Sinatra swiftly became an international singing idol whose voice and face made women and girls scream and faint; riots broke out at his concerts. Patsy, meanwhile, left the Sorrento and opened Patsy’s. Both men — the crooner and the cook — were doing well for themselves.
But in the early 1950s, Sinatra’s career crashed. He was no longer a kid. His records stopped selling. His romance with Ava Gardner was on the rocks. His record company dropped him. The winner suddenly was being widely seen as a loser, washed up.
People who follow the Sinatra story know about the eventual comeback: how he landed a role in the movie “From Here to Eternity” and won an Academy Award, how his career zoomed again, how he became the living symbol of success and swagger.
Yet in those down years, no one could have anticipated the rebirth. Sinatra was a has-been, yesterday’s news.
“He would come in to the restaurant alone for lunch,” Sal Scognamillo said to me. I could tell that this was a thrice-told family tale — or a thrice-times-thrice-told tale. That didn’t make it any less compelling.
“My grandfather would sit with him,” Sal said. “There would be people eating lunch who would avoid making eye contact with Sinatra — people who used to know him when he was on top. Sinatra would nod toward them and say to my grandfather: ‘My fair-weather friends.'”
One November, on the day before Thanksgiving, Sinatra asked Patsy if he would make him a solo reservation for the next day. “He said he would be coming in for Thanksgiving dinner by himself,” Sal said. “He said, ‘Give me anything but turkey.’ He didn’t want to think about the holiday, but he didn’t want to be alone.”
The restaurant was scheduled to be closed on Thanksgiving. But Patsy didn’t tell Sinatra that; he told him that he’d make the reservation for 3 p.m. He didn’t want Sinatra to know that he was opening especially for him, so he invited the families of the restaurant’s staff to come in for dinner, too. He cooked for Sinatra, on that solitary holiday, and it wasn’t until years later that Sinatra found out.
That’s where the loyalty came from. That’s why Sinatra never stopped coming to the restaurant. In later years, when Patsy’s would be jammed with diners hoping to get a glimpse of him, few understood why the most famous singer in the world would single out one place as his constant favorite.