Question: where do a bunch of lounge lizards, bar flies and mid-level wise guys go when they want a night on the town with booze and showgirls?
Answer: to a fancier bar room, of course. And, if it were the middle of the last century in Boston the only place to go would be Blinstrub’s Village.
The picture I’m sharing today is some of the gang from my father’s tavern. I call them the North End Rat Pack because they loved hanging out with each other and they partied like they were at the Copa room of the Sands hotel in Vegas. You can’t imagine the laughs they had when they got together.
The guys are at at Blinstrub’s Village in South Boston in the early 1950’s. In its day, from the late 1920’s until it burned down in 1968, Blinstrub’s Village was the premier night club in Boston and the only one that had top shelf talent. It was owned by Stanley Blinstrub and his family and started out as a small diner on the corner of D Street and West Broadway. Stanley expanded and added to it over the years until it could seat almost 1,800 diners on the main floor and balcony. It was designed to vaguely resemble a Bavarian castle which sounds hokey but it worked.
Billstrub’s was open seven days a week and catered to all sorts of events from bowling league banquets to Cardinal Cushing treating a hundred nuns to dinner and a show. The waitresses were as tough as those at Durgin Park and worked just as hard but the real attractions were the showgirls who put on a dance routine before the main act and the cigarette girls who went from table to table in short skirts with a tray hung from their necks. They sold cigarettes, chewing gum, life savers and souvenirs at wildly inflated prices. All the guys wanted to date one of the show girls and they showered them with tips. Liberace, Sammy Davis Jr., Nat King Cole, Johnny Mathis, Rosemary Clooney, Connie Francis and other headliners played at Blinstrub’s for one or two weeks at a time, two shows a night. Stanley Blinstrub was able to attract top talent because he paid them in cash, as much as $20,000 a week for acts like Robert Goulet or the Supremes. If an Italian singer was playing the whole North End went and my guess is the North End Rat Pack pictured here was there to hear someone like Jerry Vale or Tony Bennet.
Don’t the guys in the picture look like they’re having a good time? When you traveled with this crowd you were drinking with the big boys. No sissy mixed drinks for them, they liked their liquor and their women straight up, down and dirty. “Leave the bottle, sweetheart, we’ll pour our own”.
My father, Jerry, is the guy in the middle holding a drink probably Seagram’s Seven but if someone else was paying he’d have Canadian Club. He has his left arm around Al (Little Al) Ippolito. To the left of my father is Jerry (Shamricki) Catania who was the bookie in my father’s bar for forty years. Sham was like an uncle to me. The two guys standing over my father with their arms around each other are two of the six Serecchia brothers who had a big bookmaking operation in the North End and surrounding towns. The Serecchias were important people in the North End seventy five years ago.
Standing on the far right holding the bottle is Sammy Morgan who was always looking for a girlfriend. The fellow with eyeglasses and the cigarette looking back at the camera is Bubbles, one of the funniest guys who ever lived. Bubbles had a lot of medical problems including a bad liver and died young. On the far right, sitting with a shot glass is Meeko who was the leader of this gang. Meeko collected money for the loan sharks on Hanover Street and was as tough as they came. He was so good at his job he used to get thank you notes from the orthopedic department at Mass General. Meeko did something that got the wrong people angry and had to leave town fast. He split for the coast and stayed with my aunt in San Francisco until things calmed down but he never returned to the North End. A lot of the Sicilian girls on North Street were heartbroken when Meeko left town.
Before he went into the Army in World War II, my father worked as a bar tender in a restaurant called Monte’s which was located in an old factory building on Union Street. Monte’s was owned by a guy named Luigi Leonardi who called himself Louie Leonard. Louie was connected to the mob and his restaurant was very popular with people from all classes of society. In those days Boston had “Blue Laws” which said liquor couldn’t be served on Sundays or after midnight on weekdays so Louie operated his place as an afterhours club. The restaurant was up one flight of stairs and in one corner there was an oversized freight elevator that was set up as a bar. My father was the afterhours bartender and if the cops raided the place he would shut the elevator door and take the bar up to the roof where he could escape. The cops were all paid off, of course, but every so often they would pull a raid to make the newspapers happy or to put the squeeze Louie for more cash. It was a different world in the North End back then when you couldn’t tell the cops from the robbers.
Nicholas Dello Russo is a lifelong North Ender and columnist. Often using vintage photographs, Nick tells the stories of growing up in the North End along with its culture and traditions. It was a time when the apartments were so small that residents were always on the streets enjoying “Life on the Corner.” Read more of Nick’s columns.