No doubt. I’ve lived a very fortunate life.
I’ve been able to partake in a lot of things that were part of a world seldom seen. I got a crash course on some of those back when I was Larry Nelson’s producer at KOMO Radio, from 1980-1984. Over 4-1/2 years of some pretty crazy adventures.
With KOMO Radio being “Your Husky Station”, I got to meet some of my University of Washington football heroes, like Coach Don James, his wife Carol, and the voice of the Huskies, Bob Rondeau.
As celebrities came to town and were up for interviews, I got to meet (OK, I’m dating myself here) Steve Allen, James Cocoa, Timothy Leary, Tiny Tim, Rip Taylor, Patty Duke, James Doohan and so many more. There was the time that Larry and I went backstage with Wayne Newton. Prior to the interview, a guy straight out of “Goodfellas” to me to make sure Larry didn’t bring up a certain topic. It was the first thing he did. The guy looked at me like he was about to ask, “What size cement shoes do you wear?”
I learned a lot about broadcasting, the history of Fisher Broadcasting and KOMO radio and heard a lot of behind-the-scene stories. I remember a fair amount. And a certain collection of memories were jostled loose this week when I heard the sad news that Vito’s Restaurant at 9th & Madison in downtown Seattle was closed and may not ever open up again.
One of the greatest writers ever to ink up the pages of the Seattle Times, Erik Lacitis, wrote an outstanding article about several restaurants in town, including Vito’s. This is where I read the news.
Before I dive into my memories of this legendary establishment, read all about the history of Vito’s from historylink.org right here.
OK, now that you know some of the characters, let me begin.
As Larry’s producer, we became quite close. We shared an office that couldn’t have been bigger than 10-feet by 10-feet and because Lar once complained on the radio that we didn’t a window to look out, a listener actually created a window frame with a mirror in it and dropped it off at the station. It hung in our office.
The daily routine for my 4-1/2 years was to arrive at 4am and start writing up stuff for Larry to use, or produce some interviews for him to air. Oh, there could be variations during the week, but at 11am on Friday, it was off to Vito’s Restaurant.
I didn’t go every week and looking back, I’m glad, because frankly, my liver wouldn’t have survived. For Larry and his Friday lunch gang, Vito’s always reserved the “Family Table”, a round table that sat 10 or so in the back of the restaurant. That’s where Nelson and his court would gather to discuss the past week, consume wineries of wine and enjoy the Italian cuisine.
Thanks to my occasional lunches there, I got to meet Larry’s actual godfather, the owner of the restaurant,Vito Santoro. A couple of times, I even got to chat with Vito’s wife, Molly. What a sweetheart!
With each lunch, you never knew who all would be there, although Lar had a cast of regulars that I came to know and am still in touch with to thise day. At least those who are still around.
Vito’s was dark, Italian and private. You minded your own business. My familiarity got me invited to a fundraiser at the Our Lady of Mount Virgin Church, a benefit Italian feast for the Jimmy Santoro Scholarship fund, a charity Vito started to honor the memory of his brother. At the event, Larry had a lot of fun pointing out the judges and politicians who attended the event. Enough said.
Ater my KOMO days, visits to Vito’s were few, far and in-between, as the restaurant went through several owners and fought to survive. I managed to once take my wife there, meeting up with one of the old Friday Lunch gang and his guest for old time’s sake.
A couple of years later, my buddy Bruce–part of that Friday lunch bunch–and I tried to meet for lunch at Vito’s, only to arrive and find it closed. They didn’t serve lunch anymore.
While it underwent some remodeling over the years in the dining room, the bar remained a trip back in time. Especially, if you looked on the photo wall, where you could still find a picture or two of Larry Nelson, from back in the heyday. Geeze, we’re talking 40 years ago. Wow.
As the years go by, I keep looking back and thinking, “Damn, I was lucky.”
Earlier this year, I wrote about another one of the restaurants mentioned in that article above, the Northlake Tavern, which I managed to visit one more time before it closed forever.
And now Vito’s is gone. Another one for the history books.