Tony’s dead. That’s what I said.
It was with a touch of sadness and more than a little nostalgia that I read of the recent passing of Tony Giorgianni, or Greasy Tony as he was more widely known. I didn’t know the man personally but I had a long history with his restaurant and the news of his death and the likely razing of the last remaining location brought the memories flooding back.
The building that housed Greasy Tony’s on East Speedway was originally home to the first Taco Bell that I’d ever seen. While I harbor no fondness for corporate shitbirds, I’ll never forget the high-weirdness I felt as a child whenever we drove by the place. Back in the 1970’s, every Taco Bell had a charcoal fire-pit out front that would be kept stoked regardless of season or temperature, the flames illuminating the patio after sundown. I’m not sure what they were thinking; maybe it was a nod to some Hollywood version of old Mexico or something. All I know was that in Tucson it made absolutely no sense, even to a kid. One time my dad suggested we go grab some tacos and then roast marshmallows afterward. This did not become a Murphy tradition. When Tony took over he filled the pit in and it became nothing more than a receptacle for trash but every time I saw it I couldn’t help but remember an odd chapter in Taco Bell history.
As for Greasy Tony’s itself, for me it will be forever linked to my wonderful, indestructible years. During the early 80’s, Tony’s was one of the gastronomical hubs of Tucson’s fledgling oddball music scene. Rent in the area was dirt cheap and the neighborhood was dotted with numerous party houses, crash pads and rehearsal spaces, all within stumbling distance of the restaurant. There, scurrying behind the counter like a sweatier Buddy Hackett, Tony served up some of the most potent gut-bombs in the city to the late-night drink & drug crowd. The variety of sandwich options alone was staggering; I know there were at least fifty-one to choose from since I always ordered the #51 hot.
While the service was usually dicky, it paid to be civil; most of the help looked capable of doing something horrific to your sandwich without giving it a second thought. Staffed predominantly by East-coasty mooks (most likely on the lam for “jumping some fagela” back home) and girls young enough to think smoking made them look adult, the place didn’t come close to looking sanitary yet I never got sick from eating there. In fact, more than once I was saved from puking by one of Tony’s cheese-steaks, the dripping fat being the perfect remedy for my various other overindulgences.
I stopped frequenting Tony’s years ago as age and health concerns crept up on me but all I have to do is close my eyes and I can see the hand-painted menu on the wall and my belly starts rumbling all over again.
* The unmitigated joy of a young punk band after spotting the familiar tilting grease-bottle sign while driving back home after their first gig in Phoenix. Having had no idea there was a Greasy Tony’s in the Valley of the Sun, they wolf down their grub with the passion of the starving. The band sucks, the food doesn’t.
* Going into Tony’s very late one night, stoned out of my gourd. I can’t be sure if I’ve just placed an order, already finished one, need the bathroom key or want quarters for Defender. Tony comes scuttling up to the teeny-bopper helming the register, pulls a nasty looking dill pickle out of a mason jar on the counter and begins poking her in the ribs with it, repeatedly asking, “This remind you of anything honey?” It reminds me to stop going out in public stoned. I wonder what she remembers.
* My wife and I, who met across the alley from Greasy Tony’s, figure that if the third anniversary is leather then the fourth must be beef and decide to celebrate with a romantic dinner under the night sky at our old stomping grounds. Our dining experience is enhanced by the presence of Tony himself, who spends the duration of our meal flopped out on one of the cement benches, rubbing his stomach and groaning in agony. The violinist is a no-show.
That was the last time I ever saw Tony, I never even had a chance to belch goodbye.