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.
Due to the ingenuity and resourcefulness of my father Jerry Haber- I was able to see “The Chairman of the Board” live in concert-first at Resorts International in Atlantic City, in 1979. Sinatra closed that concert with a rousing rendition of “My Way” as he was attired that evening in a tuxedo and had a white shawl on, as well. I remember this vividly. Consequently, I got to see Sinatra live one more time at Carnegie Hall in 1984, when “The Voice” appeared with Buddy Rich. Furthermore, I would later attend a concert saluting the artistry of Sinatra in 1995 at Carnegie Hall, with my parents along with journalist and J.Press customer Sidney Zion-who was amazed when I told him that Frank Sinatra was my favorite singer.
Wonderful memories, well told. As a West Coast guy, I can only treasure these stories at a distance, but all the same, they are still marvelous.
Let us have the next installment, sooner, rather than later!
Wooster Street is to pizza what East 44th Street was to men’s clothing! Thanks, Dick, for the wonderful memories you bring back with these blog entries. It’s been almost sixty years since you took first care of care me with those wonderful tweed jackets, Shaggy Dog sweaters, and shirts with pocket flaps!
I became a Press customer in 1985, while living as a California transplant for a couple of years. Raised as a Brooks Bros. customer, I found Press and never looked back. My salesman and friend for as long as he was at 44th Street was (to me) the one and only John Jackson. And while Mr. Jackson was very discrete he did let me know that Frank Sinatra would often have the shop send over large quantities of the same J. Press dress shirts to his apartment in the Waldorf Tower. Apparently the “Chairman of the Board” had a decided preference for only white shirts with a pointed collar. A year or two later I found myself in a business meeting in the Sinatra apartment. Lots of guys more important than me (I was about 32 at the time). When I had the chance to have a brief word with F.A.S. I mentioned Press and he had two words, “The Best”. I was inclined to agree and more than 30 years later, I still am.
Saw the Chairman of the Board live at Carnegie Hall in the fall of 1982. That’s around the time that Felix was basically cut up and remaking J. Press jackets to fit my then-slim frame.
I love these historical background offerings. Rich and very interesting stuff! Please keep your write-ups coming. BTW, love J. Press, as well!
I thought I was the only one who remembered “ABEETZ” introduced to me in grammar school by an Italian classmate in Jersey City 🌃 circa 1945.
Great story. Looks like a great pizza also.
Sinatra my father’s favorite vocalist all time.
I am aware we all have a story to tell but there are stories of our heroes and Idol’s that we would like to hear largely from the yester years. It is great to see that our heroes and idol’s are quite humble and never forget where they came from. A Truly a wonderful story…I am hoping we can hear many more.