I was 17 when I got a house account at Sardi's.
Working next door to one of the most famous restaurants in the world certainly had its benefits. I was making $3.15 an hour. It was one the best jobs in my career. …and I have some great stories about that famous restaurant.
Tony the Doorman
Tony was a big man... and the first person you would meet going in to Sardi's, and the last person when you left. He was the doorman. He had a long red coat with a ‘captain’s hat. In the winter, he put on ear muffs and gloves. I remember how cold he looked as he would stand outside for hours on end…opening the front door, and helping people into and out of the endless line of cabs that lined 44th Street.
One evening between shows, I was hanging out in the lobby talking with my best friend Art Rosalin. He was the audio engineer on the show (who would be the best man at my wedding 8 years later). It was a very cold night, and we started talking about Tony.
He was standing there in the freezing cold. His cheeks were beet red, and he when he wasn’t working the cabs he would wait just under the canopy to escape the blowing wind.
I felt sorry for Tony.
Art looked at me and said; “Don’t be a putz, look at how mich money he's making.” So I watched. A cab would pull up, and he’d get the door, and then he’d get a tip. Get into the cab, Tip. Get out of the cab, Tip. Open the Door, Tip. It all happened so fast that I was missing it. It was like watching a brilliantly choreographed dance of dollars.
One day in March, Tony didn't show up for work. I went inside and asked Martin, who was Vincent’s Maître Di, where Tony was. Oh, he said, “He’s on his three week vacation to Sicily”.
I didn’t feel sorry for Tony anymore.
My Mother's Stuffed Cabbage.
My mother made great stuffed cabbage. And when she made stuffed cabbage it was cause for celebration in our house. One day she wrapped some up for me to take to work for dinner. I was very happy. No tuna sandwich that night, no sir Some good home cooking. But there was a problem. I didn’t have a way to heat it up, and you certainly can't eat stuffed cabbage cold.
So I walked next door with my dinner wrapped up in foil, and asked Martin if he could heat it up in the kitchen. About ten minutes later, he is walking through the restaurant with the aroma of my mother’s stuffed cabbage filling the air. Vincent smelled it and he asked if he could have a taste…a small price to pay for heating my dinner. It was a hit. He wanted the recipie so he could put it on the menu!
I went home that night with the good news. I had visions of my mother’s stuffed cabbage on the menu of the most famous restaurant on Broadway.
I don’t know why she said no…but I never brought dinner to work again after that.
Meeting Joseph Papp
On Broadway there were only a few people that were really important. Among that elite group was Joseph Papp. If you don’t know about Joseph Papp, then I suggest you click here and learn more about him. It's a better story if you know who he was. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Papp
Marty Grupp was one of the musicians in the Billy Taylor Orchestra, and the musical contractor for the show. I think he was also the musician’s shop steward. That made him an important person. And I was beginning to learn about important people.
Even though I was ‘technically’ too young (17) to be hanging out at the bar at Sardis I went with Marty Grupp, so it really didn’t matter. The bar was packed as usual.
We were sitting at a table and Marty asked me, “Kid, who do you think is the most important person at the bar?” I wasn’t sure who was even there, so I got up and walked over to the bar and started looking. I started to eliminate people. That guy wasn’t wearing a tie, another looked nervous. I started to look at their cufflinks, shoes, watches and suits. How can you tell if someone is important by how they dress?
You know how this is going to end, right? It’s easy now, but I was clueless then.
I went back to the table, and picked out the guy who I thought looked ‘important’. Marty started to chuckle. We got up and walked over to the middle of the bar. He pointed out a guy off in the corner, all by himself. I didn't even see him at first. He was a rumpled looking man with this far away look in his eyes. He wearing a shirt, jeans and was absorbed in reading the newspaper. Marty said, "Rusty, that’s the most important guy here. And he knows it and that's all that matters. He doesn’t need to impress anyone. Come on, I’ll introduce you".
And that’s how I met Joseph Papp.