When Sid and Floy Smith and Armand (pictured) and Anita Jones dissolved their Italian Inn partnership (see Part 1) and divvied up ownership of their restaurants, Anita Jones became owner of the original Italian Inn on the East Side. After she died in 1975 a new ownership of the restaurant kept the Inn going into the 1990s, but after almost a half-century the original Italian Inn closed.
Several years ago I became curious about the fate of the restaurant building on East Lancaster Avenue and began to Google. I learned that the building had become the clubhouse of Wino’s Crew motorcycle club. I discovered that Wino’s Crew had a website. (Well, of course, they did. What motorcycle club doesn’t?) I e-mailed the webmaster. I was particularly interested in the fate of those fondly remembered private booths. The webmaster told me that club members had removed most of the booths to make more party room. I asked if I could drop by and see the old place sometime. What I was really hoping was that I could beg a couple of booth doors—if any survived—as mementoes.
Sure, I was told. Y’all come. (Photo from Janis Shaffer.)
So, one day I dropped by the clubhouse, accompanied by fellow East Sider Marcia Melton Caple. We were shown around by Byron “Scooter” Lawing, whose nickname and soft-spokenness seemed unlikely in a Harley hogmeister who had co-founded Wino’s Crew in 1997. The club was named in honor of William Clyde “Wino Willie” Forkner, a World War II B-24 gunner and founder of the Boozefighters motorcycle club. The Boozefighters had been participants in the Hollister, California, motorcycle rally-gone-awry in 1947 that inspired the 1953 film The Wild One. Actor Lee Marvin’s “Chino” character is said to have been based on Forkner.
Marcia and I found the building much changed, of course. Gone were the booths, the piano, the celebrity photos. No red checkered tablecloths. No candles stuck in wax-encrusted wine bottles. Any ambiance the place had was certainly not that of a fifties family restaurant. Try as I might, there was no way I could look around the former dining room and envision Pat Boone sitting there eating free spaghetti while humming “April Love.”
But there were some remnants of the old Italian Inn days. Scooter Lawing showed us some of the surviving graffiti scrawled by diners of decades past.
More graffiti on a wine cask.
Still more graffiti on a wall. The latest dated graffiti I saw was 1995.
The East Side Italian Inn restaurant is gone, of course. Even the building is gone now. The owner of the music store next door told me that the building burned a few years ago. It had been vacant for some time, he said, and had become a shelter for people who had no other place to sleep. Just a gap remains between the music store and an accounting business.
Oh, about those fondly remembered booths. Scooter Lawing must have known my secret motive for visiting the old Italian Inn building that day. Before Marcia and I left, he took us to a dusty storage room in back. Stacked on the floor were a few booth doors that had been removed but not discarded. Lawing asked me if I’d like to have a pair. Today they are the top of my breakfast table: