Frankie G, Sicilian and Samaritan, Leaves Town for Good
By Mike Hudson
Word reached me this week of the death of my dear friend and sometimes partner in crime, Frank Gianquinto, known better on the streets of Niagara Falls as Frankie G. The news wasn't unexpected, but saddened me nonetheless. Frankie and I had a lot of laughs together.
He was a central character in my fascinating 2011 novel, "Never Trust the World," recast - somewhat unimaginatively - as "Bobby C," and the opening scene, set in the joint he owned and ran at 15th and Pierce, is pretty much word for word true.
Niagara Falls used to be full of dives like Frankie G's. Down at the heels but still classy, places where old men who used to be somebody and younger men still clinging to ambition congregated and drank and smoked and ate. Places like Michey Rimmen's Arterial Lounge or Flo Accoto's Press Box on Niagara Street, or Cocktail Bob's over on Cuddaback Avenue.
They're all gone now, or sad reminders of their former selves, much like the city in which they once existed.
A hundred years ago, Frankie G's was a social club for the many immigrants Niagara Falls hosted from Catellemmare del Golfo, a town on the northwestern corner of Sicily that happened to be the birthplace of don Stefano Maggadino and his brother Nino.
The place was a block away from the don's house on Whitney Avenue, and he used the back room to mediate neighborhood disputes, hand out money to widows and orphans who sought his assistance and do other good works.
By the time I started going there, it was in the middle of one of the worst slums in Niagara Falls, one of the worst slums in all of New York, really, but at 8:30 in the morning the parking lot looked like a Cadillac dealership and all the guys left their keys in their cars and their groceries in the back seat because nobody would have touched a thing in the parking lot at Frankie G's.
Frankie was born in Palermo, Sicily, in 1942. At the age of 20, he was working as a laborer for his older brother John, not telling his coworkers that he was related to the contractor, when he got in a beef with some loudmouth communist about worker's rights.
He stabbed the guy with a cement trowel and the only thing that saved the guy's life was the large belt buckle he wore but still it caused a lot of trouble and Frankie came to America.
Frankie told me all this one night, and I don't think he'd mind me telling you. He was devoted to his family. His five brothers, who all preceded him in death, his beautiful wife Rosa, daughter Giovanna and son Carmello, who Frankie named after his father and is a chip off the old block.
The big thing at Frankie G's was the making of the sausage. You had to be invited and I was honored when I was, even though it meant washing pots and pans, which I hadn't done in many years.
We did it maybe four times a year and there were judges and cops and gangsters, union officials and politicians who participated. Somebody would pick up a hundred pounds of pork butt at Sam's Club and Frankie would get the casings and the wine and fix up his secret recipe of herbs and spices.
When the place was closed, which was hardly ever, we'd get together and have some drinks and a meal. Everyone left with 10 pounds or so of the best sausage you ever ate.
The sausage grinder was an ancient cast iron contraption Frankie had somebody wire up to a washing machine motor and, one afternoon, as I pushed some trimmed pork into the hopper, I asked Frankie whether anybody had ever got their hand caught in the thing.
"Nott'a by accident," he said in all seriousness. I laughed and everyone else did, too. Not Frankie, though.
He liked to say he was a professor of broken English at NCCC, but in reality he was a dapper and exceedingly handsome man who was fastidious about his appearance. He smoked Presidente's, Cubanos when he could get them, and Frankie G's was the last bar in Niagara Falls where you could smoke, simply because most of the county Health Department inspectors were afraid to go in there.
And they weren't the only ones. One guy who wrote a book about the Buffalo mob and ran tours through the slums where the Magaddino crew once lived, asked to meet me one day, early on in his career.
I told him I'd meet him at Frankie G's, since it was a famous place for guys like us. He walked in, wife in tow, white as a ghost.
The young crack dealers, working the corner across the street, freaked him out, as did the old men in the bar. He was - apparently - the only guy on Pierce Avenue that day without a gun.
He was shaking, literally, sweating like a pig and, after he left, Frankie laughed.
"You friend no gonna come back here no more," he said.
He poured me three fingers of Sambuca and uncapped a Labatt's Blue, which he had long ago decided was my perfect combination. He laughed a big broad laugh and lit a cigar with the lighter he carried on a gold chain that clipped to his belt loop.
I put a couple of bucks in the jukebox and the first song came up, like as it always did. Louis Prima's "Angelina." It was a good day.
I miss Niagara Falls for that, and I miss Frankie G. He's gone to a better place, because any place would be better. The Niagara Falls of Mayor Paul Dyster stinks and reeks and guys like Frankie feel growingly uncomfortable there.
They built it, and had it taken away.
I loved the guy, what can I say?
|Niagara Falls Reporter - Publisher Frank Parlato Jr.||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||
OCT 01, 2013