For American Joe Week, settle in for a quintessential Joe story.
1992, Baltimore City. American Joe is a Senator in the Maryland General Assembly. One day in May, then-Baltimore Mayor Kurt Schmoke called up American Joe to see if he would organize a dinner for then-Governor and Presidential Candidate Bill Clinton. Schmoke was heading up the Baltimore branch of the Clinton campaign, and there happened to be a Presidential debate in College Park coming up, and Mayor Schmoke wanted Joe to host a dinner in American Joe’s district for Governor Clinton. Joe chose Corbi’s, a long-standing Baltimore institution — a typical Little Italy restaurant with good homemade Italian food. Joe obliges, of course, and on the night of the dinner, had everything prepped and ready for the Governor to arrive.
Governor Bill Clinton walks into Corbi’s, and walks right up to American Joe.
“Senator Miedusiewski, I want to thank you for doing this this evening,” he says, pronouncing Joe’s tricky Polish surname perfectly on the first try.
As Joe recalls, Clinton talked to everyone that night. Not one person missed out on the Governor’s attention. That’s what Joe remembers most about him. “When he was talking to you, it’s like no one else existed. He remembers important, tiny details.”
As the evening wore on, around 8 pm, Clinton approached Joe again.
“I understand your folks have a tavern not far from here. I would like to go there tonight,” he said.
Joe agreed, of course, explaining that Canton, where American Joe’s Bar stood, was only the next neighborhood over. He then walked up to the Secret Servicemen who had circled the restaurant at the beginning of the night, and explained that Clinton wanted to visit Joe’s parents’ bar.
“We know,” they said.
“Do you want me to give you directions?” asked Joe.
“We know how to get there.”
And surely they did. What was typically a ten-minute drive only took three minutes, due to the motorcade and police presence escorting them through the city. Joe and his wife, Pat, rode with Clinton in the limousine, with Pat and Clinton in deep discussion about politics.
American Joe’s Bar in Canton on a Sunday night in May was like melted ice cream — slow and sweet. That’s any night in the summer in Baltimore, really — people sitting on their stoops and porches, Natty Boh in hand, watching the lightning bugs flicker as dusk settles. American Joe remembers it similarly. “The big-screen TV would be on, a few couples shooting pool — maybe eighteen to twenty people there in total.” Another quiet, lazy Sunday evening in the city.
Until the motorcade arrived. Suddenly ladies were out on their porches in nightgowns and hair rollers, Joe remembers, as the red and blue police car lights flashed across the front of the rowhomes that were nestled around the bar.
Bill Clinton entered the tavern, and made a beeline for American Joe’s parents behind the bar. He thanked them for their hospitality, and pivoted his attention to the platter of codfish cakes — coddies — on the counter of the bar.
He asked what they were, and no sooner did he ask than he was presented with a cracker and some yellow mustard — the traditional Baltimore way to eat coddies and crabcakes. And there he was indeed, remembers Joe, standing at the bar, drinking a beer and eating a Bawlmer staple. Clinton then approached the pool table, took off his jacket, and a nail-biting game commenced.
As the story goes, Clinton and his opponent shot down to the eight ball. When his opponent went in for the kill to end the game — Clinton’s luck ran true, and his opponent scratched, making Clinton the game’s winner.
The Bar erupted, Joe says. People were cheering, yelling, congratulating the man who would later that year go on to become America’s 42nd president.
They sent the Governor home that night with a six-pack of Natty Boh — the true Charm City sendoff. Joe says that Clinton stayed in touch for months after that famed night, calling periodically from the White House.