His Kind of Town

The muted watercolor of an imagined eatery is nailed alongside Twin Anchor’s northwest wall, vibrantly capping a snug niche of booths where Frank Sinatra entertained friends until the morning’s earliest hours. The artful composition, “O’Reilly’s Italian Restaurant”, was the leisurely pastime of a character portrayed by actress Minnie Driver in Bonnie Hunt’s comedy,” Return to Me,” shot on location at the neighborhood ribhouse in the summer of ’98. It was gifted to Paul Tuzi, one of the 75-year old establishment’s co-captains, who decidedly arranged it on the wood-paneled partition, eventually juxtaposing it to a series of “Batman” and “Boardwalk Empire” stills. It is a most noteworthy corner where past meets present and is called “Frank’s Booth.”

“[Frank] would line it up with these other tables, because he used to have a party of ten or twelve people,” Paul told me.” There was a pay phone up front. When he used to come in, he would have one of his bodyguards stand by the pay phone, because he didn’t want everyone calling Aunt Sally and Grandma and Sister Judy and telling them,’ Frank Sinatra’s here! You have to come see him!’He was very cool with the people that were here and would sign autographs and pose for pictures, but he didn’t want five thousand people showing up around the time he was ready to leave.”

Therefore, once the iconic crooner had wiped the last of what has become known as Twin Anchors’ “Original Mild Barbecue Sauce” from his fingertips, pushed the bone bowl aside, and exited toward the moonlight waning over Sedgwick and Eugenie Streets, he could escape with assured anonymity. It was his kind of town, indeed.

Shaw’s Crabhouse’s former daytime maitre d’ Virgil Zanders narrates a tale about Mr. Sinatra’s predilection for late nights, chronicling a legendary evening at the Pump Room that peaked out the master of the house. Danny Miller of Rosebud on Taylor (est. 1973) corroborates this evidence for the singer’s preference for enjoying Chicago in the wee hours, intimating, “When Frank would come here, he would come in late at night, 10:00, 10:30, with ten to fifteen people. We’d lock the door, and he’d sit in here all night long, eating and drinking. When someone would say,’ I’m leaving, because I’m getting tired,’ he would say,’ No, we’re not leaving yet.’ And he wouldn’t leave until it got light out.”

Others speak of Frank’s final visit to the City of Big Shoulders, when he and his wife Barbara celebrated their ten-year anniversary in approximately the same style wherever they went.

“Frank Sinatra was here for his tenth wedding anniversary with Barbara. We have a picture of him right over there,” said Italian Village’s Frank Sgro, denoting a framed photo on the wall.” It started out with ten people, ended up being around thirty, thirty-five. His son and daughter were there, Tom Selleck, Larry Manetti.  A lot of people came over.”

“He did come in with Barbara and Tom Selleck one night, when Tom was in his forties and he was in his sixties. That was exciting, no, that was over the top,” relates Gibson’s maven of generosity, Kathy O’Malley,” This room was just loaded with women of all ages. People were hanging out [everywhere] ‘cause we had Tom and Frank in the back. Itwas an amazing night.”

All amazing nights come to a close, though.  Frank’s twilight visits became legend, and, today, only pictures pass on the evidence of his outings to beloved hangouts.

A decade after his final getaway to Chicago, Gibson’s door revolved and daughter Nancy Sinatra and her friend walked to celebrate her father’s anniversary. The man who once called Chicago “My Kind of Town” lay ill in a Los Angeles hospital.

“When Frank got sick and went to the hospital, his daughter Nancy came in,” states Gibson’s veteran server Mohammed. “She said,” ‘It’s my dad’s anniversary tonight, and he’s in the hospital.’ I [replied], ‘Why don’t you dial him up and talk to him?’ She somehow got him on the phone while he was very sick and handed me the phone. I said,’ This is Mohammed from Gibson’s. Listen to this!” And we sang “Happy ‘Anniversary’.”

“’Thank you, pal’, he said. Those were his exact words: ‘Thank you, pal’.”

Mr. Sinatra died of a heart attack on May 14, 1998, laying the receiver gently into the cradle of the line connecting him to what became his kind of town while he lived. Regardless, the handsome lad from Hoboken remains one of Chicago’s truest sons, and his celebrated spirit is revered and felt in each and every club into which he walked during his highly thought of lifetime.



4 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by Anne Smock on March 5, 2012 at 5:42 pm

    Beautiful work, friend.


  2. Posted by Mary K on March 6, 2012 at 4:36 pm

    What a lovely story! Well done.


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