Reader's remembrance: More than a place to dine

Palumbo's provided more than just fine meals and atmosphere. For one resident, it was a second home.

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Richard Panichelli Sr. of the 1300 block of Reed Street has fond memories of his younger years, not just in South Philly, but at one special place - Palumbo's. Here he shares his recollections of the long-time establishment:

My story is about Palumbo's restaurant/nightclub. The place was established in 1884 as a boarding house for Italian immigrants and was gutted by fire in 1994. Palumbo's served the needs of the community for years and was a Philadelphia institution, especially in South Philadelphia.

I know all of this because I worked there part-time from 1970 until December 1979. I believe the 1970s were the golden years for the restaurant/club because of the sheer number of bookings and parties that were held, along with what I was told from the senior members who were there long before me. Two of my brothers also worked there part-time for more than 35 years. I started employment there in my high-school years and stayed throughout college.

I did various jobs such as a porter, bar boy, busboy, night watchman and - my favorite - stage lighting.

Because I grew up on Montrose Street, Palumbo's was very familiar to me. After I started working there I was able to get more than a dozen of my friends part-time jobs as busboys. The jobs helped put some of my friends through college, as well as to just have some extra spending money and to learn about responsibility. As a kid, in many ways it was a dream job. Palumbo's was the premier nightclub and political hangout in Philadelphia. Throughout my stage-lighting job I was able to meet and/or work with many celebrities.

I worked with the nightclub circuit entertainers such as Frankie Avalon, Fabian, Bobby Rydell, James Darren, David Brenner, Joey Bishop, Jerry Vale, Sergio Franchi, Jimmy Durante, Louie Prima, Johnny Ray, Pat Cooper, Bobby Vinton, Frankie Laine, Helen O'Connell, Jimmy Roselli, Vic Damone, The Mills Brothers, The Four Aces and a list of many others. Many of the acts started their careers in the 1940s and '50s. When the Latin Casino was in Cherry Hill, N.J., many of the entertainers who played there would come to Palumbo's after their shows for private dinners and most of them knew Frank Palumbo. I was exposed to music and entertainment that I was not normally. I was a product of the rock era, but came to know and appreciate the entertainment of another generation.

One of the great benefits of the job was the food. Frank Palumbo would always make sure the employees had food in their stomachs. Before Frank Rizzo became mayor he would often frequent the restaurant. He was friends with Frank Palumbo and both were larger-than-life figures in the city. Rizzo would continue to frequent Palumbo's time and again even after Frank Palumbo's death in 1983 and up to the time the club burned down.

Palumbo's served the needs for all kinds of functions and purposes. It became different things to different people from all over the area - from weddings, bridal showers and fashion shows to graduation parties, condolence luncheons, political functions and show-stopping events. The fashion shows were the best for me because of the phenomenal social atmosphere with the chance to meet young ladies.

When my brother originally offered me the job I was a high-school student. I was being raised by my Mom as my father died when I was 10. She was happy I was working, keeping busy doing something constructive. Palumbo's became like a second home to me. I had the opportunity to meet all kinds of interesting people who visited and performed there.

It was a place that, over the years, continued to expand. It was a place that just about everybody went to at one time or another. Those moments are forever etched in my memory as some of the most memorable and fun.

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1. Morpheus said... on Nov 17, 2008 at 05:45AM

“I was surprised to hear (Or should I say that I was surprised when I read?) that Palumbos burned down in 1994. It seems like it was a lot longer ago than that. I was told by someone, who shall remain nameless, that the person who owned Palumbos didn't really own Palumbos. They were basically the restaurants manager, or ceo if you will, and they had a financial backer, a chairperson if you will, who basically required payment of so much money every so often. The restaurant was doing quite well & it was and/or is something of an understatement to say that it was financially successful, but that wasn't enough to save it. The amount of money that the financial backer required grew pretty consistantly; the amount grew every few months to ever year or so, but the amount of money that the restaurant was taking in was constant. And eventually the amount that was owed was greater than the amount that the restaurant was making. Ultimately they burned the restaurant down for the insurance money. I also heard that the fire dept officials responsible for conducting the investigation into what caused the fire were payed off to conduct no such investigation! I find the whole mess pretty disgusting actually. There's a special place in Hell for those ppl. ”

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2. Anonymous said... on Dec 10, 2010 at 07:51AM

“Rember, Mike Palumbo,I think they called him Dutchey,what ever happen to him.He said hi dad owned the place.”


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