The Talented Mr. Boh- A Baltimore Icon
Perhaps Bradley Cooper’s douchey pal Flip from Wedding Crashers summed it up best when he proclaimed, “Crab cakes and football, that's what Maryland does!” He was absolutely correct, in fact the best single food that I ate in the entire 2010’s was a colossal crab cake sandwich from Faidley’s in Baltimore's Lexington Market. It was incredible. However, I believe that young Flipper’s commentary about the Free State’s contribution to the world failed to properly make any mention of Baltimore’s homegrown beverage National Bohemian Beer. Colloquially known as Natty Boh, the native lager was first brewed in the Charmed City in 1885 and has since obtained a cult following. It has become as much a part of the “Bawlmer” Culture as row houses, John Waters and Edgar Allen Poe.
Having survived Prohibition, in 1936 the National Brewing Company turned to their marketing department to help create a cartoon spokesperson in attempts to promote business. The result was Mr. Boh, a caricature who would forever become the “face” of the brand. And by face, I literally mean face. Mr. Boh can best be described as a circle with “one” crescent moon eye, a handlebar stache, curly parted hairline and a stick figure body. The top-heavy mascot was a hipster before it was popular to be one. Rumor has it that the original incarnation of Mr. Boh sported a top hat. While I haven’t been able to find an early picture, I deduce that he would have looked a lot like the love child of Mr. Peanut and the rich guy from the Monopoly game.
The current version of the mascot has become unmistakably identifiable with the brand. Not only is his mug front and center on cans and bottles, but he could even give the Dos Equis guy a run for his money as the Most Interesting Man in the World. Depending on the holiday, Mr. Boh can be seen sporting a sombrero and shaking a maraca, or up to his elbows in shamrocks. And sometimes, he is even kicking the winning field goal to win the big game. By the 1960’s, Natty Boh achieved official beer of Baltimore status. Around that time, Mr. Boh’s image was removed from the cans and was replaced with the slogan “Land of Pleasant Living”, still in use today. I don’t think that it was just coincidence that popularity of the brand waned in 1970’s when ownership left Baltimore and continued to change several times over the following decade and a half. Eventually, in 1996, Natty Boh ceased manufacturing altogether in Maryland and with that, draft beer stopped flowing in Baltimore bars, eventually returning in 2011.
Despite being out of sight, Natty Boh was never out of mind. Brand nostalgia remained strong making for an easy resurgence in popularity. In the early 2000’s Mr. Boh’s celebrity skyrocketed when a 27 ft tall, 38 ft wide one-eyed neon head was planted on the rooftop of the Natty Boh Tower. At night the showpiece of the revitalized Brewers Hill is visible from miles away and looks like a fluorescent guardian protecting the city from any Godzilla attacks. Then in 2007, the 74-year young mascot suddenly "got game". Thanks to the help of a clever marketing campaign, Mr. Boh’s proposal to the Little Utz Girl, of the Hanover Utz’s, was chronicled on the iconic Smyth Jewelers billboard overlooking Baltimore’s Penn Station. The Boh/Utz nuptials were publicly celebrated with real-life Cos Play characters exchanging vows. The duo’s wedding was the closest thing to a royal couple that the city has ever seen.
Nowadays, the Pabst Brewing Company manufacturers National Bohemian and even though the beer hasn’t been brewed in Maryland since 1996, 90% of all sales are still sold in Baltimore. It's a given to find coolers of the brew at Ravens' and Orioles' tailgates and on tavern menus to be paired with the city’s best pit beef sandwiches and crab cakes. And remember that no matter where you go in the city, you will always be under the watchful eye of Mr. Boh.