2015 marks Frank Sinatra’s 100th birthday. Over on Alcohol Professor, I’ve chosen to commemorate The Chairman of the Board’s centennial with the two-part The Chairman, The Poet, and The Dancer, looking at the history of Jilly’s Saloon, the joint Sinatra used as his home base whenever he was in New York City and owned by Jilly Rizzo, Sinatra’s right hand man. When he retired and sold the restaurant, it passed into the hands of a trio of Russians — including a Nobel Prize winning poet and the most famous ballet dancer in the world — who turned it into a hotspot for Russian ex-pats, intellectuals, and artists. Oh, and Johnny Carson was almost assassinated there by an angry Mob boss.
By 1962 he and Jilly Rizzo were so close that Sinatra was securing bit parts for the saloon owner in films like The Manchurian Candidate. That same year, Sinatra and fellow Rat Packer Sammy Davis Jr. recorded the duet “Me and My Shadow,” which twice mentions ending up at Jilly’s. In Sinatra’s 1968 detective movie Lady in Cement, he pays tribute to his friend by naming a seedy Miami strip club Jilly’s. Also in 1968, Sinatra once again paid musical tribute to his favorite hang-out when, in the song “Star,” he crooned “If they’ve got a drink with her name in Jilly’s bar, the chances are the lady’s a star.”