Young men seated at tables at Frank Palumbo's Cabaret Restaurant on 824 Catherine Street, circa 1940

Back in the day, a young Italian restaurant owner from South Philly ran with Hollywood heavyweights, while also maintaining a few local mob ties.

This is the story of Frank Palumbo, who took over his grandfather’s boarding house turned Italian eatery on 8th and Catherine streets in 1929.

We can’t find any indication the food was good, but we do know the restaurant attracted a crowd of ~ elite ~ regulars, from teen hearthrob Frankie Avalon to rock’n’roller Bobbie Rydell to former Philadelphia Mayor Frank Rizzo. Legend has it Palumbo would send a case of champagne each time Yankees slugger Joe DiMaggio played a game here, and that he was so close with Frank Sinatra he got away with calling the singer “cheech.”

But his circle wasn’t all politicians and pop stars. The government alleged Palumbo’s restaurant was favorite for local mobsters running numbers games. It didn’t matter to most folks — Palumbo got the accusation cleared, and remained beloved in his hometown.

After he died in 1983 from a heart attack, South Philly’s Bartlett Junior High School was renamed — you guessed it — The Academy at Palumbo. There’s also now a historical marker where the restaurant once stood, which is now home to a Rite Aid.

Read more in this thread that sums up the life of Palumbo and his impenetrable circle.

Avi Wolfman-Arent is co-host of Studio 2 and a broadcast anchor on 90.9 FM. He was previously an education reporter with WHYY, where he's worked since 2014. Prior to that he covered nonprofits for the...