The Trentonian (Trenton, NJ)
Trenton’s Bobby V will get street in the Burg
Bobby “Bobby V” Vitella lives as a City of Trenton treasure.
Vitella, 86, gained recognition last night for a lifetime of service when City Council approved a name addition to the 500 block of Roebling Ave. between Chestnut and Whittaker Ave. “Bobby V. Way” serves as a commemoration and celebration for a living city legend who added panache to Chambersburg as a resident, restaurateur and maître d for numerous popular establishments.
Former Trenton Mayor Douglas H. Palmer and Alan Meinster, a successful restaurateur, pressed for the street name honor as both enjoy friendships with Bobby V that have lasted several decades. East Ward Councilman Joseph Harrison moved the ordinance that paved the way for approval.
“We met during the 80s when I was a freeholder. Bobby V used to promote fights with Connie Mack at Cedar Gardens. And then, of course, he was at several popular city restaurants. I even performed his wedding,” Palmer recalled. “For some reason, the two of us just hit it off. He even supported me when I ran against Carmen Armenti for mayor (1990) and that was not an easy thing to do. He loves Trenton. And even though he talks about the good old days of Chambersburg, he still has hope and belief in our city. For what Bobby V did for Trenton, this is a fitting tribute.”
The bombastic Bobby V pulled no punches. “If I didn’t support Doug in Chambersburg then no way he would have won. Doug needed the Burg and even though Carmen and I were dear friends, I just felt Trenton needed Palmer. We even walked through Chambersburg together, went door-to-door.”
Vitella never really involved himself with deep politics. Bobby V knew the restaurant business from backdoor delivery to front-door arrivals as he started his restaurateur life working as a bar back in The 500 Club aka The Five on Missouri Ave. in Atlantic City. Owned by racketeer Paul “Skinny” D’Amato, The Five operated from the 1930s until it burned down in 1973 but those in between years made it the most popular hotspot on the East Coast lured Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis, Jr., Dean Martin, Jerry Lewis, and a host of other stars.
Vitella said D’Amato took a liking to him, even nicknamed him “The Kid”. And while insiders claimed that D’Amato worked as a frontman for mobster Marco Reginelli, Vitella learned to love being a restaurant front-man, a guy patrons encountered first before they entered popular Chambersburg restaurants.
The eventual Vitella return to Trenton gained him jobs at Hildebrecht and Midtown hotels. He worked a bartender gig at Lou Crecco’s restaurant and Amici’s, even opened his own Bobby V’s place on Chestnut and Roebling avenues. Bobby V, who was born at 5 Whittaker Ave. to proud Italian parents Frank “Chickie” and Italia (Tilly) Vitella, moved closer to his real love as maître d and eventually joined restaurateur Alan Meinster at Marsilio’s Kitchen on Roebling Ave.
“I met Bobby V on October 15, 1986,” Meinster recalled recently as the partowner of Rossi’s Restaurant made table visits to the former Chambersburg eatery that moved out of Chambersburg. “We were opening Marsilio’s Kitchen. It was my first day and simultaneously he was opening Bobby V’s on an opposite corner of Chestnut Ave .... Nobody was in our place. Nothing but empty seats. I’m looking across the street and watching the cars, limos pull up to Bobby’s place and all the well-dressed people waiting to get into his restaurant.”
Meinster eventually headed over to meet with Bobby, even received what he identified as “pearls of wisdom about how to run a successful restaurant.” Nine years later, Meinster lured Bobby V to Marsilio’s as a general manager and maître de.
“Then I got to watch the king in action., the process of picking out the clothes each night, the wardrobe, watches, rings, fingernail polish. Got to see the entire regiment every night. Bobby V was made for the front of the house. He was a showman. He had style.”
Vitella, a masterful storyteller with a repertoire that includes tens of thousands of memories, recalled an initial visit to Marsilio’s. “I walked into the restaurant and there’s practically nobody in the place and there’s an Irish guy singing Italian songs. And this (guy) is crucifying Italian music,” Vitella said. Vitella eventually got into an argument with the singer who had sent over two comp drinks.
“Now, Al wasn’t in the place that night. The singer came over and said he had the power to comp drinks. I fired the guy on the spot. Wasn’t even hired yet but I know how to run a profitable business. I did go to work with Allan shortly after that.”
Bobby V handled numerous responsibilities at Marsilio’s but the maître d position placed him perfectly for action and reaction.
Marsilio’s attracted political powerbrokers and community members as Bobby V offered the same special treatment for anyone who showed for dinner. He loved people and knew that patrons were spending hard-earned money once they were seated.
“The restaurant business is like show business, I don’t care if you work as a bartender, waitress, waiter or maître d. Every night delivered a different crowd and some regulars but for me, it was always about the show. If I did anything with my life, I loved showing off — the flash, ties, ascots, suits, rings, the whole nine yards. Love being around people. And, I love looking good because if you look good, most of the time you feel good. Honestly, I do live in the past more than I probably should,” Vitella confessed.
Probably not. What would wonderful lives be without those memories and the excitement of loving a profession and the enjoyment of getting up everyday for the show.
Friends and relatives held a reception for Bobby V in the City Hall atrium then celebrated his life with dinner at Marsilio’s Kitchen in Ewing Twp. last night.