Michael Edward "Mick" King, a longtime Mount Royal Tavern bartender who in addition to pumping beer and pouring shots was an accomplished artist and sometime musician, died March 3 of a heart attack at the venerable Bolton Hill bar. The Govans resident was 47.
Mr. King, the day bartender, had reported for his shift last Saturday morning when he suddenly felt ill.
He told owners Chris Kozak and Ron Carback he wasn't feeling well and went upstairs to a spare bedroom to rest.
"He later asked if we could get a replacement for him," Mr. Carback said.
"When we went upstairs a little while later to check on him, he was gone. The paramedics came and worked on him for half an hour, but they pronounced him dead," Mr. Kozak said.
"He was the heart and soul of the place," said Mr. Carback. "When word got out about Mick, people were so overwhelmed and came here, where we held an impromptu wake. He was so well-loved."
"The Mount Royal Tavern was his living room," Mr. Kozak said. "He was even here when he wasn't working."
"Mick was your typical crusty and curmudgeonly bartender type who loved everybody. He sometimes portrayed a gruff exterior, but he was probably the sweetest most sincere and genuinely affectionate guy in the place," said Charlie Vascellaro, a Bolton Hill writer and tavern regular.
"The tavern without Mick is like going to a baseball game and not having a beer. He leaves a void there that will be hard to fill," said Mr. Vascellaro, who tends bar at Grand Cru in Belvedere Square.
"You couldn't be in a bad mood when you were around him, no matter how hard you tried," he said. "He was pretty much everyone's best friend."
Mr. King was born in Concord, N.H., and raised in Portland, Maine, where he was a varsity soccer player and team captain at Deering High School. After graduating in 1983, he moved to Dalton, Mass., where he attended Berkshire Community College and worked as a window designer at England Bros., a family-owned department store, in Pittsfield.
He returned to Portland in 1987, where he took a job as a cook at Walter's Cafe, until moving in the early 1990s to Galway, Ireland, where he worked in pubs and restaurants.
Mr. King came to Baltimore in 1993 to work as a line cook and later sous chef at the old McCafferty's in Mount Washington.
"There's a great story of how Mick came to work here," said Mr. Kozak.
"Another bartender who worked for us brought him to the tavern in 1996," said Mr. Carback. "For some reason or other, Mick threw a glass and broke a mirror, but he paid for it. And at the time, we didn't know who did it.
"Anyway, six months later we hired him as a bartender. Five years later, the bartender who brought him here, Ralph Retz, who is now dead, outed Mick," said Mr. Carback, laughing.
Mr. Carback described Mr. King as "impish."
"He always had a joke and could get away with anything. You could never stay mad at Mick," he said.
"Whenever people asked him his name, he'd say, 'Big M and little ick,'" said Liz Malby, former Baltimore Sun photographer, and longtime friend.
One of Mr. King's ongoing shticks was dressing up in various costumes while tending bar.
"He'd come down wearing a sombrero and a poncho," Mr. Carback said.
Mr. Vascellaro recalled that whenever he walked into the Mount Royal Tavern, Mr. King urged the barflies to give him a round of applause.
"He'd announce my name to everyone in the bar and asked them to give me a round of applause whenever I walked in," Mr. Vascellaro said. "As much as he was loved by everyone, he made us feel loved by him."
In 2001, Mr. King organized his first annual Kung Fu Christmas party in the bar for those who had nowhere else to go. Revelers could indulge in hours and hours of kung fu movies while sipping drinks, eating popcorn and slurping homemade potato soup.
"The Mount Royal Tavern was their family," Mr. Carback said.
"I could lay in bed all day, but I do this for other folks who cannot get home either," Mr. King explained in a 2006 Baltimore Sun interview.
Mr. King was an artist who worked in pen and ink and metal. He also painted. He was an urban forager who trolled the back alleys and streets looking for pieces of old bicycles, metal and other detritus, which he fashioned into artwork or even a bicycle.
"He was a pack rat and stored the stuff here," Mr. Kozak said.
Mr. King built clocks for people, and one of his figures fashioned from steel used to reinforce concrete is welded to the grate over the basement door facing Mount Royal Avenue.
"He was always sneaking his artwork in here and hanging it on the wall," Mr. Kozak said.
Mr. King was a founder of the Charm City Drug Band, a rather unconventional group that made music by banging trash lids, metal pipes or whatever else was handy.
"They'd use whatever they found to make noise," said Mr. Carback. "They tended not to get a lot of return gigs."
The longtime Mount Royal Terrace resident had recently moved to Govans.
Plans for a memorial service are incomplete.
There will be a celebration of Mr. King's life beginning at 2 p.m. March 25 at the Mount Royal Tavern, 1204 W. Mount Royal Ave.
Surviving Mr. King are his mother, Joan P. King of Pittsfield, Mass.; a brother, Joseph A. King of Charlestown, Mass.; two sisters, Susan K. Strizzi of Williamstown, Mass., and Jacqueline M. King of Pittsfield; and three nephews.