RE: The Press Box
Mon, 07/19/04 2:29 PM
I thought I'd provide a sad, yet probably inevitable, post-script to this thread -- just for the record.
The Press Box was officially shut down last week. Again, I suspect few people on this list had ever heard of it. Maybe I was the only one. But, the place was special and in many ways an embodiment of the kind of places we talk about here. Unfortunately, I hadn't been there in at least six or seven years, because I no longer live in the area.
Two memories that came back to me recently: one, when I was there with my folks and a kitchen worker walked through the restaurant with a huge, over-flowing garbage can, which he essentially carried over right over our heads, through the dining room, on route outside. And, two, when we were a chair short at our table, and the owner off-handedly told my dad to go get one from the ladies room.
Here's the article:
PRESS BOX CLOSING THE END OF AN ERA
By Mike Hudson
I don't think the state raised much last week when it auctioned the contents of the Press Box restaurant for unpaid taxes.
Owner Flo Acotto was too poor to keep much of a stock of beer or liquor on hand, and the tables, chairs, barstools and kitchenware largely dated back to the Kennedy administration.
Not being from here, of course, the governor wouldn't know that the Press Box has been a cornerstone of the South End entertainment and social scene for nearly a half-century. And, while others in the area have benefited mightily from the state's programs, it was Flo's view that a restaurant should be in the business of selling food and drinks, not sucking up to politicians and looking for a handout.
Still, politics was the lifeblood of the Press Box. Generations of reporters interviewed generations of politicians and drank untold bottles of beer, scotch, rye, gin and vodka. It was always a pleasure to ask an unsuspecting politico to meet you there for lunch and then watch his or her reaction as Flo reamed them up one side and down the other for their failures.
When one agreed to meet you there a second time, you knew they were brave enough, or good-natured enough, to govern effectively.
Back in 1959, when Flo opened the joint, the Niagara Falls Gazette employed around 200 people. Her famous big salads, Pittsburgers and steaks were an instant hit, and the kitchen stayed open past midnight to accommodate the hungry pressmen working the graveyard shift.
In those days, you had to show you sold a certain amount of food before they'd give you a liquor license. Flo got help from Pete "The Bull" Magaddino -- the don's brother -- who'd come in and pay $20 for his two-dollar lunch.
"Ring it up," he'd say. Before too long, Flo had her license. Pete, meanwhile, had a new customer for the beer he distributed.
Somewhere along the way, it became a Press Box tradition for patrons to tape dollar bills onto the walls with their name, hometown or a little greeting written on them. Every year around Christmas, Flo would take the bills down and donate the money to charity. Over the decades, she gave away tens of thousands of dollars in this fashion.
She also gave away a lot of free lunches and a lot of free drinks and, every day at noon, she'd amble across Niagara Street to her beloved St. Mary's for Mass.
Things began to go badly in the mid-1990s. An unfavorable currency exchange rate resulted in a drop-off in the Canadian trade, for which the Press Box was famous. The Gazette staff dwindled from 200 to 20, and the days when newshounds needed six or eight drinks to get them through the day all but ended. The place had thrived on the convention business, eliminated when the state gifted the Seneca Nation of Indians with the convention center for use as a casino, and the state's draconian anti-smoking law provided perhaps the final nail in the coffin.
By the end, the place had become something of a small social club in the afternoons, where a reprobate newspaperman could mingle with firefighters from North Tonawanda, gay guys from the neighborhood, aging Mafiosi and the occasional tourist. Flo played mother hen to them all, feisty but lovable, hard-boiled with a heart of gold.
After paying her vendors and employees, there was little left. Flo didn't pay herself, and lived on Social Security. She fell behind on her state sales tax, ultimately to the tune of $70,000.
George Pataki and his minions can blather on all they want about their alleged desire to revitalize downtown Niagara Falls. They are liars. Flo turned 80 some time ago and they took away the only thing in this world that meant anything to her. They destroyed a landmark business, known around the world and one of the few authentic vestiges remaining of "old Niagara." They threw 10 good men and women out of work, and eliminated any chance of collecting the taxes owed by shutting the place down and selling off its contents for pennies on the dollar.
The stupid sons of bitches.