Popped in Gino's, the one-of-a-kind red sauce antiquity on Lex near Bloomie's, the other night after a show. I went because the New York Post's Steve Cuozzo—the sour pot-stirrer of the restaurant world—reported it would be closing after 50 or so years because of a labor dispute.
Well, the Italo-Slavic staff of Gino's don't like Mr. Cuozzo so good. "You read that?" said maitre'd Mario said as he pawed over the night's receipts and noted them in a warped old leather ledger that I'm sure the wrong eyes have never gazed upon. "He should maybe call before he writes things. You see this. They print a retraction today." He tossed me the Post. The correction was mixed into Page Six, of all places. Sure enough, it said the labor dispute had been settled and Gino's was safe.
Well, that's good, because I like the place. It's so weird and clannish, how could I not? Where the hell did they get that Moscow-red wallpaper with the dancing zebras, anyway? Straight out of El Morocco. Was that sort of decor ever popular? And who came up with the Zebra theme? Gino, I suppose. Odd mascot for an Eye-Tral-Yon place that still serves all the classic southern dishes, one that was around when Americans ate spaghetti and macaroni, not pasta.
The clientele looked happy. And a bit rumpled. These are not New York's beautiful people. They are those wonderful New Yorkers who take little care in keeping up appearances or keeping up with times, and are strangely cool because of it. They're cosmo-schlubs. Everyone says hi, staff to diner, diner to staff. A woman, sharp of heel and rich of make-up, guards the coat check. A man monopolized the wooden phone booth. (How I love restaurant phone booths.) Bruno, the bartender, does not smile, and makes drinks the way a butcher tenderizes meat. Not many of the help seemly strictly Italian. They're mutts. Probably a bit of Albanian in there, Croatian, Corsican, who knows?
A woman passes by, gives Mario a kiss. "That ledger, that's what I'd like to get a peek in," she jokes. Me, too. Maybe Cuozzo's address is in there.