, to perform on stage with him. The last time Lou Costello came to Baltimore was in 1957 on his way to Washington D.C. to perform at President Eisenhower's second Inauguration. He died two years later of a heart attack.

Lou Costello's antics at Zissimos are just a small part of the bar's legacy. Zissimos lays claim to being the oldest business in operation on the Avenue. It has been family owned since 1930. Atha and Eva chose the Thirty-Sixth street location because of Hampden's sizeable Greek population. The biggest Greek name in Hampden was Theodore Cavacos. He was the unofficial mayor of Hampden and owned vast swaths of property in the area, including the lucrative Cavacos Drugstore. By the end of the 1950s, there were over a dozen Greek owned establishments in Hampden, several of which were owned by members of the Zissimos family, including a dry cleaners and a restaurant.

The history of Zissimos is long and eclectic. Before the building's renovation in 2014, Zissimos looked like a bunker–a fortified brick facade with a sliver of an opening for a window. The facade replaced a large picture window from which Atha sold hamburgers and hotdogs. The window met a violent end after William Zissimos and his brother Louis took over in 1955. Louis was an undefeated heavyweight boxer in the Navy and took a no-nonsense approach to running the bar. Rowdy patrons who picked a fight with him were thrown out the window, and after shattering the glass too many times, the window became irreparable.

Zissimos is a much warmer place today, in large part due to the efforts of its current owner, Geli Ioannou, who married into the Zissimos family. Geli renovated Zissimos and opened the upstairs, once the home where Eva served Lou Costello hot meals, and turned it into the space for the bar's comedy night, "Who's on First?".

Images

Zissimos Bar

Zissimos Bar

Zissimos Bar stands near the eastern end of "The Avenue" – Hampden's busy shopping and restaurant district on W. 36th Street. | Source: Baltimore Heritage | Creator: Nathan Dennies View File Details Page

Sign, Zissimos Bar

Sign, Zissimos Bar

A sign above the front door reminds patrons of the bar's history as the oldest family-owned business on 36th Street. | Source: Baltimore Heritage | Creator: Nathan Dennies View File Details Page

Street Address:

1023 W. 36th Street, Baltimore, MD 21211 [map]

Official Website:

Zissimos Bar

Cite this Page:

Nathan Dennies, “Zissimos Bar,” Explore Baltimore Heritage, accessed June 26, 2017, http://explore.baltimoreheritage.org/items/show/557.

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