Tuzi remembers the night he fed Sinatra

Tuzi family owns eatery where 'The Voice' dined

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By Deborah Kadin

Twin Anchors Restaurant and Tavern at Sedgwick and Eugenie streets in Chicago's Old Town neighborhood has been noted for many things. Before it became Twin Anchors in 1932, it was a neighborhood speakeasy; the escape door still exists. 

Its lip-smacking good ribs have been a staple on the menu since the 1930s. Dozens of celebrities and sports figures have come in, eaten and autographed menus. It was O'Reilly's Italian Restaurant in the film Return to Me, directed by Bonnie Hunt (an establishment regular) and a bar scene in the Batman film The Dark Knight

But perhaps the most famous person associated with Twin Anchors is Frank Sinatra, whose centenary will be celebrated Saturday, Dec. 12.

From the 1950s until about the 1970s, Sinatra came in and ordered ribs with the mild sauce and creamy coleslaw and dined with friends. He always sat in the same booth, the first one on the left as you enter the dining room, said Paul Tuzi, a River Forest resident, whose family has owned Twin Anchors since 1978. 

From what Tuzi learned from the son of one of the former owners, Sinatra, who was recording a lot of music for Capitol Records, started frequenting the restaurant in the mid-1950s, when the comedian Joey Bishop, one of the original members of the Rat Pack, brought him in for the first time. 

After that, Sinatra and an entourage would come in to eat after performing or whenever he was in town. Sinatra's staff would discreetly let the restaurant know Sinatra would be there so they could move tables next to his favorite spot in the restaurant. 

"A bodyguard would stand by the pay phone and not let anyone make calls because they didn't want everyone calling folks and saying, 'Guess who's at Twin Anchors.' They didn't want a mob scene or anyone to be a nuisance, Sinatra just wanted to go out to dinner with his friends," said Tuzi, who added that a phone jack was installed next to his booth so Sinatra could make calls. 

When he finished eating, Sinatra obliged customers by signing autographs or having his picture taken with them. The waiter, bartender – even the busser – each got a $100 tip. 

"Can you imagine in the 1950s or 1960s getting a tip like that? It was a huge amount of money back then. Staff would get pretty excited when they heard Sinatra was coming in," Tuzi said.

The restaurant continued its relationship into the 1970s, when the Gard family, who owned the establishment before the Tuzis, occasionally shipped ribs and coleslaw to his home in Palm Springs or to the Waldorf Astoria in New York City, where he would stay in the Big Apple, Tuzi said.

His visits to the restaurant always got play in the pages of the Chicago Daily News by the gossip columnist Mort Edelstein, or the Sun Times. Some columns and an autographed menu are enshrined under glass on a dining room wall. 

Sinatra's last contact with Twin Anchors was in 1982, when he was a mainstage act at ChicagoFest, the forerunner to Taste of Chicago. Lou Volpano, an event producer, called Twin Anchors and asked Phil Tuzi, Paul's father, if he would provide 50 orders of ribs and coleslaw for Sinatra and the orchestra. 

Paul, his girlfriend, his dad and his sister, Mary Kay, went to Navy Pier and cooked the ribs. The orchestra ate before the concert on picnic tables in the backstage area of the main stage. Sinatra ate in a trailer, which was being prepared almost to the minute Sinatra arrived in a private jet at Meigs Field. Paul Tuzi said Sinatra ate, changed into a black tuxedo and went out and sang. 

Paul said he and his family got to hear the concert backstage. The orchestra was 10 feet away; Sinatra was 40 feet away. The place was packed. 

"There were no separate tickets and you could look at an empty stage all day, which is what people did, "Tuzi said.

Sinatra performed for 90 minutes, singing a lot of the standards. He opened with "I've Got You Under My Skin" and closed with "My Kind of Town." Sinatra was fabulous, Tuzi said. 

"He still could belt out a song," he said.

Afterward, Tuzi said he and the family stood by Sinatra's limousine and waved to him. He waved back and said hello. His sister had hoped he would sign a menu she brought along. He didn't. 

"They whisked him into the limousine," Tuzi said. "He landed probably an hour before he went onstage and took off right after the performance." 

When Sinatra died on May 14, 1998, news stations came by to interview Paul Tuzi about Sinatra. 

This year Twin Anchors has no plans for a big party to honor Sinatra's centenary. The restaurant usually is busy on the weekend. But customers on that day will hear Sinatra music. 

The cocktail menu will feature Jack Daniels on the rocks with a splash of water for $7.77, Sinatra's favorite drink. The special will be labeled "Luck Be a Lady," a song from the musical Guys and Dolls, which Sinatra starred in along with Marlon Brando, Jean Simmons and Vivian Blaine.

It was fun and flattering that Twin Anchors, a neighborhood corner tavern, had been discovered and was patronized by one of the world's most popular entertainers. He didn't pick the super glitzy places, even though he could go anywhere he wanted. 

Because he was just a kid from Hoboken, New Jersey, he felt comfortable in a neighborhood tavern, Paul Tuzi said. 

"Restaurants and places are known for whatever celebrities go there, but if Twin Anchors could have their pick of any celebrity in the world, we couldn't pick anyone better than Frank Sinatra," Tuzi said.

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David Hammond  

Posted: December 8th, 2015 3:39 PM

Excellent reminiscence about Twin Anchors and Tuzi family. Another local place Sinatra regularly dined was the late Slicker Sam's, where Carolyn and I would go when we were first dating. Sam's son, Sal Rosa, sometimes turns up at Taste of Melrose Park selling tiramisu -- said Frank would always ask his mom, Sam's wife, to make his food without garlic (I'm guessing garlic breath interfered with, you know, romance).

Jeff Schroeder from Oak Park  

Posted: December 8th, 2015 3:31 PM

Going back to my college days, I spent many an enjoyable evening at Twin Anchors. Always enjoyed the ribs. Not surprised that it has had some illustrious visitors.

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