Probably not Patsy’s … but who knows

Frank Sinatra…

…had a 30+ year relationship with Patsy’s Restaurant and three generations of the Scognamillo family that ran the place.

Patsy’s became a favorite haunt for Frank — special to him for far more than just great food — and that close relationship all started on a Thanksgiving back around 1952 that Rick Busciglio captures in his Examiner piece — “Frank Sinatra’s Lonely Thanksgiving in New York” (11/25).

I will offer a link to the Examiner story below but it comes with a warning: I was inundated with pop-ups and ad chaff when I arrived on the Examiner site (even through my normal pop-up blocker).

I detest that sort of thing so much, I’m going to do something I never do and post the complete anecdote below — with full attribution and the associated link BUT also with fair warning that linking thru to the Examiner comes at a price.

The story of Frank finding his way to Patsy’s for that fateful Thanksgiving is great, and just one of many anecdotes that the Scognamillo family shares about Sinatra and many other stars of the era in the Patsy’s Restaurant Cook Book.

Patsy’s Cookbook: Classic Italian Recipes from a New York City Landmark Restaurant is a fine cookbook that reads like a novel or biography … we’ve cooked out of it a couple of times (Mussels Arreganata and Frank’s favorite Clams Posillipo) and as good as the food is — and it is great — the stories Sal and the Scognamillo clan are also great fun to read.

“Frank Sinatra’s Lonely Thanksgiving in New York” by Rick Busciglio  (Examiner link)

One of Frank Sinatra’s favorite eating spots in Manhattan was Patsy’s Restaurant in Midtown. “When Frank Sinatra died on May 14, 1998, friends and fans just showed up at Patsy’s — arguably Sinatra’s favorite restaurant in New York City for decades.

Salvatore Scognamillo, the chef and co-owner, remembered people saying, “I just felt I had to be here today.” It was a place that was strongly identified with Sinatra, who had a special table upstairs in the back. “After he passed away, we needed to celebrate his life,” said Mr. Scognamillo, the grandson of the founder, Pasquale Scognamillo.

On Dec. 12, Sinatra’s birthday, Patsy’s, a Neapolitan restaurant, now has a tradition of serving his favorite dishes like clams Posillipo, fusilli with fileto di pomodoro, and ricotta torte for dessert. Another one of Sinatra favorites was veal Milanese. “He loved it paper thin,” Mr. Scognamillo said.

“We certainly wouldn’t be in the position we would be today if it wasn’t for him,” Mr. Scognamillo said. Much of their high-profile customer base is like an exercise in six degrees of separation from Sinatra, he said. For example, he said, “Julia Roberts was brought in by George Clooney, who was brought in by Aunt Rosemary Clooney, and Rosemary Clooney was brought in by Frank Sinatra.”

There was one example of Patsy’s level of customer service for Sinatra, also recounted in “Patsy’s Cookbook,” that Mr. Scognamillo said sealed the singer’s loyalty to the restaurant. One November in the early 1950s, Mr. Sinatra was having a rough time both professionally and personally. His career was in a gradual slide that had steepened after 1948 and hit bottom in 1952. He had divorced and remarried into a tumultuous relationship with Ava Gardner, which was also in decline.

It was before his Oscar-winning performance in “From Here to Eternity,” before reinvention as a cosmopolitan crooner of the 1950s from the 1940s starry-eyed boy next door. “Before his comeback, he was down and out,” Mr. Scognamillo recalled.

Sinatra was alone at the restaurant the night before Thanksgiving, and many of the other customers walked right past him without acknowledging him. “They are all my fair-weather friends,” he said at the time, Mr. Scognamillo said. He said he wanted to eat Thanksgiving dinner at Patsy’s. Mr. Scognmillo’s grandfather did not have the heart to tell him that the restaurant was normally closed for the holiday. “He felt like he would have hurt his pride if he had done that, so he didn’t say anything,” Mr. Scognamillio said.

So the restaurant made the reservation. And his grandfather called up the staff and told them to bring their families in for Thanksgiving. “They were moaning and groaning,” Mr. Scognamillio said. But they understood it was for Sinatra. The restaurant also called in some other guests to fill out the restaurant — though not enough that Sinatra did not notice that it was somewhat emptier than usual the next day.

So they opened for Thanksgiving for Sinatra, who had a 3 p.m. reservation.

Not until years later did Sinatra find out that they had opened just for him, Mr. Scognamillo said. But no one ever said anything. And the lifelong relationship between Patsy’s and Sinatra was sealed.”

If you ever get your hands on the book…

…Sal shares a more in-depth reflection on this event (and many others) that’s worth checking out.

Even with Thanksgiving now two weeks past us, I think this is a great story that says a lot about the spirit of the season, the Scognamillo’s and Mr. S.

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