I loved those guys - Social Clubs

                                  © 2005 Edward A. Iannuccilli, MD, FACP, #336

              Italian men belonged to clubs, a place outside the home to meet friends, relax, eat, and drink. I went with Dad one Friday night to a club owned by an elderly Italian gentleman who lived with his family in the three-decker above.
            A large, heavy green door opened from the street directly into the smoke filled club. Immediately inside were tall stools surrounding a small semi-circular bar. A shelf above held a variety of glasses and cups. On a shelf under the bar were jugs of unlabeled red wine. A small cellar like window on the street side let in some light, the rest came from tethered bulbs scattered about the room, some covered with green metal shades. Under each light was a round table circled by wooden folding chairs. There was a couch in the distance.
            “Hey Pete, how are you?” They knew Dad.
            There were large men everywhere, drinking at the bar, drinking at tables, drinking while standing around. They wore their work clothes. They were speaking Italian. The landlord served them dark red wine from the shelf or beer from an old Coca-Cola cooler. He poured his homemade thick wine into squat, compact, open glasses, some of them old grape jelly jars.
            What wonderful smells; stogie cigars, beer, wine, sauces and newspapers. There was also the smell of the workingman, a mixture of sweat, cement, and leather. No after-shave lotion or deodorant. Although strong and somewhat gruff, they were kind and eager to help me to soda and food.

“You like-a this place?”
“Uwanna somthin’ to drink?’
“Whata you like?”
“A Coke?”
“Sure, sure.”
“Carlo, Cokafa the boy.”

            Later in the evening came the food, large quantities of pastas, meats, pizza, soffrito, and tripa, all cooked by the owner’s wife in a small room on a small stove to the rear. The men ate, drank, talked, and played cards and games like Boss and La Morra. One thing was obvious. They loved being there in each other’s company. With arms pumping and hands turning, they spoke with emotion, enthusiasm, passion, and humor. They laughed.
            It was what Italian men did on Friday evenings after a difficult and laborious week. Pleased that their workweek was over, proud of their accomplishments, they were now happy to share with friends time and relaxation rightfully and honorably earned.
There are remnants of those clubs; commercial establishments in VFW halls or church basements. Even upscale restaurants serve the same things, now in good glasses, on fine china. I smile when I hear that someone has discovered “a place with great food like my grandmother used to cook,” routine for the social clubs of yesteryear.
            Food, drink and company nurtured friends who were as important as family. How fortunate.