Friday, October 16, 2009

The Old Lime House

Just reading the menu makes me hungry. Neighborhood people ate at the Lime House. Not Vincent's, which was mostly a tourist trap. The consensus was that the food was better the Lime House. My friend Chubby worked at Vincent's. He was later the bartender at Patrick Henry's which was next to my parking lot.
There was also Little Charlie's on Kenmare Street. It was better than Vincent's too. And then Umberto's, which was great, until someone named Joe got some lead mixed in with his scungilli's.

When Joe Met The Chairman Of The Board

from Joe Bruno
I owned a car service/limousine business in the late 1970's, that I ran from my lot (Bruno's Parking Lot). But I also got a lot of work from the Downtown Athletic Club.
One time I got Jackie Cooper for a few weeks. He was one of the original Young Rascals in the 1930's movies. Had a TV program in the 50's called The People Choice, with the talking basset hound.
Around 1978, Cooper (Real name was Italian) was directing a TV movie in NY city. He was staying the DAC, which had 15 floors of hotel rooms. I was a member there. Rudy Riska got me in. You had to be recommended by 2 members, and Rudy supplied them for me.
I think Cooper liked me because I was Italian. He knew I was writing part time at the time, and that I came from Little Italy.
I'd pick him up every night around 5pm, then take him to different restaurants around town. This went on for a few weeks. Wherever he went, he sent food out to me in the limo where I was waiting for him.
One night I took him to PJ Clarke's, on 3rd Ave and 55 St. There was a side entrance on 55th Street, which led right to the dinning room area. The front entrance led to the bar.
I parked on 55th street, and sat, waiting. A few minutes later, the waiter came out and told me Mr. Cooper wanted to see me inside. I said I could not leave my limo unattended. The waiter said he'd take care of it, and asked for my key's. There was a lot close by, and me parked my limo there.
I go inside and Cooper is sitting at a table, with Frank Sinatra and Jilly Rizzo. I knew Jilly from his bar Jilly's on 52nd Street and 8th Avenue. Just to say hello and goodbye.
I went to Jilly's all the time. A older woman from the neighborhood tended bar there. I forget her name. But she was beautiful. She was one of my car service customers too.
Cooper told me to sit down and introduced me to Sinatra. The waiter handed me a menu and I ate and drank soda.
Sinatra said he heard I was from Little Italy and did I know the Lime House, on the corner northeast of Mott and Bayard. Two entrances. The main on Bayard, and the other on Mott. It was like Vincents. Only shell fish, with a full bar.
I said I went there all the time. In fact, 10 years earlier I was engaged to a girl whose father Bobby was the bartender there
Sinatra said he knew Bobby.
Sinatra said used to go there late at night with Jilly. Near closing time. Jilly called in advance, and the place was always empty by the time he got there. Then they'd lock the doors and he's stay there until the wee hours of the morning, like his song.
I was there maybe 45 minutes and talked only when spoken too, which is real hard for me. I just listened to what they had to say.
When we were ready to leave, I shook hands with Sinatra and Jilly. The waiter got my limo, and I drove Cooper back to the DAC.
The Lime House closed down in the 80's. It's now a Chinese something-or-another.
Like everything else in Little Italy.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

The Truth About Johnny

Saturday, May 16, 2009

JFK Jr. --- Softball Hero

As I mentioned in a previous post, John F. Kennedy Jr. not only jogged down Monroe Street and around the neighborhood, but he also played softball in a co-ed softball league from the court buildings around Centre Street. The league first started playing their games in Columbus Park across from the courts on a concrete field, but in the mid 80's switched their games to Coleman Oval, where the field is composed of the more comfortable sand and grass.
Amazingly, even though his face was regularly seen in the NY daily newspapers, JFK Jr. played in anonymity in Coleman Oval. Our neighborhood is famous for its, “Who gives a hoot” attitude when it comes to celebrities. If someone “didn't put money in their pockets", the general attitude was always indifference.
This was a co-ed softball league, and even the best softball players in this court league, were by our neighborhood standards, at best utility players off the bench. Truthfully, the best softball players tested their talents in an all-men's league, and wouldn't be caught dead playing on the same field with those of the female persuasion. I know that perception has changed over the years, but in the mid 1980's hardly anyone watched softball games where the girls were playing. This added to the phenomenon of JFK playing in relative obscurity in Coleman Oval.
First thing off the bat, so to speak, JFK Jr. was a horrible softball player, with no baseball talents at all. He threw like my grandmother, only not as hard. When he tried to hit the soft lob-in pitches, a medium-speed ground ball to short was a major accomplishment. As for fielding, if he ever actually caught a ball, it was mostly by accident. He was a natural athlete and could run decently, if not especially fast. Obviously, the Kennedy family sports talents were mostly exhibited in their traditional touch football games on the lawn in Hyannis Port, Mass.
So JFK usually was the team's catcher, where a player can do the least amount of damage, unless there is a play at the plate, and a good fielding pitcher can always fall back to home plate to make the catch and tag play.
But JFK Jr.'s lack of baseball skills certainly did not diminish his exuberance for the game. He smiled easily and seemed not to be embarrassed at his inability to play the game with even a modicum of ability.
One day I stood behind home plate against the fence watching the game. I was shocked to see the catcher on the team playing against JFK's team was a girl wearing glasses, and she wore no catcher's mask to protect her face. And being the catcher in a slow pitch co-ed league, it was obvious she had very little catching ability.
Anyone who has ever played competitive softball, even in a soft pitch league, knows how easy it is for the catcher to take a foul tip hard to the face. In fact, JFK Jr. was catching without a catchers mask too, and with that handsome face, he was inviting monumental dental problems. The fact that no man on either team saw this as a problem for the female catcher, highlights the fact not too many of these men had played a lot of competitive softball in the past. And these guys prosecuted our criminals? No wonder the New Yor City crime rate was so high.
So I walked around the fence and approached JFK Jr., who was sitting on the bench waiting his turn at bat. I said something like, “John, that female catcher wearing glasses might get hurt and get hurt badly. She has to wear a catcher's mask. And you should too.”
Immediately, he went over to the equipment bag, pulled out a catcher's mask, walked onto the field and called “time!” He handed the girl the catcher's mask and told her to wear it to protect her pretty face. After the inning was over, he took the mask from the girl and wore it himself. From that point on, I never saw a catcher in this league play without wearing a catcher's mask. Again, and some of these players prosecuted our city's criminals.
No, the catcher's mask didn't improve JFK Jr.'s hitting, fielding, or throwing. But it made his dentist a long shot to be cashing any large checks from JFK Jr. in the near future. And the female catcher's dentist too.
In a future post, I will tell a wacky story about JFK's crew carousing in Patrick Henry's Pub after a game, with Mike Maruffi as the usual foil.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Look Up In The Sky!: Danger On The KV Roofs

I mentioned in a previous blog that practical jokes were part of the everyday life in Knickerbocker Village in the 70's and 80's. Some of the jokes were harmful. Most were not. Some were atrocious and downright dangerous.
One of the worst practical jokes I ever witnessed, was on a Saturday afternoon when a groom and his male wedding party were heading from the East court to the marriage ceremony at St. Joseph's, some punk, or punks, threw a can of white paint off the KV roof. I was sitting in front of the parking lot I owned at 31 Monroe St. when this happened.
Luckily, the can did not hit anyone, but the paint splattered all over the wedding party's black tuxedos. What a horrible thing to do.
I ran home, and grabbed a black dinner jack and the coat of a black suit that I had, and gave it to two of the wedding party. Others did the same, and in minutes, the wedding party was presentable enough for the wedding. Although, the “tuxedos” didn't exactly match, the wedding went off without a hitch.
I don't remember if the guilt party, or parties, was ever discovered. But if they were, I'm sure they was dealt with accordingly.
During the mid 80's, there was also some nuts throwing pebbles off the KV roof, trying to hit people walking down Monroe Street. I was again siting in front of my parking lot with a friend, when I heard pebbles hitting the street, and saw people scattering. The pebbles were coming from the A building's roof, directly above Dave's Cleaners. I looked up and saw the heads of the morons responsible. They immediately ducked back. My friend and I ran across the street, and bounded down the steps into Dave's Cleaner's. The morons were hiding on the roof and didn't see us coming .
We went through Dave's back door to the A building elevator, and rode the elevator up to the penthouse. Then we ran up the stairs and bolted through the door to the roof. Sure enough, the two teenage moron pebble throwers were still on the roof. What we said and did next I cannot reveal. But I knew the fathers of the two jerks, and I told them if they ever did this again, there was going to be a big problem.
I don't recall any more pebble throwing on the KV roofs. And I never did speak to the fathers of the two jerks.
I also observed another neighborhood rule: “Don't be a rat.”
But if it had happened again, I definitely would have went to see the kid's fathers. I knew the fathers well enough to know they would never tolerate such nonsense from their sons.
In the later 80's, some creep got his rocks off by shooting a bee bee gun off the KV roof at passersby. One day I was walking through the west courtyard with my wife, when she got hit under the right eye. Another half inch and she could have lost an eye. She was not the first person to get hit by a bee bee in and around KV.
I made the usual inquiries to the right people, and a few days later, I was told the situation was taken care of. And I'm sure it was. I never heard of anyone else getting hurt by a bee bee afterwards.
The bottom line is, a lot of nuts lived in Knickerbocker Village, but the vast majority of the people were hard-working, God-fearing people. And if there were a problem, the police were never called. There were enough good people in the neighborhood to police themselves effectively. If you get my drift.
More on KV practical jokes later. The good kind, where no one gets hurt.
Well, at least not physically.

Once Upon A Time, 1901: Joseph Jacobs Of 116 Madison Street

Madison 116 Robbery
a follow up to Joe's story where he mentioned Mike Maruffi's Bar and Grill at 116 Madison Street

Thursday, May 14, 2009

John F. Kennedy Jr.

On person who should be included as an honorary member of Knickerbocker Village is John F. Kennedy Jr. Yes, that John F. Kennedy Jr..
JFK Jr. was a member of the Downtown Athletic Club and in the late 1980's we both used to work out at the 7th floor gym, around 5-6 pm weekdays. We really didn't know each other personally, but one time he asked me to spot him on the bench press. After that, we'd spot each other on occasions. And we developed a casual gym-type relationship.
He had a solid built, but not bulky, with huge calf muscles. Maybe the biggest calf muscles I've ever seen. He constantly checked himself out in the gym mirrors too. From all angles. Flexing his muscles. Truth is, if I were that handsome and buff, I'd be doing the mirror bit too.
There is one memory of JFK Jr. that I'll never forget. Late one weekday afternoon, I walked into the elevator at the DAC, which was manned by Tony Gomez, from Knickerbocker Village. Just as Tony was about to close the elevator door, we heard, “Hold the elevator!” In a split second, JFK Jr. glided into the elevator wearing a suit, but his feet encased in roller skates. Tony Gomez told me he did that all the time.
There was a huge bar on the third floor of the DAC. Rudy Riska, the chairman of the Heisman committee at the DAC, told me it was at one time the longest bar in the world. JFK Jr, who worked as an assistant DA at Hogan Place, would stop at the bar occasionally with a few of this friends from work. Someone told him I was a sportswriter – writing mostly boxing. So if we would happen to be sitting near each other at the bar, he would always ask me my opinion of an upcoming fight. Or about the results of a fight that just took place.
One day, I'm sitting in front of the parking lot I owned at 31 Monroe Street, across from Knickerbocker Village, and I see JFK Jr. and another man jogging past my lot. It seemed that sometimes after work, instead of working at out the the DAC gym, he would jog through the streets of lower Manhattan instead.
Now at this time, JFK junior was one of the most recognizable people in NY City. His picture was in the newspapers constantly. So I couldn't understand why, in God's name, he'd be jogging down Monroe Street, which by the mid 1980's was not as safe as it had been years earlier.
The man he was with I assumed to be his body guard, but it turned out not to be the case. JFK Jr. waved at me as he passed by. I waved back, but I couldn't believe what I was seeing. He and his jogging partner, sped past my parking lot, across Market St. and under the Manhattan Bridge.
One day in the late 80's, or early 90's, my wife was sitting in front of the lot when JFK Jr. jogged by with another man. I was not on the premises. My wife said JFK Jr. told his jogging partner, “That's Joe Bruno's Parking Lot.” My wife was real proud he said that.
I told her, “Big deal. Guess what? He can read. My name is in big letters on a sign outside my parking lot for all people to see. It fact, that sign is required by law .”
My wife chose not to accept my explanation.
Another time, I saw JFK jogging down Monroe alone. It was around 6 pm. No jogging partner this time. As he passed I said to him, “John, this is not the safest neighborhood in the world to be jogging in. If I were you, I would not jog under the Manhattan Bridge alone. A lot of nuts hang out under the Manhattan Bridge.”
And I wasn't kidding. In fact, I couldn't remember the last time I walked under the Manhattan Bridge. I usually took my car to get around Manhattan, and if I had to take the F train subway on Madison Street, the other side of Pike Street, I'd walk on Madison to avoid the darkness under the Manhattan Bridge.
But JFK Jr. shrugged, smiled and kept jogging, right under the Manhattan Bridge.
Huge onions, that man.
JFK Jr. also used to play softball in Coleman Oval, on the corner of Monroe and Market. But more on that later.