Sinatra, Sally’s Apizza and J. Press

My introduction to Sally’s Apizza occurred when my Grandfather Jacobi brought my cousins and me to the J. Press Christmas party around 1949. The store at 262 York Street was closed for the celebration and jugs of Chianti and boxes of Sally’s Apizza took over the tie counters. Quite a scene for an 11-year-old to bear witness.

 Two decades later the 1969 liaison I enjoyed with Frank Sinatra came full circle vis-à-vis Sally’s and J. Press. He appeared to have done his homework about our store’s origins and about where I’d grown up. One day he said, “Richie, you’re from New Haven. Tony Consiglio’s a friend of mine. You know him?”

 “Frank,” I said, “I knew Tony when I was a kid.  Everybody in New Haven knows Tony.”

 “Ah, the apizza,” (pronounced ah-BEETS), said Sinatra, giving me a knowing wink. New Haven-style thin pizza, charred crust, authentic toppings, coal oven (which predated the EPA)—the best.

 Everyone in New Haven did know Tony Consiglio and the Consiglio family. Tony is a member of the extended family that had first opened Frank Pepe Pizzeria Napoletana, on Wooster Street in New Haven in 1925. After years of kneading dough and chopping tomatoes for their uncles at Frank Pepe, Tony and his brother Sal had to make changes when their father became ill, so they splintered off and opened Sally’s Apizza a few blocks away on Wooster and Olive Streets in 1938. Now decades later, the two apizza pioneers have established a record of longevity and quality that has culinary connoisseurs touting New Haven as the modern-day pizza capital of the United States.

 Photographs of Frank Sinatra (and Don Rickles and Jimmy Durante) were hanging prominently in Sally’s because, as native New Haveners and Wooster Street apizza aficionados knew well, Tony (“The Clam”) Consiglio was more to Sinatra than simply his friend. The legendary newspaper columnist Walter Winchell once wrote: “The closest person to Frank Sinatra is Tony Consiglio.” Tony lived and traveled with Sinatra in his capacity as the singer’s valet, an extension of a friendship that had begun for Tony with a family visit to Hoboken in 1932, became a formal role in the early ’40s, and extended on and off well into the 1980s

 Tony frequently sent the singer’s limo driver to New Haven to bring back carloads of Sally’s apizzas to New York City during Sinatra’s ten-show-a-day engagements at the Paramount during the mid-1940s. And after Ava Gardner famously flung her $10,000 wedding ring from a fourteenth-floor window of the Hampshire House on Central Park South and had regrets about it at 4 a.m., it fell to Tony to find the ring. Which he eventually did after a couple of hours—under a fire hydrant—thanks to a doorman’s flashlight and the assistance of the dawn’s early light.

 That Tony was only 5’6” factored into his gravitating to assignments such as wardrobe supervisor, coordinator of ad-hoc “special projects” (e.g., finding wedding rings, throwing a birthday cake at Rickles), and general company-keeper, as opposed to providing muscle and security detail.

 I’d like to believe that it was New Haven Tony who had suggested that Ol’ Blue Eyes stop by and visit J. Press on East 44th Street when he was in New York City.

 The song has ended, but the melody lingers on.

 

RICHARD PRESS      

1 comment

Is it true that “ole blue eyes” dark business suits all had a bright red lining?

Roger Ottenbach July 07, 2020

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