“Often imitated, never duplicated, where the elite meet to eat.” ~Tommy Jacomo of The Palm Restaurant
A Ockershausen: This is Our Town with Andy Ockershausen. I’m delighted to have a man here that I’ve known since he came to Washington, and I remember in 1972, Tommy. Tommy Jacomo, as far as I’m concerned, is the mayor of the D.C. restaurant world, and certainly knows more famous people than any ten people I know. Tommy, welcome to Our Town.
Tommy Jacomo: Pleasure, thanks for having me Andy.
A Ockershausen: It’s a long way from New York, New York.
Tommy Jacomo: It’s all downhill.
A Ockershausen: You grew up in the Queens, right?
Tommy Jacomo: Correct.
A Ockershausen: Went to school in New York City?
Tommy Jacomo: Yeah, very little schooling, I was hustling most of the time.
A Ockershausen: Your family was in, was your family in the restaurant business?
Tommy Jacomo: My father was a bartender at Waldorf Astoria for 40 years. He started in the men’s bar, in the Waldorf Astoria, those days, no ladies were allowed in the bar.
A Ockershausen: Men’s bar only? Is that right? Can’t do that now, of course.
Tommy Jacomo: No. Then he came … [crosstalk 00:01:05]
A Ockershausen: I think that bar on the Mayflower was a men’s bar.
Tommy Jacomo: Maybe, then they turned it into the Bull and Bear. That’s where he worked until the end of his career.
A Ockershausen: Your father ran that restaurant all those years? Well that was a great, great place. The Waldorf was the place in New York, correct?
Tommy Jacomo: One of the best hotels in the city, yeah.
A Ockershausen: I love the Waldorf. We used to go up with Sonny and Margo Jurgensen to the Giants game, Janice and I did, and stayed at the Waldorf, but they were the good old days. Tommy, you worked in New York then, you got into the bar business in New York?
Tommy Jacomo: It was 1993, I got a job in the New York Hilton hotel as a barback, that’s where you just prepare for the bartenders. You cut the fruit, get ice.
A Ockershausen: Was that a new hotel at the time?
Tommy Jacomo: Brand new, just opened up, 1963.
A Ockershausen: Wow.
Tommy Jacomo: Yep.
A Ockershausen: I remember the great, great, New York Hilton was a great hotel when it opened. It was one of the jewels in the Hilton crown, along with the Waldorf and so forth. Was anybody else in your family in the bar business? Your dad, of course.
Tommy Jacomo: No, my brother’s in the catering business.
A Ockershausen: Which brother?
Tommy Jacomo: Raymond.
A Ockershausen: My friend Raymond? He was in the catering business in the city?
Tommy Jacomo: Yes.
A Ockershausen: Or in Queens?
Tommy Jacomo: In Queens, Flushing.
A Ockershausen: Very successful, I would imagine. Raymond knew the business side of it, right?
The Palm Restaurant – Getting Started, Washington Intelligentsia and Competition (Then and Now)
Tommy Jacomo: Yes. I came down to be his personality.
A Ockershausen: Then this thing happened, because I lived through part of it with your people. A friend of mine came to me and said, we’re putting a group of people together to entice a New York restaurant to open a Washington division. It was, what did he call him, Peter Palm Tree?
Tommy Jacomo: Mark Sandground. They put the group together.
A Ockershausen: Mark Sandground, and what’s I’m thinking, Dickerson, Wyatt Dickerson was in that group.
Tommy Jacomo: That’s correct, yes.
A Ockershausen: That’s where I first got close to him. I knew his wife, because she had worked as Nancy Handsman, and then she became Nancy Dickerson. She had worked at WMAL at one time, and Wyatt asked me to get in a group, and I met all you guys, and met the Bozzis and the Ganzis?
Tommy Jacomo: Correct.
A Ockershausen: What was your connection with the Bozzis and the Ganzis?
Tommy Jacomo: My brother Ray and Bruce Bozzi are joined at the hip, just been best friends since kids.
A Ockershausen: Were they from Queens too, the Bozzi family?
Tommy Jacomo: Yes, they were from Astoria.
A Ockershausen: How about what’s his name, not Bozzi, but Ganzi? Were they New Yorkers?
Tommy Jacomo: They were Long Island.
A Ockershausen: That’s what got started, The Palm, came up with a group, I’ll never forget that, and everybody put up an amount of money.
Tommy Jacomo: It was 20 investors, it was 10,000 each.
A Ockershausen: 10,000 for investment.
Tommy Jacomo: After the first year, you were going to be pretty successful, so you tried to buy you investors out. You were one of the few people who took it, we gave you 12,000, I think that’s what it was. It was a lot of money, but then again, the interest rates back in those days was like 30%. My mortgage rate on my house in McLean was like 17%, something like that. Andy took the 12,000 and ran. All the other guys tried to hold us up, No, we want 14, we want 15,000. We said, look, worse comes to worst, we’ll just run this place into the ground and you’ll get nothing.
A Ockershausen: The guys were going to try to hold you up, it was so funny, because they all wanted, they were people that had money, too.
Tommy Jacomo: Oh yeah, they were all very wealthy people.
A Ockershausen: Tommy, but they were still great years. I remember vividly opening, Tommy, in 1972.
Tommy Jacomo: November 16th.
A Ockershausen: I remember Warner Wolf, we even got Warner Wolf at that opening. It was such a big thing for our city to bring this New York restaurant. The first real steakhouse, I remember, that wasn’t in the market. Like in New York, we had great steakhouses in the market. Here, we had Hendricks and another one, but no steakhouses in town till The Palm came.
Tommy Jacomo: There was no competition at all, very few. At the east end of town, there was nothing over there at all. That’s why we had all the people from Capitol Hill coming to the restaurant when we first opened up.
A Ockershausen: Absolutely, because nothing over there at all.
Tommy Jacomo: Exactly. Now it’s completely different.
A Ockershausen: It was also, Tommy, the food was a very, very attractive thing to people who wanted a big dinner. I’d never call it a dining place, I called it an eating place, and the crowd flocked to it, it was great. From ’72 on.
Tommy Jacomo: The quality of the food is what kept us in business for 45 years. We never chintzed on anything.
A Ockershausen: No, it was a first, first class restaurant.
Tommy Jacomo: Prime aged beef, we didn’t give you choice beef, prime aged beef, even though it cost us a hell of a lot more than choice, we never went that route. To this day, we still serve prime beef only.
A Ockershausen: It paid off, Tommy, because the reputation was enormous. It brought the celebrities in by the truckload.
Tommy Jacomo: Correct.
A Ockershausen: I think you and Raymond were part of that. The people Raymond didn’t turn off, you brought in.
Tommy Jacomo: Correct. He could be a tough guy.
A Ockershausen: He was a tough guy, right?
Tommy Jacomo: Oh my god, yes.
A Ockershausen: But for some reason, Raymond loved me. We got along great. I didn’t get along great with his wife, but …
Tommy Jacomo: Nobody did.
A Ockershausen: That was a different story.
Tommy Jacomo: Nobody did.
A Ockershausen: She never punched me, anyway.
Tommy Jacomo: Does this play in Florida?
A Ockershausen: I stayed away from him, Tommy, believe me, I did. Some of the great things that went on at the Palm, and I can’t say enough about it, because it is you, Tommy Jacomo is The Palm, and The Palm is Tommy Jacomo, even though Ray did the hard work and the ground work, Tommy, you made the restaurant just by being there. All the people that would come in, it was such a big part of, it was our place. It was our place, and with maybe Duke’s occasionally for lunch, but The Palm always for dinner, with my group. The broadcasters that I brought in from NAB and the people that became credit card holders at The Palm made a difference. Then you begin to attract the real Hollywood celebrities. How did that come about? Before you opened the Hollywood Palm, too, right?
Tommy Jacomo: Wally Ganzi was a big person who hung out with all the celebrity people, plus we had a lot of connection with Broadway in New York also.
A Ockershausen: The showbiz crowd knew about how good it was.
Tommy Jacomo: Correct.
A Ockershausen: The restaurant in New York, of course, thrived.
Tommy Jacomo: That was opened in 1926.
A Ockershausen: I know, that’s a landmark in New York.
Tommy Jacomo: 45th and 2nd Avenue, and the name of The Palm, they wanted to make it called The Palma, that’s the name of the country, where they’re from in Italy, but they didn’t speak English like I don’t speak English, and they said Palma, they said Palm, and they said Palm, yeah, what the hell do I know, so it became Palm instead of Palma.
A Ockershausen: Palma, did you know that? I’d never heard that before, Tommy. Then you attracted the Washington intelligentsia, as it was, Vernon Jordon and his group.
Tommy Jacomo: Vernon still comes in almost every Sunday.
A Ockershausen: They were just regulars, regulars, regulars, right?
Tommy Jacomo: Bob Strauss.
A Ockershausen: Bob Strauss, I remember. It was Duke’s and The Palm, Palm and Duke’s, and it was a great relationship.
Tommy Jacomo: One of my baby family, Bob Strauss stories, he talks about this old guy, his wife died, so he goes to the pet shop and he goes, I’m kind of lonely. The pet guy goes, don’t worry, I got this little canary. He sings all day, he sings all night. He’ll keep you happy as can be. The guy goes, he takes the canary home, and sure enough, the canary’s singing and singing, guy’s happy. Two days later he goes to change the cage and he looks, canary’s got one leg, so he takes it back to the pet shop and goes, hey, what kind of bird did you give me, he’s got one leg. The guy goes, did you want a singer or a dancer?
A Ockershausen: He’ll take either one. Of course, James Carville was a regular, and I guess, does he still come to The Palm? They don’t live here anymore.
Tommy Jacomo: Any time he’s in town, he’s always there, yeah.
A Ockershausen: Whenever he’s in town, of course.
Tommy Jacomo: And Mary and the kids.
A Ockershausen: And Mary. You know, Janice did a promotion with Mary, not James, but Mary and Tommy fixed us up with a big table, he took you and a bunch of … We won a prize, that’s what it was, to have lunch with Mary Carville, and at The Palm. She was Mary what? She wasn’t married then to James, I don’t think.
Tommy Jacomo: Mary Matalin.
A Ockershausen: Mary Matalin, right.
Tommy Jacomo: She did a show after the restaurant too, one day.
A Ockershausen: When she’s in town she’ll come in?
Tommy Jacomo: Yeah.
A Ockershausen: We haven’t seen Mary in so long, but she turned in to be a good friend of both of us, because a girl that I knew that was promoting her show and doing the editing, Ann Clank.
Tommy Jacomo: Wow, that’s a name from the past, wow.
A Ockershausen: Tell me about this. Of all your characters that saturated The Palm, you’ve got so many great stories. I recall the story about the guy that came in a tried to stiff you for the dinner, and you all threw him out and said no?
Tommy Jacomo: Well, he got in a fight, yes. I think I knocked him out, too. He went down and he tried to, he went to the court to get us arrested or something like that, and the judge knew who he was. He goes, no, that was the Toyota defense that Tommy used. You asked for it, you got it.
Speaker 4: Tell the story.
A Ockershausen: The guy that didn’t want to pay for his dinner. He said he didn’t have any money. That happened frequently, I would imagine.
Tommy Jacomo: No, very rarely, but you’d get people trying to hustle you all the time.
A Ockershausen: Oh, they’d hustle, absolutely, in the restaurant business. You all threw him out and he came back later and said, the food’s good, I think I’ll have another. Only in America can that happen.
Tommy Jacomo: The price was right.
A Ockershausen: Did you ever have any bigger celebrity or almost celebrity than Morrie Siegel?
Tommy Jacomo: Nobody was better than Morrie Siegel. I got so many stories about him.
A Ockershausen: There won’t be, Tommy. His stories …
Tommy Jacomo: I just love him to death. He would come in, first of all, he would sit at the first table, table one, then he’d drop like 25 napkins on the floor. I swear to god, he had a deal with Alan from Linens of the Week. I’ll throw the napkins, you give me a kickback then when you charge for The Palm. My best story is, he called July or August and tries to disguise his voice. It’d be like me trying to disguise my voice, or Andy trying to disguise his voice. He goes, “Hello, I’d like to make a reservation for New Year’s Eve.” This is July or August. I go, “Hang on one minute.” In those days we had the book, no computer. I go, “Gee, I’m sorry sir, we’re booked up for that night.” He goes, “Hang on, pal, I haven’t told you what year yet.”
A Ockershausen: Tommy, too many of the great stories of the people that went on, and what Mo brought to the restaurant. He also brought you connection, or did you connect him to the racetrack? Who was the connector there, because he loved the racetrack.
Tommy Jacomo: We both were horse degenerates. I was a horse degenerate. We don’t say betters, horse degenerates, that’s the word, because we are degenerates. I was betting in New York when I was 15 years old, betting on horses.
A Ockershausen: Is that right? That was before OTB, wasn’t it?
Tommy Jacomo: Oh, way before that. We’d go to the track.
A Ockershausen: You’d go to the track, what was it, Aqueduct?
Tommy Jacomo: Aqueduct, Belmont, yep.
A Ockershausen: Belmont, New York. Here, where did you all go here?
Tommy Jacomo: Laurel racetrack.
A Ockershausen: You didn’t like the sulkies, you wanted the racetrack.
Tommy Jacomo: Nah, the sulkies were horrible.
A Ockershausen: Bowie had a track at one time.
Tommy Jacomo: Yeah, he did, he turned it into a training track.
A Ockershausen: Some of your characters that worked for you are legendary in Washington, to me, like Joe LaVacca.
Tommy Jacomo: Yeah, he married very wealthy.
A Ockershausen: Married money, didn’t he?
Tommy Jacomo: Talk about hitting the lottery without buying a ticket, that’s pretty good.
A Ockershausen: The last time we saw Joe and his wife was in New York, Janny, remember? She was wearing a bandana. I said, I don’t like that hat. He said, that ain’t a hat, she ain’t got no hair. LaVacca’s wife. That was a great deal. Tommy, what about other characters that you can think of off you head? Joe LaVacca and the guys, I lived through that, when they had the IRS problem. Were there four of them?
Tommy Jacomo: Yeah, at least four that I can remember, yeah.
A Ockershausen: I lived through that, because they had a problem with their taxes, and the IRS was fining them, and didn’t they put Joe and a couple of them in a halfway house or something?
Tommy Jacomo: I hired a lawyer for them, they could have kept it out of court, but they wanted to fight it.
A Ockershausen: Didn’t Ed Bennett Williams help you?
Tommy Jacomo: No, another guy named Tom Green helped, but the lawyers, the waiters thought we hired the lawyer to protect ourselves, which we did, so they fought it tooth and nail and it became a felony, whatever it was, and they wound up with like six months in a halfway house, on the weekends. On the week they would go, then they’d go lock in.
A Ockershausen: They had to go in. We came down at Siegel’s behest, we came down, LaVacca could work, he could work, and then he had to go back at night, right?
Tommy Jacomo: Correct, yeah.
A Ockershausen: We brought a shopping bag, and we had a hand saw, something called explosion and everything, to help him spring out of the jail. He didn’t think it was funny, but Mo loved it. We had a great time with the guy. Then one of your guys left and opened a restaurant.
Tommy Jacomo: Moe Sussman.
A Ockershausen: Moe and Joe.
Tommy Jacomo: Joe and Moe’s, yeah. Very successful, very successful, they just ran it into the ground, it’s a shame.
A Ockershausen: Sussman, right? They had one in Alexandria. I don’t know why they tried to be bigger than they should have been.
Tommy Jacomo: Correct, yeah.
A Ockershausen: They were doing okay down in the basement, weren’t they?
Tommy Jacomo: Moe died in his sleep like two years ago.
A Ockershausen: Oh, he did?
Tommy Jacomo: Very young age, yeah.
A Ockershausen: Yeah, he was not old. Then they had the place down on Pennsylvania Avenue, too.
Tommy Jacomo: Yeah, they tried to expand too fast, yeah.
A Ockershausen: Yeah, but nothing ever touched The Palm.
Tommy Jacomo: No.
A Ockershausen: Then the city began to change, the population began to change.
Tommy Jacomo: Often imitated, never duplicated, where the elite meet to eat.
A Ockershausen: It can never be, but people do it, Tom. The change in the city has been so dramatic, with all the new venues and restaurants. You’ve got, right across the street, down the street, you’ve got the famous New York restaurant, what’s that called? Joe, no … What’s the restaurant across the street, Tommy? Steakhouse, New York steakhouse. Wolfs, used to be Manny Wolf’s, didn’t it?
Tommy Jacomo: No no no, the snow crab claws.
A Ockershausen: I don’t know.
Speaker 4: Joe’s?
Tommy Jacomo: Joe’s Stone Crab.
A Ockershausen: Joe’s Stone Crab, yeah, but that’s on a different street. I’m talking on 19th street, there’s a joint.
Tommy Jacomo: No, no more on 19th street.
A Ockershausen: Is it gone?
Tommy Jacomo: Yeah.
Speaker 4: Christianne Ricchi’s right across.
Tommy Jacomo: Right.
A Ockershausen: Yeah, that’s what we were talking about, but she’s in a different world.
Tommy Jacomo: Sam and Harry’s was across the street.
Speaker 4: Oh, Sam and Harry’s, that’s what you’re talking about.
Tommy Jacomo: They went out of business also. We put a lot of restaurants out of business.
A Ockershausen: You sure have. Listen Tommy, we’re going to take a break now. We’re talking to Tommy Jacomo, the man who made The Palm. This is Andy O, and this is Our Town.
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Announcer: You’re listening to Our Town with Andy Ockershausen, brought to you by Best Bark Communications.
A Ockershausen: This is Andy Ockershausen, this is Our Town. I’m talking to Tommy Jacomo, the mayor of 19th Street and everything in between, the man who runs The Palm, or The Palm runs him. You’ve had so many characters. We talked about some of them, we’re going to talk about more, Tommy. Celebrities, was there a bigger character than Jack Kent Cook?
Tommy Jacomo: Bigger than life, there’s nobody in the world better than him. He was such a character. He would come in the restaurant all the time with his wife Marlena. I had their pictures up on the wall. You’re still up on the wall, as a matter of fact. I don’t know how you made the cut, but I just left it, twice.
A Ockershausen: Janice is up too, you know.
Tommy Jacomo: Yes, of course. Jack comes in all the time, they sit in the same booth, 55. He thinks that when he wasn’t there, nobody else would sit there. That’s what he thought. They’d fight, he’d walk up and go, “Tommy, take the picture down. She’s a bad, bad girl.” They’d go home, they’d make up, he’d call me up the next day, he’d says, “Tommy, put the picture back up. Right? They’d come in, and then another fight, “Take the damn thing down.” Up and down, up and down. Finally I take it down and he shows up. First thing, she goes, “Tommy, where’s my picture?” Jack goes, “Yeah, yeah, where’s her picture?” He’s got this look on his face, like his hand was caught in the cookie jar. “Yeah, Tommy, where’s the picture?” I go, “Uh, water damage.” Jack goes, “Yeah, that’s right, that’s right.”
A Ockershausen: The old man would do anything, though, wouldn’t he? He had his driver out front, oh my god, Tommy, what a character.
Tommy Jacomo: He was the best.
A Ockershausen: Some of the players would all come in there. I know one time, I heard the story that Ed Williams and Billy Kilmer got in an altercation?
Tommy Jacomo: Oh, this is a great story. Billy, Sonny, Billy’s wife Sandy were in the middle of the room. EBW’s back at his usual back booth. He said, give me the . . . Put some money, because the booth would shake every time some person’s food, it’d be hitting him, he’d get all pissed. Here’s a hundred bucks, fix the damn booth. They’re walking out, EBW was walking out, and he had a few drinks in him.
A Ockershausen: Oh, he’d had a few cocktails.
Speaker 4: Edward Bennett Williams.
Tommy Jacomo: Correct, oh yeah, I’m sorry.
A Ockershausen: EBW.
Tommy Jacomo: EBW. Billy says something to him, and Ed says something back, and a big argument starts. Billy grabs the keys from Leroy, the chauffer. He goes, you’re not going anywhere till you apologize to Sandy. There’s this big … Ed said, you know what, we’ll settle this right now. Sonny was there, Sonny was drinking back in those days. He goes, let’s settle this right. We’re gonna buy the team right now for two million cash. It’s worth god knows how much more than that probably. I go, we don’t have two million cash between the three of us. Finally I bought a round of drinks, everybody calmed down, got them out. Leroy got the keys back from Billy and off they went.
A Ockershausen: They wanted to take the fight outside for a while, and you calmed it down, right? The stories, alcohol has fueled some great stories in your place, correct?
Tommy Jacomo: Edward Bennett was a very smart man. I went up to Atlantic City one day with him, just because he loved boxing, I loved boxing.
A Ockershausen: Yeah, he was big in boxing, I know.
Tommy Jacomo: We went to see Gerry Cooney, this big Irishman from Long Island fighting Michael Spinks, it was a light heavyweight. We go up to Atlantic City, me and Ed, get great seats, of course Ed was paying. Of course, Michael Spinks knocks this guy out cold like in four rounds. The guy was 6’9″, huge. Ed goes, “The only way you can make money on that fight,” he goes, “sell advertising space on the soles of his shoes.”
A Ockershausen: Ed was a sportswriter, right? He loved racing too, didn’t he?
Tommy Jacomo: He had a horse, he had one horse. They he also wanted to buy a boxer. “Tommy, can you find me a … ” He had a boxer called Irish Mike Baker.
A Ockershausen: I remember that, Irish Mike Baker.
Tommy Jacomo: He would bleed during the National Anthem, that’s how bad this kid was, okay? I got this guy, $75,000, I got this guy in New York, friend of mine, Hector Macho Comacho, lightweight fighter, you buy him. “Ed, I got this guy.” He said, “What’s his name?” I go, “Hector Macho Comacho.” He goes, “The hell kind of name is that, Hector Macho, you crazy?” Of course, the guy went on to win five titles, you know.
A Ockershausen: Huge success, right?
Tommy Jacomo: Yes, exactly.
A Ockershausen: Macho Comacho.
Tommy Jacomo: Hector Macho Comacho.
A Ockershausen: He wore the crazy shorts and crazy boxing shoes.
Tommy Jacomo: Yeah, exactly right, yeah.
A Ockershausen: Ed also, I am privy to the story, I’m sure you know. He had a deal with the Orioles, if he didn’t get the stadium, he was going to move that team to Washington, and that’s when William Donald Schaefer said, no, we’re going to build the stadium. Then Keno and those guys worked on it.
Tommy Jacomo: Best stadium, every ball park since then has copied them.
A Ockershausen: Exactly, so good. You ever see Lucchino, does he still come in to the restaurant?
Tommy Jacomo: Yes, I talk to him every once in a while. I tried to catch him the other day, he left the Red Sox, you know.
A Ockershausen: Oh, I know, what’s he doing now?
Tommy Jacomo: Nothing, so I said, I have the greatest job open until you get yourself on your feet. He texts me back, he said, “Okay,” he goes, “first thing we do is unionize.” I text him back like, “As Donald Trump said, you’re fired.” I Googled him the other, you know what he’s worth?
A Ockershausen: Lucchino is a great guy.
Tommy Jacomo: 1.1 billion dollars. Larry.
A Ockershausen: No way, you’re kidding?
Tommy Jacomo: I Googled it on my Google, and that’s what he came up with.
A Ockershausen: Wow. Janny’ll check that out.
Tommy Jacomo: He’s a great guy, by the way.
A Ockershausen: Yeah, but Ed was great. I remember Ed Williams told me, “You can say what you want about cases and people,” and he said, “no matter what happened, when I went to the court, in a federal court, when I was facing the United States of America,” he said, “no matter who it was or who I was representing, that was a big thing.” The United States of America was fighting him, and he always knew that. He had a special feeling. He’s not a real patriot, but he said, that’s our country.
Tommy Jacomo: There’s a great book where he’s called, EBW, the man to see. It’s a great, great book. I read the book, I was in tears at the end of the book. So well written.
A Ockershausen: He was Washington legend, but a good guy. We dealt with him with the Redskins for years, and he was a piece of cake compared to … Well, Mr. Cook, I think, did you know that in all the years, Joe Gibbs could never call him Jack? He said, I never called him anything but Mr. Cook
Tommy Jacomo: Me and Tony Kornheiser, in fact, the only two people that could call him Jack.
A Ockershausen: Siegel.
Tommy Jacomo: I didn’t know that.
A Ockershausen: Siegel did.
Tommy Jacomo: Speaking of Siegel, Siegel and Jack had a big fight, okay?
A Ockershausen: In the restaurant?
Tommy Jacomo: No, with each other. Apparently Mo wrote an article and said something.
A Ockershausen: Oh yeah, he was very thin skinned.
Tommy Jacomo: I said, I go, “Jack, Mo says you’re the smartest man.” He goes, “Dammit, Tommy, why didn’t he put that in the article?” Now Mo’s sick and he’s in the hospital, and I’m trying to get them back together. I call Jack, I go, “Jack, the least you can do, I know you’re not gonna, but send something, say you’re sorry.” So Jack sends a big bouquet of flowers, “To Mo, I’m sorry we had a fight, let’s be friends, fondest regards, Jack Kent Cook.” Mo picks it up and does this, he goes, “It’s not his signature.” Of course it’s not his signature, it’s the florist, the florist wrote the thing.
A Ockershausen: He thought he was being flummoxed. Jack was such a character. Then one of your all time great characters who I’ve noticed for years sort of grew up in your restaurant was William A. Regardie, or WAR, as he’s known. William A. Regardie.
Tommy Jacomo: Bill is a character of himself, believe me. He comes in.
A Ockershausen: He his himself.
Tommy Jacomo: He came in one time. At Moe and Joe’s, he had a record, 21 bottles of Dom Perignon he bought. That was a record at Joe and Moe’s. He came to my restaurant with his crew from Regardie’s Magazine, he wanted to break the record. It was over 100 bucks a bottle. He got like 24 bottles of Dom Perignon. It cost … One lunchtime he comes in in running shorts and rollerblade, I said, who is this man, some nut. Bill didn’t care.
A Ockershausen: Remember him at fight night, used to wear the robe that says Raging Bill?
Tommy Jacomo: Yes, yes.
A Ockershausen: I mean, he just got away with it. Those were the years when he was riding high, when the real estate business was good, your business was fabulous.
Tommy Jacomo: His segment on your show was absolutely incredible. He was really good.
A Ockershausen: Wasn’t he good? He’s a talented guy. But seriously, his career was spent with the people who used The Palm. He was there all the time, he was in front of everybody all the time. He was a champion for The Palm.
Tommy Jacomo: Yes, he was.
A Ockershausen: I’m sure he sent you a lot of business and a lot of business people. He tried to redo the magazine. Of course, it didn’t work, but there’s a reason for that, Tommy, and I’ll get back to that and his problem after we take a break here. This is Our Town with Tommy Jacomo, this is Andy O.
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Announcer: Our Town with Andy Ockershausen.
A Ockershausen: This is Our Town, Andy Ockershausen, and I’ve got to stop to say that we’ve gotten such a great response from our Our Town podcast. It’s been fabulous. If you like what you hear on Our Town, give us a review it’s easy to do. We also want to thank John Kelly of the Washington Post for a great article about Our Town. I think he captured the essence of what my wife, my gorgeous, beautiful, fabulous wife has come … We are not dead, Tommy. We’ve made a comeback, and Tommy Jacomo, you’re alive and lively with us, and we’re so glad, because we’re talking about some of the characters from our wonderful restaurant, and one of them was Ambassador Dick Carlson.
Ambassador Dick Carlson
Tommy Jacomo: Correct.
A Ockershausen: A regular.
Tommy Jacomo: Nobody knows that Carlson has a cane collection from all around the world.
A Ockershausen: Fabulous, I’ve seen it.
Tommy Jacomo: 2000 canes, right. I had back surgery, he goes, you know what, I’ve got a cane for you. He brings this cane in for me, and I’m walking around with this stupid cane, but it had a knife that came out of it, you know? I’m teasing my kids, I go, “Ah, I’m gonna stab you all” I’d go like this, then I can’t get the thing back in, so I bang it on the floor, and the cane cracks. Not a big crack, but enough of one. I finally got the sword back in, I’m up at night waiting, what am I gonna tell him? Then he come and tells me, he goes, “I just got a call for that cane, it’s an 18th century,” some British guy, he’s gonna get like 2800 bucks for this cane. I go, now I’m looking in the telephone book for some, so I get some show polish, I polished it up some little glue, and walked out, I said, “How you doing Mr. Ambassador,” threw the cane down, and I walked out, I never said a word. I was up for three nights thinking, what the hell am I gonna do with this stupid …
A Ockershausen: 2800 bucks.
Tommy Jacomo: He just couldn’t give me an old stupid cane, he had to give me a collector’s item.
A Ockershausen: That collection is something. I’ve been to his home, Janice and I were invited over there, I’ve never seen so many canes.
Tommy Jacomo: I’ve never seen it, I heard, yeah.
A Ockershausen: Oh my god, he’s got a fortune in canes, right? I mean, they’re really good stuff. His son Tucker comes in …
Tommy Jacomo: Tucker, I bounced his son from the restaurant, you ever hear that story?
A Ockershausen: No.
Tommy Jacomo: Tucker wrote a great story, big fluff piece, the most powerful man in the most powerful city in the most powerful restaurant, to quote from Bill Regardie’s magazine. It’s in the New York Times. I see the thing the day before tomorrow, article, Tucker calls about the most powerful man in the most powerful city, the most powerful restaurant in the world, Tommy Jacomo. Oh, this is gonna be great. It starts off, it’s a fluff piece, it’s doing great. Then he brings up this thing deal that I got involved in years ago, right down the tubes. I called Roger Sussman, I go, what the hell did this guy do to me? Is he out of his mind? Greta Van Susteren got involved in the loop and everybody’s trying, they’re all lobbying to get him, I said, I’m not letting him back in my restaurant. That’s it, he’s banned from my restaurant. Then it started, then The Hill picked up on it, some other magazine. Corporate says, the less you say, the quicker it’s gonna go away. Finally we buried the hatch.
A Ockershausen: He was trying to help you, he didn’t know what the hell he was doing.
Tommy Jacomo: I said, why would you do that?
A Ockershausen: Roger’s good advice, I tell you. He’s another regular, we see Roger all the time. In fact, he had so many stories, we found out about his days in Los Angeles at UCLA. He was sitting in that chair where you are, Tommy. All these characters are in and around The Palm, have been in my life, as I say, I remember the opening in ’72 and all the people was there. I remember the party. I was so surprised to see Greta Van Susteren, and I said, she’s gotta be sitting in a hole or something, because she looked like she’s four feet tall, I couldn’t believe it.
Tommy Jacomo: She’s a very tiny girl. I love her to death, she’s a very dear friend of mine.
A Ockershausen: She’s something else, isn’t she, Greta? Now what did they do, they changed her show around, and I think there’s a money problem or something. Always money, Tommy.
Tommy Jacomo: Yeah, well, she left, she quit because the guy got fired.
A Ockershausen: Roger Ailes.
Tommy Jacomo: Yeah.
A Ockershausen: He didn’t harass her, did he?
Tommy Jacomo: No, she went to bat for him, I’ll tell you that much.
A Ockershausen: Oh, I know she did, she like Roger and went to work for him. What did the other Carlson, what is Tucker’s brother’s name?
Tommy Jacomo: Buckley.
A Ockershausen: Buckley. He doesn’t use the restaurant much, does he?
Tommy Jacomo: No, no. He’s got a handshake like Dexter Manley, you know. He’ll crush your hands.
A Ockershausen: I know, you’ve got to be careful, we know about Dexter. He doesn’t mean it. He’s like a big ol’ bear, you know that. Tommy, what are you looking forward to with the restaurant now? You’re called the managing director?
Tommy Jacomo: Executive director.
A Ockershausen: Executive director. There’s only one Tommy Jacomo.
Tommy Jacomo: Correct. That name is on the card, though.
A Ockershausen: It stayed on the card? I love that.
Tommy Jacomo: Yeah, it stayed on the card.
A Ockershausen: What is your plan? Are you gonna move down with Raymond? Are you hanging in?
Tommy Jacomo: No no, I’m gonna stick around for a while.
A Ockershausen: Tommy, since ’72, that’s a long time.
Tommy Jacomo: Yep.
A Ockershausen: 46 years, Tommy, 44 years, right?
Tommy Jacomo: 44 years. It’ll be 45 next year.
A Ockershausen: That’s incredible, Tommy, that’s a lifetime.
Tommy Jacomo: It sure is.
A Ockershausen: Do you ever see, you mentioned Tony Cibel. Are you involved, Tony’s not, the restaurant association, other than you probably pay dues.
Tommy Jacomo: Yeah, I used to be involved, I’m not involved anymore.
A Ockershausen: With Stewart Long and others. Tell me about, there’s a story about Muhammad Ali.
Tommy Jacomo: There’s a classic.
A Ockershausen: I know that he was in town, because we used to have him at fight night, we had him a couple of times. I went to a opening of a Muhammad Ali barbecue place in Silver Spring, that’s the way we got him there. Ali was so recognizable, I don’t think he could take two steps and people didn’t recognize him.
Tommy Jacomo: The crowd in front of the restaurant was 20 deep trying to look in through the windows. He comes into the restaurant, bigger than life, of course. Some lawyer said, I’m gonna bring him in for you. I don’t know who this lawyer was, but he brought him in. He goes, I’m gonna get your picture with him. He’s sitting at the table, Ali’s sitting at the table with him. How long, is he gonna make me wait forever? He finally gets up from the table, shuffles in, and he was in good shape in these days, because he put a second in ’87, I believe. Comes in my office, and Mo Sussman’s taking pictures. I got like 35 pictures of me and Ali. I went like this, punching him, he’s punching me, I’ve got him by the tie, smacking him in the head, making ugly faces. I put the one with the big jab, we’re switching jabs back and forth, and I had it hung up on the wall in the restaurant.
Ten years later he comes back, and this is when he’s just getting sick, a little bit of Parkinson’s. I said, hey Champ, you see that picture on the wall? I says, you staged that picture. He looks at the picture, he looks at me. Ten years, my hair is all different, he’s all different. He looks me in the eye, swear, he goes, he says, “Let’s do it again.” I go the same picture ten years later, in color. “Let’s do it again.” The way he said it is so funny.
A Ockershausen: What a character though, but like you say, the crowds would just ogle him. Nobody tried to touch him, they stayed away from him, just to see him meant so much. Also, I know you did some work with Woodward and Bernstein when they were working on All The President’s Men.
Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Tommy Jacomo: They both worked at the Washington Post, which is what, on 16th Street then, I think. They would come in every day for lunch, sit in a booth in the back. Nobody knew who the hell they were.
A Ockershausen: They were just writers.
Tommy Jacomo: They’d be writing things, writing little notes, talking. Carl would drive by with his bicycle and tie his bike on the awning in front of the restaurant just to drive my brother crazy. “Move that damn bike, someone’s gonna trip over it.” When the movie came out, they invited me, Ray, and our families to the opening of All The President’s Men at the Kennedy Center. Of course when the movie came on, they showed the night watchmen saw the tape on the door, and only in Washington, gets a standing ovation.
A Ockershausen: Oh my god. Tommy, the story of those two guys, because the guys from the Post, there was a group, regular at The Palm for lunch was Andy Beyer, George Solomon, there were some other writers, Ken Denlinger, and sometimes Tony was with them, but Tony was so antisocial, so those guys didn’t care, but they had their own group. They were always in The Palm for lunch.
Tommy Jacomo: Tony still comes in a lot. He’s doing his own podcast now himself, by the way.
A Ockershausen: Oh, I know, and he’s very up front about it, because he didn’t want to share the money with …
Tommy Jacomo: He had two years left on his contract, I don’t know why he gave it up. He’s a real curmudgeon anyhow.
A Ockershausen: He can be a curmudgeon. You know, Janice was his first, one of his producers when he started in radio. He used to a show for WMAL radio, and Janice and they have a good relationship. He did a show for me at channel 50, Champions, you know. We called it Redskins After Hours. Tony always said, if he ever had a job, he wants to be on WMAL radio doing the morning show. I said, sorry, we got Harden and Weaver, we don’t have room for you. Tony’s a local guy, he loves the city.
Tommy Jacomo: He always plugs my restaurant on the show, he constantly plugs it. Matter of fact, he gets mail at the restaurant. It’s like writing to Santa Claus, North Pole Santa Claus. Palm Restaurant, Tony Kornheiser, the letters show up, from all over the world. Japan, Korea, South Africa, Russia. He gets letters, he gets wine.
A Ockershausen: One of the things, Tom, that he discovered, that Janice and I have discovered, this whole idea of podcasting is all over. It’ll always be there, Tommy, and you can tune in, if you can get to tuning, anywhere in the world, you can tune in. Ourtowndc.com. It’s amazing, and we’re so happy to be a part of it, and we’re happy for you, and so happy that you listen to it and it means something to me, for you, because Tommy, we’ve been through a lot together.
Tommy Jacomo: Thank god the guy in your party set it up on my phone. I would never know how to set the damn thing up.
A Ockershausen: I know. Tommy, I’m working on it too. Thank god that Janice is a genius. She knows it all. Tommy, this has been so delightful, and we love the restaurant, you know that, I love you, and all the guys and the characters will always be a part of our town. We thank you for everything you’ve done for our town. This is Andy Ockershausen and Tommy Jacomo.
Tommy Jacomo: Thanks for having me, Andy. Thanks, Janice.
A Ockershausen: Thank you, Tommy.
Announcer: You’ve been listening to Our Town, season one, with your host Andy Ockershausen. New Our Town podcast episodes are released each Tuesday and Thursday. We welcome your comments and suggestions on how you like the show or who you’d like to hear from next. Catch us on Facebook at Our Town DC, or visit our website at ourtowndc.com. Our special thanks to WMAL radio in Washington DC for hosting our podcasts.
Since this interview, Tommy Jacomo has retired from The Palm. Emily Heil, Reporter for The Washington Post reports “Now Jacomo, 72, is retiring at the end of the year and taking that vast trove with him. With his departure, Washington, a town where transactions can so often feel impersonal, is losing one of its rare characters, a guy who knew that your kid’s birthday was coming up and when you were working on a big business deal.The Washington Post reports that Jacomo, 72, who has stood watch over the door, the tables and the iconic caricature wall at the Dupont Circle restaurant for 44 years, will retire at the end of the year.” We will miss him dearly, and wish him all the best.