A Ghost from Christmas Past: Frank Roccio Is Alive

Its beginning to feel a lot like Christmas, everywhere I go. As I sipped a Stella last night, the first alcohol I’ve had in many a moon, a cold wind swayed the Christmas lights decorating the food truck at Union Pool. We were there giving hugs, kisses, and presents to our friend Julia Jackson on the occasion of her birthday. The calendar swore it was still summer although the weather was decidedly un-August like, more like December. Most of the huddled hipsters were getting tight on the requisite PBR’s and cheap shots, as the chill told us that this particular summer of discontent had only a few weeks left in it. I, officially, am looking for a place to live not far from that particular cold hot spot in Williamsburg. Manhattan, with all it’s charms, will soon become a nice place to visit for me and mine. It isn’t the rent that’s driving me to the hinterland, but the relevance. Ten years ago I only went to Brooklyn for a Coney Island hot dog or an occasional steak at Lugers, but now I’m likely to be found at Don Panchos, or Café Collette, or Dumont, or a hundred other satisfying spots. Last night I had the best brownie and cup of coffee I ever had at Teddy’s. Tonight I’m going to play softball with strangers. The community boards have won, as far as I’m concerned. They have managed to turn the Big Apple into a bedroom community. They have managed to make Manhattan nightlife so sanitized, so predictable, that adventure must have a bridge or a tunnel involved. As I walked home across the bridge last night, I wrapped myself up against the fall-like easterlies coming from Manhattan and beyond, and thought that “the CITY’ was mostly cold these days, while Brooklyn is always cool.

As I talked about my new furniture and proximity to subway stops with my darling, part of my mind was distracted by a ghost of Christmas past. He flashed before my eyes yesterday while researching a story you will read in a week, or a few. It was a name forgotten by most. I was reading about an ancient sales tax case involving the Peppermint Lounge, a club that I frequented before I became Steve Lewis. It was a wondrous place of rock and roll and nefarious creatures. It was here that I first met Frank Roccio, who owned the Peppermint during it’s second incarnation. I worked with him at The World on east Second street when it was the best joint around. Everyone I know thought that Frank had passed. Yesterday, I found him on Facebook, and started to chat with him. He wants to be my friend and I decided I would accept if he could prove to me he knew the meaning of the word. Negotiations are ongoing.

It is impossible to make a list of the best clubs ever with out considering the Peppermint Lounge. It’s best days, or nights, were well before my time, although I was a wide-eyed patron in its later incarnation. The first Peppermint was small, with a capacity under 200. Located at 128 west 45th street, it was a favorite hang for Jackie Kennedy—who once made a temporary version of it in the White House. Michelle Obama ain’t going to do that with Beatrice. It was the early sixties when legends like Marilyn Monroe, Audrey Hepburn, Judy Garland, Capote, Sinatra, Liberace, and even Garbo came by to dance to that crazy faze,The Twist. There were movies (Hey Let’s Twist) and songs (The Peppermint Twist, Twisting the Night Away) and bands of note like The Beatles (yes those Beatles), The Beach Boys, and Liza Minnelli playing the room. It was gayer than straighter, and hip way before the word was invented, back when plaid was found mostly on kilts. According to everyone, as well as Wikipedia, the joint was operated by Matty “The Horse” Ianiello of the Genovese crime family. Back in the day, it was sort of, kind of, known, and accepted, that somebody connected to somebody or something was behind most joints in NYC.

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When the fad faded, the joint was converted to gayer than gay joint “Hollywood,” then to my favorite old haunt “G.G. Barnum’s Room.” Matty the Horse was still in the background, as transsexuals mixed with drag queens, wannabes, nobodies, and know-everybodies, and top models who hid amongst the crowd. I was captivated by it all, and developed my “gaydar” and club chops fast. In 1980 the name and place was resurrected, and I hung at the new Peppermint Lounge. It was there that I first saw and met Grandmaster Flash, Billy Idol, The Go-Go’s, Afrika Bambaatta, Joan Jett, and I think Bananarama. A different generation of celebrities twisted their nights away, including Bowie, Jagger, and all the rockers, stylists, sex pots, and fabulous of that time. The place moved to 100 Fifth Avenue, and Frank Roccio and Tom Goodkind became the faces in front of the faces. As the fabulous drank and snorted indictments — and eventual convictions — stories enthralled commuters as the tabloids told of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and the mob that masterminded the whole affair. It was big news and exciting to people like me who warmed themselves on the heat of the scandal, and ached to rub shoulders with the real deal players who lurked in corners and behind the scenes.

Roccio found me a few years later when he was opening the World. He eavesdropped on a staff meeting I was having in the back room of the Holiday on St. Marks. He tapped me as his right hand, and I learned a business from him that is no longer recognizable by today’s partiers. The powers that be have rightfully changed the stuff that dreams are made of. The action has been banished to boroughs and foreign countries. After distractions led to failures, Frank Roccio dropped out, and no one I know had heard of him for years. When he didn’t show up for his old partner Arthur Weinstein’s funeral or The World, reunion, most assumed the worst. For some, it was felt to be for the best. I had many a big beef with Frank over the years, as he crossed me, and seemed to have crossed so many others. I remember some of the bad, but also a great deal of the great times I spent with him. We were once fiends. The World can sometimes twist a soul and make it dance to a tune that they never liked, or never wanted. Sometimes you just get caught up in it, and you become someone you don’t recognize, as you take your morning shave. I’ve been there. I debated this yesterday as I shivered my way over the Williamsburg Bridge—whether or not to reestablish a dialogue with this ghost of Christmas past, to fly by the candle again. My wings are still singed form getting too close to the heat when I, and the scene, was hot. It’s a double edged sword. On one level I wouldn’t mind talking someone who was actually there, about a time, and old friends, and places that my memory sometimes struggles to remember. On the other hand, I don’t need the grief that has always, eventually resulted in my encounters with Frank. I’m a big boy and can generally take a punch, generally take care of myself, so I guess I’ll buy him lunch and fill in some blanks

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