1995 Discovering the Italian Culture
It was mid July in 1995. Jake Pagone and Dominic Calarco were perched on their lawn chairs in front of the Boomerang Club, just watching the day go by!
As the westbound bus pulled away from in front of D’Amatos Bakery, a small Asian girl, stood there looking lost. She stepped off the curb and made her way toward the two good fella’s who immediately struck up a conversation.
“You look lost, honey, can we help you?” dad started it off. They were both quite expert in attracting and assisting lost damsels in distress.
Her name was Cheryl Tan and she was recently transferred from a west coast division of Tribune Companies. She was convinced that they were just trying to pawn her off, and they sent her to Chicago where she was destined to fail.
“My assignment is to write an “inside” story about the Italian community, and to be honest, I am from Singapore and I am totally lost. I was told to take a bus ride westbound on Grand avenue until I started to see Italian flags in the store windows, so here i am.”
What happened after that brief introduction, is just simply classic “Frex”!
They invited her in and gave her enough ammunition to not only write her story, but to become part of the extended family that grew out of their relationship.
The following article was published by Tribune in August, 1995.
Just Like Old Times
Friendship Keeps Lifelong Members Of The Boomerang Pleasure Club Coming Back
In a warm, garlic-smelling West Grand Avenue kitchen, 73-year-old Dominic Calarco is bustling about, watching over a boiling pot of gravy and checking the food-filled shelves for pasta. The bright-eyed, feisty man pauses for a moment to take a half-full jar of garlic out of the fridge.
“You see this?” he says. “It was full yesterday. I put this much garlic in my sauce, so you’d better like it. It’s good for you, good for your heart.”
It’s late on a Saturday morning and Calarco is busy preparing lunch. Come noontime, his old buddies will burst into the club expecting a hearty meal of pasta with tangy tomato sauce and spicy Italian sausage.
“You have to be on time,” Calarco warns. “One minute after 12, and you eat your fingernails.”
Saturday lunch is a weekly ritual for 10 to 20 men. It’s the only regular meeting of members of the Boomerang Pleasure Club.
Club members are mostly Italian-American men in their 70s to 90s who have lived in the Ogden and Grand Old Neighborhood, along Ogden and Grand Avenues, at some point in their lives. It was one of several men’s clubs formed within the neighborhood in the 1920s. It is the only one that survives.
Membership presently is about 40, but the club started in 1926 with 15 young men who decided they would stick together and watch out for one another.
The young men knew they would always come back to the neighborhood even if they moved away, so they named themselves the Boomerangs. The word `pleasure’ was added to the club’s name simply because the members liked to have fun.
Most members were born in the predominantly Italian neighborhood and spent their whole lives there. Those who have moved away regularly visit the club at 1133 W. Grand Ave.
Located in an inconspicuous storefront just across the street from D’Amato’s Bakery, a neighborhood gastronomical landmark, the club is easy to miss.
No sign hangs above the dark brown doubledoors. The storefront windows, gray with age, display little beyond an old kitchen wall clock and Calarco’s potted basil plants grown for his special pasta sauce.
The club meeting place is better known in the community as the Pool Room. But the pool tables were taken out when the hall that used to be there closed more than 30 years ago. The dark wood bar counter still remains, but spartan furnishings occupy the rest of the room now.
The Boomerangs sometimes sit outside to talk, but only when it’s not so hot.
“We just sit and watch the girls go by. What else can you do? We’ve got no action, but we’ve still got the mind,” says Calarco, better known as “Frex” among the Boomerangs. His blemished elder brother was known as “Freckles,” so Calarco became “Little Frecks,” later shortened to “Frex.”
On a regular weekday, about 5 to 10 Boomerangs stop by to spend a few hours. They usually pass the time watching the O.J. trial, playing cards and reminiscing about their partying days.
Mario Adelfio, 80, fondly remembers how, in the late ’30s and early ’40s, he would go dancing at least three nights a week. Adelfio, who has moved from the neighborhood but returns almost every Saturday, says the group especially liked the Merry Garden Ballroom at Sheffield and Belmont Avenues.
“We used to work all the time, so going dancing was a way to kill the time at night,” says Adelfio, a retired truck driver.
Other popular Boomerang haunts were the Aragon Ballroom at 1106 W. Lawrence Ave. and the Trianon, both huge, elaborate dance halls at the time. Frank Militello, 80, says the Boomerangs often went jitterbugging from 3 p.m. to midnight.
“Everything was so nice then, it was just good, clean fun,” says Militello, a retired shipping clerk whose family has lived in the apartment above the pool room for 65 years. “There were no drugs, no nothing. What makes me sad is that everything has changed so much. Things seem a lot rougher for kids now.”
Calarco remembers how the group used to head over to Patsy’s Restaurant on Ogden and Grand avenues after a night of dancing.
“We’d have either the beef or the veal cutlet sandwich,” he says. “Oh, they were the best in town.”
Many Boomerangs met their wives on such outings, including Calarco.
“She was six years older than me and she kept telling me, `Hey, you’re just a little kid. Get out of here,’ ” he says. “But we got married anyway.
“We used to dance four or five times a week, but now, how are you going to dance if you’re 73 and you have a wife who’s 78? You’re lucky if you can walk.”
Even when they weren’t going dancing, the Boomerangs met nightly in a little room at 1326 Grand Ave., their club location at the time. When they gathered, they would either talk or play games such as Bocce, an Italian ball game, Boss and Soot, a drinking game, or La Mode, a finger-guessing game.
The group also enjoyed organizing elaborate picnics with barrels of beer and Italian sausages. Most of all, they liked helping out in the community. The Boomerangs regularly raised funds for yearly Christmas parties for needy children in the neighborhood.
Cheryl became a regular visitor to the pool Room and occasionally would stop by with out of town visitors to show off her Italian friends.
Those were the days!
Cheryl Tan went on to become a world renowned journalist, author and TV personality.
To this day, her professional Bio still includes the chance meeting of two very friendly Italian men and the Boomerang Pleasure Club.
Her book, “A tiger in the kitchen” is just a small sampling of her connection to food and the gracious hospitality she learned in her home country…and on the streets of Chicago!
A sample of her accomplishments tell a tale:
The Wall Street Journal
The Washington Post
The New York Times
Food & Wine
The Singapore City Guide
The Atlantic Food Channel