Final yr, Brad Bonds, the co-owner of Revival Classic Spirits, a classic spirits retailer in Covington, Ky., acquired a group from the household of Frank Rizzo, Philadelphia’s controversial mayor from 1972 to 1980. There was Hennessy and banana liqueur from the Nineteen Fifties, Crown Royal from the Nineteen Sixties, and different assorted brandies, Scotches, and loads of the types of gross liqueurs that had been standard mid-century.
However Bonds was most intrigued by a 1953 bottle of Previous Forester Bottled in Bond. Packaged in round brown glass, a copper medallion inset on the neck, the paper label states that it had been privately bottled “particularly” for Invoice Rodstein’s Latimer Membership.
“And so I Google that, and I see it’s tied to Frank Sinatra,” Bonds says. Extra particularly, he would be taught, it was tied to a Frank Sinatra-themed bar that was a scorching spot in Philadelphia within the late Nineteen Fifties by way of the late Nineteen Sixties: Sinatrama.
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At this time, theme bars are seen as a nothing however pure gimmick. No critical drinker, no hip nightlife scenester, could be caught useless at, say, Margaritaville or the Beetlejuice bar. And is any single celeb even well-known sufficient lately to benefit their very own “nitery” (to borrow the lingo from the day)? They don’t make them like Frank Sinatra any extra and nobody has ever made a theme bar like Sinatrama.
William Ok. Rodstein, properly over six ft tall and beefy in construct, often known as “Massive Invoice” to buddies and strangers alike, had been on the periphery of the music enterprise because the Nineteen Thirties when he owned coin arcade machines and jukeboxes. He ultimately began working nightclubs in Philadelphia. His first success was, fittingly, known as Massive Invoice’s. He started stocking its jukeboxes with Sinatra information virtually instantly after Hoboken’s favourite son started to launch them, beginning with 1946’s “The Voice of Frank Sinatra.”
“I by no means met him,” he advised Billboard journal in 1965. “I didn’t even know who he was. However I knew that I preferred his singing higher than another singer. I loaded all my music machines with [Sinatra] information.”
It paid off. A lot in order that when, in 1951, Rodstein acquired the bar house contained in the boutique Latimer Lodge on South seventeenth Avenue close to Rittenhouse Sq., he determined to go even additional. He started to fill the small house with pictures of Sinatra, newspaper clippings, images, and torn-out pages from magazines. Over time he added all of Sinatra’s information, books about him, and film posters. The small room would develop to reportedly have the world’s largest assortment of Sinatra memorabilia, together with a lifesize stand greeting clients on the entrance (who, in flip, often greeted the 2-D Frank with a kiss on the cheek).
The Latimer Cafe would casually, then formally, take the identify Sinatrama. Virtually instantly, the darkish, smoky house started to draw a cool crowd, the final vestiges of the post-Warfare, suit-and-tie Best Era.
“It was your Martini and bourbon crowd. All the identical stuff folks drink as we speak,” remembers Donald Moore, a longtime Sinatra fanatic who started going to the Sinatrama as a youngster. “And all people was consuming Jack [Daniel’s] after all as a result of Frank drank Jack.”
Endorsed by Mr. Sinatra
By 1958, Rodstein had 5 completely different jukeboxes within the bar solely providing Sinatra information in them, an unparalleled assortment of 800 songs, each widespread and deep cuts, out there on 33s, 45s, 78s, and LPs printed on wax, tape, and acetate. Every jukebox earned about 50 bucks per week — an enormous quantity for the day.
If no buyer had bought a brand new Sinatra music by the point the final one had completed, yet one more jukebox would robotically play one, on the home. “The Girl is a Tramp” and “Come Fly With Me” had been essentially the most frequent decisions. Rodstein was so happy with this assortment that he would continuously declare it was actually not possible to call a Sinatra file he didn’t personal.
“If I don’t have the Sinatra file you ask for, I’ll mow your garden, shovel your driveway, stroll your canine, or wash your automotive!” he claimed. Visitors might additionally queue up any variety of Sinatra audio interviews, each people who had appeared in customary media and extra obscure off-air recordings. Rodstein had even interviewed Frank in 1958 at Capital Towers in Hollywood and put it on a file. Likewise, Rodstein might unspool movie strips of Sinatra through the years and play them on a pull-down display.
Sinatra was nonetheless alive, after all, arguably nonetheless on the peak of his profession. He’d launched one in all his largest hits, “Come Fly with Me,” in 1958, gained Grammy Album of the Yr in 1959, and headlined “Ocean’s 11” in 1960 and “The Manchurian Candidate” in 1962. And, like a teeny bopper adorning their bed room partitions, Rodstein continued so as to add a near-daily provide of paraphernalia and pictures, journal pages, celeb pictures, and information clippings to the bar house. (The boys’s room was the one place that didn’t have Sinatra’s visage in it.)
“Was it a gimmick? Under no circumstances,” says Moore, who factors out that simply this yr, a reliable restaurant group opened a Sinatra-themed bar and lounge in Nashville. Moore, professionally a hairdresser but additionally a bar proprietor of spots like Social Lounge in West Chester, Pa., at all times dedicates a minimum of one wall in his areas to Sinatra.
Ol’ Blue Eyes supposedly by no means visited Sinatrama himself — “The Solely Room within the World of this Form Endorsed by Mr. Sinatra” — even in 1960 when he accepted an award on the Sons of Italy corridor simply down the block. (Although, Moore disputes that.) Sinatra’s mother and father had visited, although, throughout that very same journey. And Sinatrama was an everyday celeb hang-out through the years, frequented by visiting athletes from Main League Baseball and the NBA, in addition to a slew of on-tour performers, musicians, and comics.
Iconic Philadelphia DJ Jerry Blavat was a pal of Rodstein and an everyday. Due to his personal connections, he would typically ferry visiting celebrities to Sinatrama late within the night. “I bear in mind taking (Don) Rickles there when he labored the Superstar Room,” he reminisced to the Atlantic Metropolis Weekly in 2013.
Atlantic Metropolis was additionally residence of the five hundred Membership, owned and operated by mob affiliate Paul “Skinny” D’Amato from the Nineteen Thirties till the constructing burned down in 1973. The membership’s major showroom, the Vermilion Room, continuously provided performances from Sinatra and his Rat Pack buddies.
Memento from Sinatrama
On Aug. 5, 1962, Sinatra, Dean Martin, and Sammy Davis Jr. gave a particular 4 a.m. efficiency, which Invoice Rodstein simply so occurred to be attending. He recorded the present, pressed it to vinyl, after which gave away copies of the efficiency solely at Sinatrama. “Amateurishly produced [and] poorly packaged” reads the itemizing on the Esprit file gathering web site, the album may be discovered with a number of completely different covers, some simply pasted over high a repurposed file sleeve Rodstein should have had available.
Nonetheless, Sinatrama stays one of many rarest and most sought-after information amongst Sinatra collectors as we speak. The truth that Nancy Sinatra’s lawyer, Robert A. Finkelstein, has tried to forestall the re-sell of any and all copies of the album, being that it was an unauthorized bootleg, solely makes it extra coveted.
“Insipidly titled ‘Memento from – Collectors Merchandise,’ and inanely labeled a ‘Non Printed Album, Not Accessible Wherever Else’ this album is prized by Rat Pack collectors,” writes music historian Jerry Osborne.
By the late-Nineteen Sixties, America was altering. It was the Summer season of Love, the Beat Era, hippies and medicines, anti-war protests and counterculture music. Was there nonetheless room for a 50-something crooner in tailor-made fits? The Latimer Membership and Sinatrama closed unceremoniously someday in 1968 so far as I can inform, although there was not a single point out in any newspaper I might discover.
Rodstein would die in 1969 at age 57 and, although he would garner a number of good obituaries, he’s largely forgotten as we speak. Besides on a bottle of $10,000 bourbon nonetheless out there at Revival — and within the legacy of Sinatrama, the best theme bar there ever was.