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Come To Toots Shor's Place: A Step Back In Sports History

Dan BooneSenior Analyst IApril 28, 2009

NEW YORK - SEPTEMBER 9:  Boxing writer Bert Sugar (L) and Frank Gifford attend the private screening of 'Toots' after party at the Tribeca Grill on September 9, 2007 in New York City.  (Photo by Brad Barket/Getty Images)

Step on in ya crumb.

Everyone's welcome at Toots Place.

We ain't the Stork Club.

We ain't the El Morocco.

We ain't got bouncers picking and choosing only the rich and pretty people to come in and play.

Average Joes, as long as they like their booze and they ain't making damn pests of themselves, can come on in too.

Everyone's welcome.

Don't be bugging for autographs though. Don't be making damn nuisances of yourselves.

We don't serve nothing special, just bar food: steak and baked potatoes.

Complaints? Then go somewhere else buddy.

Everyone waits in line, first come first serve.

So do the the rich and famous.

This ain't no elitist joint. 

See we got Frank Costello and Earl Warren here. That's Walter Cronkite at the bar with Charlie Chaplin and a smashed Jackie Gleason.

We got pictures on the wall with Dick Nixon and LBJ.

Ernest Hemingway was drinking doubles here last night along with Jack Dempsey and Joe Louis.

And the Duke sure had a load on.

The Yankees are in the back with that gin soaked Gotham Gang of sportswriters hoisting a few. The Mick has a snot full already, and Whitey and Yogi are on their way.

Jolting Joe is quiet at his table. Even Sinatra doesn't bother him.

A bunch of New York Giants are coming in later: Frank Gifford, Kyle Rote, Charlie Conerly, and some of the boys.

Maybe the Babe himself will spin in in for a cold one or four.

"Toots" is a documentary about Toots Shor's Place—one of the great saloons of a sporting era long gone.

Toots himself was an old time saloon keeper. A vibrant man with underworld connections and charisma that could charm movie stars, athletes, politicians, and average Joes.

Professional A athletes didn't exist on an elite plane then.

Today, the money and the media is so massive that players cannot comprehend how average folks live.

The financial and cultural divide in American society between it's fans and it's A athletes, movie stars, and sports owners is so monstrous that when personal contact is made, they view each other almost as aliens from another planet.

It wasn't always that way.

Frank Gifford and the other New York Giants were at ease mingling at Toot's place with sports writers and fans.

The great New York Yankee teams of that era, even the famously reclusive Joe Dimaggio, felt at home there.

At least until Toots accidentally angered Jolting Joe by insulting his beloved Marylin Monroe.

Toots, the documentary, contains interviews with many of the surviving customers of that hard living era.

Walter Cronkite, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, Frank Gifford, Mike Wallace, Bert Sugar, Pete Hamill, Bill Gallo, Joe Garagiola, Gay Talese, and others offer tales of the sporting life from another era.

The film has many amusing, and some very sad, snippets.

Ranging from Toots drinking and racing contestants with Jackie Gleason to Ernest Hemingway—who was sitting with Toots and Joe DiMaggio at a Heavyweight title fight, being asked if he was anyone famous.

Papa pointed at Joltin Joe and said, sure I'm his Doctor.

Whitey Ford says Toot's Place took five years off his career.

Gifford muses on the difference between athletes in his day and now. Whitey Ford wonders how ARod can make more in two weeks than Mickey Mantle made in a lifetime.

And some of the great old New York sportswriters question the massive gulf that exists between society and its sports stars.

One old sportswriter, who used to drink and talk with Yogi, Mick, and Whitey, wonders what do you say over a beer to a man making 160 million dollars?

A player who is often an egotistical star, always surrounded by an adoring posse, agitated agents, and armed bodyguards—its like talking to a man from another planet.

And on the other hand, have fans become so obsessed with sports that they are unable to control themselves around their "heroes?"

Sometimes it seems like a societal sickness.

After all Toots, a self made, South Philadelphia son of immigrants, was from a generation that survived the Great Depression and Two World Wars.

So sports, and sports figures and Hollywood celebs, did not create the shock and awe they seem to do in society today. 

Toots, of course, was no angel.

Frank Costello and his ilk were always in the corner.

Toots, who started as a Philadelphia bouncer, loved the saloon sporting life.

He gambled, he drank, he comped, he lived large, and he lived loud.

Eventually, a Jimmy Hoffa Teamsters Fund Loan, and the ensuing tax man tango cost him his beloved saloon. 

But he'd been broke before.

Once Toots dropped a bar breaking bundle on Billy Conn versus Joe Louis.

Toots loved spending money and having a blast. Toots, everyone testifies, loved life.

The last time, the final saloon shut down, was a back breaker though. A spirit slicer for a man who loved serving strong spirits.

Times had changed. Toots had not.

The older Outfit men, the "Boys" he had befriended, were replaced by a younger, less Toots friendly generation.

Frank Costello retired.

The old Yankees and Giants retired.

The new players lived in the suburbs and had different tastes in clubs.

Frank Sinatra gave way to the Beatles. Ali replaced Louis and Marciano.

Hair grew. Saloons shrank. Exclusive nightclubs sprung. The Yankees and Giants faded. 

The Silent Generation meant the Me Generation. The World War Generation didn't dig Woodstock.

Don't even ask them about Disco.

Don't dare mention the Moral Majority.

Don't dwell on a societal swing from saloons to a sudden twist with Temperance.

The music changed to disco balls, DJ's, and Studio 54.

As far from Toot's Place as Jekyll was to Hyde.

The swinging sixties then the Me Generation seventies came.

Change, an old west saloon keeper once said, ain't looking for friends. Change calls the tune we dance to.

Toot's couldn't change his tune; Toot's didn't want to change his tune.

Toot's patrons dwindled, died, or disappeared to other haunts.

The city shrank. The suburbs grew. The seventies shook Gotham.

Crime and cocaine ganged up on Gotham.

Toot's business went bad, and he became a man without a bar.

The FBI whispered the place with a few trips, a few traps, a few bugs, give us a fellows and we will see what we can do.

Toot's said no.

Maybe I'm a rake, but I'm no damn rat.

So he became a saloon keeper sans saloon. A man without a country. A man with a massive tax debt.

Almost a man out of time. A man trapped in another era.

But what a time Toot's had when he was having the time of his life.

And that time was quite a good one. A long, legendary run full of ten lifetimes of fun.

Grab a brandy. Throw back a gin.

Sizzle a steak. Stick on some Sinatra.

Buy the boys a round of beer.

Check it out.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=etfc-XUovU8

http://www.tootsthemovie.com/

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