- The Washington Times - Tuesday, October 18, 2005

BALTIMORE — Mr. Boh is back, hon.

For those unfamiliar with Baltimore tradition, he is the grinning, winking mascot of National Bohemian beer, the preferred beverage of the city’s working class when eating crabs or perhaps watching the Orioles.

The beer, known popularly as “Natty Boh,” hasn’t been brewed in Maryland since 1996, but Mr. Boh has persisted, adorning everything from T-shirts to luxury condos in Baltimore, where he was born just after the repeal of Prohibition.

Now a Towson couple has brought him home.

Todd Unger and Robyn Roth-Unger acquired the rights from Texas-based Pabst to market the character in Maryland and now have a store in the city’s waterfront neighborhood of Fells Point to sell Mr. Boh kitsch.

Their company, Natty Boh Gear, offers Mr. Boh products in a variety of guises.

In one, he has a beehive hairdo like those Hampden girls wore in “Hairspray” or other films by Baltimore filmmaker John Waters. The women’s use of the word “hon” — short for honey — also has become part of Baltimore’s occasionally offbeat tradition.

On another product, Mr. Boh coifs his black, slicked-back hair into an Afro to become Natty Broh.

Mr. Unger said his idea began, in part, after the overwhelming response he got to Boh-themed shirts he printed, then wore to Ravens football games.

“We walked into the stadium and we were inundated with questions,” said Mr. Unger, who was even followed to the parking lot by curious Boh fans.

Another defining moment was when a 36-foot-tall Mr. Boh was erected at the site of a former brewery in Highlandtown.

“You could just see the trend changing,” said Mr. Unger, who then realized the trend had the potential to become big.

The couple, both 37 and with business backgrounds, took out a second mortgage to get the exclusive rights.

“We pretty much mortgaged our lives to do this, and then some,” Mrs. Roth-Unger said. In addition to the store, the couple also started a Web site (www.nattybohgear.com), three kiosks in malls and vendors at football games.

Mr. Boh’s popularity comes as no surprise to Herb Fried. He first saw the icon on a billboard at a Washington Senators game shortly before he went to work for the W.B. Doner advertising agency in 1955.

Mr. Fried handled Mr. Boh’s business during the heyday for National Bohemian. In the 1960s, he said, the brewer had a 50 percent share of the Baltimore market and a 30 percent share of the state market. He credits much of that success to the mustachioed mascot.

“It’s a great icon,” Mr. Fried said. “That one-eyed man with a big mustache was a great symbol in its day and it’s still a great symbol.”

Mr. Boh brings back memories for a lot of Marylanders.

Tim Fowler, 50, is a lifelong Baltimore resident whose uncle, Buck Fowler, ran a tavern on Belair Road.

“To me, it hearkens back to a time in my youth, watching Orioles games with my dad on the old black and white TV,” he said. “It’s the best beer with crabs. On a hot summer day, I don’t think that can be beat.”

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