Sammy Ross, Short on Blarney

At the Irish Pizza Pub, the Little Guys Rule

by Eddie Dean (Washington City Paper, 11/28/1997)

Rockin' Rockin' Leprechaun: Sammy and Mike Ross show that little can go a long way.

Tucked in a dismal Laurel (Maryland) shopping center, the Irish Pizza Pub offers surrealism for the whole family. The decor is Celtic psychedelic, crammed with shoulder-high plaster castles and armored knights and a thatch-roofed bar as long as a bus. On murals that stretch from floor to ceiling, ecstatic leprechauns and ruddy-faced peasants frolic across endless fields of dancing mushrooms: a Yeats’ fairy world as depicted by a punch-drunk R Crumb. A back wall is girded by a painted shrine to former employees and patrons now deceased — aqua-gray portraits of baseball-capped men with tipsy grins and frosty beer mugs; smoke from their eternally smoldering cigarettes wafts into clouds of their “Irish Heaven,” the work’s title.

Amid this hyper-Hibernian sensory overload (who knew that green could fade in so many colors?), it makes perfect sense that the Irish Pizza Pub is one of the few joints around where working leprechauns can still get a steady gig even when it’s not St Patrick’s Day.

Sammy and Michael Ross

On weekends, Sammy and Michael Ross — a 4-foot-tall father-and-son duo — bring on a shtick that trumps the tepid stuff found in typical Irish-American bars, with their four-leaf-clover fakery and framed photos of Ronald Reagan.

On a recent Saturday night, Sammy, a bearded man in a tuxedo and green hat, tells jokes and stories and plays old Irish songs like “Peggy O’Neill” on the piano, while Michael, in a matching outfit, works the tables, making animal balloons for children. It’s been their routine for more than 20 years, and their act is well-received: Pub regulars have grown up with these leprechauns, and they treat them like family. “People call us all week long and say, ‘Are Mike and Sammy gonna be here?’” says manager Bonnie Helwig. “A lot of them only want to come in if they’re here.”

Continue reading “Short on Blarney” at bassharp.com.

Sammy Ross died Dec. 11, 2010 from complications due to Alzheimer’s disease. He was 87.

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6 Responses to Sammy Ross, Short on Blarney

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  2. John Scollan says:

    RIP Sammy. A true showman and fabulous person I enjoyed having Sammy and Michael appear in my children’s programs in the 1980s

  3. mike nagrabski says:

    I really enjoyed seeing photo’s of Sammy. He was a very good friend with my dad who was his accordion repairman. I also remember Sammy could be seen at times entertaining folks at the old Gwynn Oak Park Amusement Park.

  4. Thanks for the remembrances, Mike./ If you ever run across old photos or remember old stories please let us know. I met Sammy when he did the Best of Baltimore cover and was featured on the Love Nut cd. He was a cool guy.

  5. Steve Bates says:

    Sammy was my piano teacher. He was a wonderful instructor, amazingly talented and a natural entertainer. I remember Sammy with his accordion at the Gwynn Oak Amusement park. Sammy did balloon sculpting and was very good at it. He made sure every kid within range got one of his balloon sculptures. Great memories. God bless you Sammy!

  6. elizabeth thomas says:

    i took care of Sammy in jewish convalescent nursing home for four years. I love u Sammy you were the brightest part of my day. jusy to hear you sau good morning darling. rest well, play the piano in heaven. hi to the ross family,.

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