Skip to content

Salut to a Legend

Patsy’s and Sinatra: It was a Very Good Year(s)

Joe, Sal and Frank at Patsy's Bar

“May you live to be 101 and may the last voice you hear be mine.”
-Frank Sinatra

When Frank Sinatra sang, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere,” do you think he was thinking about cooking up a perfect Pasta Puttanesca or maybe some Lobster Fradiavlo in New York? Probably not, but when he was in the city, Ol Blue Eyes would regularly visit one of his favorite Italian restaurants – Patsy’s, a family owned and operated gem located in the theater district serving home-style Neapolitan Italian dishes from its same location for over 70 years. From Eggplant Rollatine appetizers to cannoli for desert, Patsy’s has been feeding people for generations. So, is it the food, the warm family atmosphere, or the essence of Sinatra that keeps Patsy’s a “must do” in NYC for celebrities, tourists, and locals alike? The answer is all of the above if you are looking for a perfect venue for dining and remembering a legend – all under one roof.

“I’ve Got You Under My Skin …”

Founded in 1944 by Pasquale “Patsy” Scognamillo, Patsy’s has been in its Midtown local for decades. And through its 70 years of chopping and dicing, Patsy’s has had only three chefs -- the late Patsy himself, his son Joe, and Joe’s son Sal, who has been manning the kitchen and welcoming guests for the last 29 years. A few years prior to opening his own restaurant, Patsy co-owned the Sorrento restaurant. In 1942, Tommy Dorsey, conductor and bandleader, brought 27-year-old Frank Sinatra to the restaurant. The chemistry was instant for Sinatra and the Scognamillo family and continued when Patsy’s opened its doors in 1944. The bond remained (and continues) between Sinatra and Patsy’s like a good dish – made up of the right ingredients that blend just so – main ingredients like friendship, respect, and loyalty. 

Sal Scognamillo recounts what his grandfather told him about the first encounter with Sinatra, “Dorsey told my Grandpa Patsy, ‘This kid is from Hoboken. I want you to fatten him up ….’ Sinatra was a steady customer from that point forward. I think he and his family kept coming back for one reason: loyalty. My family formed an instant friendship with Frank from his first visit, and that friendship continued until the day he passed away. We always loved Frank, through good times and bad, and highs and lows. Frank appreciated that and the loyalty was mutual. Frank was always there for us as well. The Sinatra family remains good friends till this day.”

Although Patsy’s menu offers up many mouthwatering dishes, Sinatra pretty much stuck to his favorites – Veal Milanese (pounded very thin, of course), Veal Meatballs (with whole garlic, of course), and Fusilli Pasta with Filetto di Pomodoro (freshly made, of course). At Patsy’s, Sinatra had his culinary preferences, he had his table, and he had friends and fans around him who respected his privacy while simultaneously basking in his presence. In a world where paparazzi and rag newspapers invade a celebrity’s every bit of privacy, Patsy’s family and customers left Sinatra to his meal and his friends. 

When Sinatra dined at Patsy’s, it was impossible not to feel that magic (possibly “That Old Black Magic”) and the mesmerizing charisma emanating from those legendary blue eyes. Customers and staff alike could feel the vibes and the difference. One of Patsy’s longtime loyal customers, Lee Forlenza, recalls the magic in the restaurant when Sinatra was in the house. “I was in the room when Frank Sinatra was dining at Patsy’s on several occasions,” remembers Forlenza. “What I observed was the excitement in the restaurant when he entered the room. There was a certain aura about him. Everybody knew who he was and as soon as he walked in the door, heads turned. People in the restaurant definitely respected his privacy and never ran up to him for photos or autographs. It was like he was safe at home.”

“I Did it My Way…”

When first entering Patsy’s, you immediately see and feel a special something -- warm greetings from a family member, customers (either their first time or their hundredth) enjoying the food and drink, and the comfy, yet elegant ambiance. In addition, the walls are neatly packed and stacked with pictures of past guests ranging from politicians to celebrities including Alec Baldwin, Tom Hanks, Madonna, George Clooney, Oprah Winfrey, Robert DeNiro, Sean “Puff Daddy” Combs, Al Pacino, and Patty LaBelle, just to drop a name or two.

Whether you were famous, infamous, or just a regular ‘Joe’ looking for a great Italian meal, Scognamillo fondly remembers when Frank was in the house, the atmosphere was always “fun, festive and glamorous.” What else could it be when a legend like Sinatra walks into your restaurant?   Scognamillo recalls, “One story that that illustrates this is when Frank and Sammy Davis, Jr. were both here. They had a friendly competition over the song “Anything you Can Do I Can do Better.” They tried to outdo each other. Frank sang and Sammy would imitate him. This went back and forth until Sammy suddenly started to laugh and proceeded to take his glass eye out of its socket and said, “Frank, let me see you top this!”

Unfortunately, Frank and Sammy are no longer with us, but that “have a good time” atmosphere still prevails at Patsy’s. On the bar stands a statue of Sinatra – hat slightly tipped and top coat stylishly flung over one shoulder. You can feel his attitude and spirit. In fact, some say that spot at the bar, with all the famous Who’s Who pictures in the background and the Sinatra statue in front might be one of the most photographed spots in NYC next to the Statue of Liberty herself!

“You Make Me Feel So Young…”

Last year on December 12th, Patsy’s organized a tribute on the 100th anniversary of Francis Albert Sinatra’s birth. Although the day was exciting and “electric” for Patsy’s, it also brought up bittersweet feelings and memories of a lost friend. Scognamillo arranged to honor the occasion with five different events including a 3-hour Sirius radio broadcasted live from Patsy's. The “party” included guests like Tony Danza, Danny Aiello, Tina Sinatra (Frank’s daughter), Tony Bennett, Michael Bublé, Frankie Valli, and many more reminiscing about Ol Blue Eyes. Sinatra fans listening in at home or those lucky enough to be at Patsy’s that day, felt the love and admiration for the kid from Hoboken. Scognamillo sums it up, “As you can imagine, there was a lot of laughter and a lot of tears. It was a really great day and Frank was definitely looking down and smiling!”

This year, Sinatra will be memorialized once again for what would have been his 101st (centouno) birthday. Sirius radio again will host the event live from Patsy's on December 12th offering up another all-star line-up of guests sharing their Sinatra stories. In addition, the element of bitter sweetness will be even more noticeable this year as the program plans to include a tribute to Frank Sinatra, Jr. who passed away in March 2016.  Perhaps this time, father and son will look down together and smile as their old friends at Patsy’s hold up a glass of wine and say, “Salut.”