The Italian Inn (Part 2): Smith and Jones, Meet Scooter and Wino

 

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:

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21 Responses to The Italian Inn (Part 2): Smith and Jones, Meet Scooter and Wino

  1. Greta King says:

    Any history of the Italian Inn restaurant in Austin circa 1959 approx. Host Victor Reneau.

  2. earl belcher says:

    This is the place where Henry Hill went. He ordered spaghetti with marinara, he got egg noodles and ketchup.

  3. elizabeth says:

    Scooter was my grandpa so glad you got to meet him.

    • hometown says:

      Your grandfather was very kind to me on my visit. I still have the two Italian Inn doors he gave me in my breakfast nook.

  4. earl belcher says:

    Back in the ’80s Soviet Vladimir Putin and the Russian athletes ate there. I was with them. Tab picked up by my employer. I was told later by the FBI Putin was KGB. And we had gotten drunk and danced the Cossack dance on top of some tables.

  5. nancy brown says:

    Did the waiters and waitresses used to dance and/or sing for the customers?

    • hometown says:

      Nancy, I know that some of the wait staff (including a Poly High classmate) at the West Side Italian Inn sang, but I can’t recall anyone claiming that for the East Side Italian Inn.

  6. Clint Stark says:

    I worked in the “basement” making piano benches for Bartlett Piano. The walls were painted with Italian scenes.

  7. JoAnn Moore says:

    Great place to eat – such good memories of the east side location, particularly. My husband and I loved the enchiladas in addition to the Italian food. Thanks for the memories.

  8. Mike McDermott says:

    Loved this story and knew a little but not that much about the original Italian Inn on Lancaster. My uncle, Jay Mac Snyder, and aunt owned the west side Italian Inn on Camp Bowie for a while. His wife, Kay Jones, was once married to Armand Jones I believe. I think she got the Italian Inn Ridglea as part of a settlement, but honestly, I have never known the entire story. They are both still very much alive, but unfortunately we don’t see them as much as we would like. I grew up going to the Ridglea Italian Inn, back in the 70s, as did everyone from my generation. This was of course long before my uncle married Kay. I guess the singing waiter tradition started there, but they definitely kept the tradition of the graffitied booths of the old original east side restaurant. Unfortunately, the restaurant did not do too well in those later years, and has struggled since they had it and since they sold it. Now unfortunately it is closing as well. Your story makes me want to go down there and salvage some of the wood from THOSE booths. Thanks for sparking some very fond memories for me.

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Mike. So many people have fond memories of the inns, west and west. The Smiths and Joneses really left a legacy. (And I had the same thought about trying to grab part of a booth, even though I have a pair of doors.)

    • Michelle Jones Swaving says:

      Hi Mike, First like to give my condolences for your recent loss of your Uncle Mac. I am Armand Jones’ youngest daughter and I can fill in the timeline for you of the opening to the closing of the II Ridglea.
      My dad and mother opened II Ridglea in 1967 as an extension of the Original with a (very) dark basement atmosphere.
      In 1970 when my parents divorced, the 2 restaurants were divided in their divorce decree, my mother was awarded the Original and my dad was awarded ownership of Ridglea, however my mother still paid my father for her share of the name.
      Kay and my dad were married in 1970 and were married until 1987, Kay sold the II Ridglea according to their divorce agreement and paid him monthly for that sale.
      In 1973 my dad was hit by a drunk driver one night on their way home from Ridglea and suffered from a fracture of his left leg for an entire year and could not go go down those stairs to that basement. That summer they took a trip to New York and he discovered a restaurant called Caruso’s that had singing waiters and brought The singing waiter concept to Dallas in 1974 with the opening of “Caruso’s Spaghetti and Wine” in Medallion Center (Corner of Skillman & NW Hwy). He included Ridglea in that concept as the acoustics were great to hear those amazing Opera voices! My mother opposed the idea saying: “Texans, especially Fort Worthians would never go for such a concept with the Italian Inn name, afterall for the past 20 years the Italian Inn meant a quiet, delicious romantic Italian dining experience!”
      However, Caruso’s was opened with great popularity for 25 years and the only reason it is not opened today is it lost it’s lease due to making a bigger parking lot for the Medallion Movie Theater. This renowned Theater showed the Godfather, Star Wars & Indiana Jones series throughout the 70’s and early 80s and also the Bijou NightClub was located in that Center. The Italian Inn Ridglea stayed open until this past year! However the current owner is trying to fuse a German concept of Edelweiss and the Italian Inn name to keep the recipes and concept with the music alive!

  9. Janis Smith Shaffer says:

    Gotta love it. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes.

    • hometown says:

      Your parents created a lot of memories for East Siders. Thanks for your help in telling the story.

    • Melinda says:

      I have 4 original documents.
      Certificate of Shares for the Italian inn restaurant of dallas inc.
      from 1961
      For
      Floy Smith
      Anita Jones
      Armand G Jones
      John Sid Smith (my husbands grandfather)

    • Janis Smith Shaffer says:

      Melinda,
      As my father John Sidney Smith had only two children, me and my childless brother, who is your husband’s mother? Possibly a step child? There were plenty of those.

    • Michelle Jones Swaving says:

      Janis, I personally would like to thank you on behalf of the Jones family for your help in the creation of this article! My dad loved your dad!! They made wonderful partners and lifetime friends! I remember the day that they dissolved the partnership as your dad had opened Italian Inn in Dallas and my dad wanted to open additional restaurants. My dad sold, closed or turned over ownership of 9 restaurants over his 35 year career. Think there were 5 Italian Inns, the 2 in Fort Worth, yours in Dallas, one in Arlington that was sold to the manager there in the late 60s and remained there for sometime by the University. My dad also opened an II in Austin at one time however it was not there for very long. He also opened Creole House in ’64 and La Fiesta ’65 on Lancaster, Caruso’s Spaghetti and Wine in Medallion Center in ’74-’99 and Marcellos in ’75.
      How long was II Dallas opened? I remember going there many times. Your dad was very creative and I remember both your parents being so nice!!
      We had Daddy’s memorial in Fort Worth on Labor Day weekend, 2001 on the 56th Anniversary of the 36th reunion weekend.He only missed one of those reunions and that was the year before. His crept is resting at the Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Irving.

    • Janis Smith Shaffer says:

      Michelle, I was so happy to hear you found the tribute. Mike Nichols has a wonderful art of telling a story and I think the Jones and the Smiths would be proud of his article. Please give my regards to Patsy and Annette.
      Janis Smith Shaffer

    • hometown says:

      Thanks, Janis. Fort Worth natives–now scattered around the country–Google “Italian Inn Fort Worth” and find that blog post.

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