Lake View: Papa Joe is the man

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Papa Joe Maltese has probably seen it all in Chicago. He grew up around the corner from Gonnella Bread and down the street from indicted mobster Joey "the Clown" Lombardo.

He worked as a barber, bouncer and teachers aide, not in that order. And these days, he's mostly taking it easy recovering from back surgery, and playing father figure to the kids in his building
If you see him in the street and you get to talking, be prepared for lots of stories. "I can just ramble and ramble," he told me during our chat.

If you know someone who's got a great story to tell, drop me a line.


Has this guy got a story for you

Papa Joe Maltese walks Scruffy the dog around Lake View and chats up strangers. It's one of his favorite pastimes. Besides cooking, eating and drinking, talking is probably what Sicilians do best.

He bends the ear of yuppies at Starbucks, old ladies at the grocery store and anyone who has a few minutes to spare during a stroll down a shady street.

If you're lucky, Papa Joe will tell you a Chicago story -- maybe the one about buying comics from the bookie cigar store owner that used to be at Chicago and Damen in the neighborhood where he grew up.

Or that his father, Peter Maltese the opera singer, once belted out "the old songs" for Al Capone and it brought the "big guy" to tears.

Or how Mayor Richard J. Daley's bodyguard introduced him to Mimi, who became his darling wife, at Andy's Jazz Club on Hubbard -- where Papa Joe worked the door for years and Mimi still tends bar.

My favorite of his stories is the one about his run-in with the late Mike Royko at the Old Town Ale House in the '80s.

Royko, writing columns for the Sun-Times back then, was "blind" drunk and holding court at the curve of the bar when Papa Joe and his friend Noreen came in for a nightcap.

The way Papa Joe tells it, Royko stopped over on his way to the john and put his hands on Noreen's shoulders.

"Then Mike grabbed her by the boobs," Papa Joe says. "He was just blind ... I grabbed his hands and said, 'I don't give a sh-- who you are.' ... I could have at least broken his hand, but I saw a couple of big guys with him ... I told them, 'Put this guy on a leash.'"

Papa Joe says he didn't give Royko a good crack because, "One guy beats three only in the movies."

Royko went back to his stool, Papa Joe says, and had the bartender send over a couple drinks as apology.

"By this time, I'm really steamed," he says. The drinks? "I poured them out on the floor.

"On the way out, I had to say something if I couldn't crack him. I looked at him and said, 'You'll never be Studs. You'll never be Algren."

It was nasty dig aimed at Royko's insecurities that his work didn't measure up to two of Chicago's other great writers, the columnist's friends and heroes Studs Terkel and Nelson Algren.

That's a trick Papa Joe learned in the old neighborhood -- always hit 'em where it hurts.

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Mark Konkol

Mark Konkol covers city neighborhoods for the Chicago Sun-Times. You can e-mail him or call (312) 321-2146.

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This page contains a single entry by Mark Konkol published on May 11, 2007 8:33 AM.

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