Bruce Snyder Interview
In May 1998, one of
the greatest singers of the 20 th Century, Frank Sinatra, passed away.
In tribute to Frank Sinatra we thought it would be fitting to offer
up remembrances of the singer by some of the people who either knew or
worked with him.
Bruce Snyder is one such person. For over three decades he has been
the manager of the famed “21 Club” in New York, a favorite
haunt for celebrities including Frank Sinatra.
Q – Mr. Snyder, how long have you been working at the “21
A – I’ve been here since 1967.
Q – In that period, how many times did Frank
Sinatra come into the 21 Club?
A – Mr. Sinatra was here many, many times during the time I was
here. I remember him being here and the people he brought with him. He
was a great guest for us.
Q – What makes the 21 Club so exclusive?
Why does it have this reputation as being a hang-out for celebrities?
A – I think in the early days, in the Speakeasy days, everybody
was looking for a great place to be where you could eat and drink and
21 was one of those and one of the finest on 52 nd Street. They had the
best booze. Writers and budding actors hung out here. I think it just
grew from there. Jack and Charlie did a masterful job of creating this
great restaurant. Of course, in the early days if they didn’t know
you, you didn’t get in, because we were serving liquor illegally
and it just grew. After Prohibition they thought the thing may be finished.
Everybody was going to be serving liquor legally, but, everybody kept
coming. It has drawn the rich and famous for all this time. I can remember
in the time Frank Sinatra was coming here, it was not unusual to see
Jimmy and Gloria Stewart or Mr. and Mrs. Gregory Peck, and Mr. and Mrs.
Kirk Douglas, Loretta Young. That was the place that they felt comfortable.
The Kriendlers and the Berns (founders of the 21 Club) all knew them
as customers not necessarily as friends. And certainly the staff knew
who they were. They were protected meaning we didn’t let people
run over and say hello to them and get an autograph.
Q – How would you protect them?
A – Well, there’s a certain amount of decorum in our restaurant.
Let’s take Frank Sinatra for example. In the days that (bodyguard)
Jilly (Rizzo) was with him, Jilly would be seated with him. Jilly kept
a watchful eye, but, usually there was somebody else with him that might
be seated at an enjoining table. He would sometimes travel with a security
fellow. It would just be a normal man, but, that would be his security
man. If somebody came up to the table and we didn’t know them and
we didn’t think they knew Mr. Sinatra, we would excuse our self,
and say, ‘Please he’s entitled to his privacy, and (we) would
appreciate it if you wouldn’t bother him’. There never was
any problem but, in case there was, the man near-by would spring to his
feet, or if you saw them coming you would kind of give Jilly the nod
and if Jilly thought it was o.k. he would nod it was o.k. But generally,
they were left alone. I still think that’s one of the great things
about 21. People can come in. They can have dinner. They can be an ambassador.
They can be a movie star. They can be a mayor or governor, or sometimes
even a president and people leave them alone.
Q – Could you prevent people from staring
at someone like Frank Sinatra while he eats? That would have to be
pretty un-nerving as well.
A – No, you really couldn’t. But, you know they were always
seated where we seated people we knew. The people that we knew, probably
many of them did not know him. They’d seen him many times. They
were not in as awe of Frank Sinatra. They’d probably met him many
times. They probably attended his concerts many times. They were probably
famous and wealthy in their own right. He was just another important
person sitting with others. If Mr. Sinatra saw someone across the room
that he knew, he’d go over and say hello to them. He felt very
much at home. He knew all the waiters and captains. We knew what he liked
to drink. We knew what he liked to eat. He was of course extremely generous
to all of the staff. The people would stand in line when he left in the
evenings and he would be giving them all money on his way out.
Q – So, whenever Frank Sinatra was in New York, he would come
to the “21 Club”? He was a regular patron?
A – Absolutely. If we knew Frank Sinatra was in town, we knew he
was coming. Dorothy, his secretary, would call us in advance. She’d
say, ‘Mr. Sinatra is going to be performing in Carnegie Hall and
he wants to come Wednesday night and Thursday night. On Friday night
he’s going to Elaine’s. Saturday night he’s going to
Gino’s. Something like that. But, they would map it all out. We
always knew he was coming and the table was always ready.
Q – Dorothy would be calling you from California?
A – Yes, of course.
Q – When Frank Sinatra would come into the “21 Club”,
did he have his own table? Was he always seated in the same place?
A – Yes, generally he was. He would generally bring 8 people, sometimes
10, and he would sit at a round table in the 21 section of the bar. Usually,
Table 14 was the number with his entourage of people-----you know New
York friends. Again, when Jilly was alive he was always with him.
Q – Was it a common practice to always seat
someone at the same table? Would Gregory Peck always be seated at the
A – If we knew that’s the table he wanted, we would make
every effort to do that, yes.
Q – What was so special about Table 14?
Did it offer a good view of the restaurant?
A – Yes. It was a good view of everybody else. It’s also
where the staff that he was used to have waiting on him worked and it
was also a table size wise that could accommodate the people he wanted
to bring. Probably the most comfortable table for the number of people
he was going to bring.
Q – How did Sinatra treat you and the “21 Club” staff?
A – He couldn’t have been nicer. We loved having him. He
treated us like kings. When he walked out, he thanked everybody. It was
a Big Night when he was here.
Q – He probably spent quite a bit of the evening in the restaurant
A – Yeah. He didn’t want to go home. He liked to hang-out.
Q – Where were you when you heard the news
that Frank Sinatra had died?
A – Oh gee, I don’t know. I really don’t know where
I was at the time. I’m not sure. I can only remember the last time
I saw him. I knew he was pretty sick.
Q – What will you remember about Frank Sinatra?
A – I remember magnetism. He was a great character. When he walked
into the room, it’s not unlike having the President of the United
States walk into the room. Everybody was in awe of Frank Sinatra I think.
I’ll never forget one night he was either coming in or on his way
to the Men’s Room and there was about a 12 or 14 year old young
man standing there and he just said hello to him and the kid was beside
himself as were his parents. So, he was a very special guest at ‘21’.
He was terrific. He was ‘the man’.
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